Tag Archives: Pep Talk

2021

I won’t lie, it’s been a rubbish year for my writing so far. Not as much about publications or rejections, but more about how many words I’ve actually written. Basically, if it wasn’t for Furious Fiction each month, I wouldn’t have written a single word.

I know it’s been far too long since I wrote on a regular basis because my typing skills are starting to slide. I type each day for work, and I’ve noticed a lot more errors than usual. I think it’s because I’m not giving my typing brain the workout it is used to.

There is only one cure for this, and that’s to make myself write. I’ve done it in the past and I’m sure I can do it again. I might lay off the experimental stuff to start with, because that’s what sent me down the rejection gurgler last year, and bruised my authorial ego more than I realised. So it is back to my bread and butter; horror, science fiction and a little bit of fantasy. No more crime or magical realism. Clearly, I can’t do it as well as I think I can. For now I’ll keep that stuff just for me.

In the meantime, I’ve re-jigged my website so it works better on different devices (and stops my host from closing down my aged old site). I’ve also just had one of my flash fiction pieces appear on the Antipodean SF radio show. So, please check them out.

The past 12 months have been tough for everyone. I really hope that we are all on the road back to recovery. And I hope to be able to share more good news about my productivity (and possibly publications) soon.

Take care.

Nat

Rejection

It’s been a while between posts. After a great September, I had a tough October (from a writing point of view) and I’m only starting to get over it.

The nadir was after a week of three rejections, Sisters In Crime tweeted that they had selected their finalists for the Scarlet Stiletto competition. They promised they would call winners shortly.

In a quirky joke from the universe, I got three calls that week from telemarketers based in Victoria. Each time I answered with my heart in my throat thinking ‘it’s happened at last’ -only to have someone try and sell me solar panels or insurance.

I never got ‘the call’ and after two agonising weeks of not getting it, they announced the shortlist. My name was not on it, no matter how many times I read it. I felt empty.

I prepped for this story unlike any other before. I read years of previous winners before writing a word. Then I plotted, wrote and tightened, making sure every word had a purpose and moved the story forward. I finished it two months before it was due, then let it sit for a month before my final edit. I was confident it was prize-worthy

There are over 10 prizes, and one of those is for cross-genre fiction. I’m a spec fic writer and I had a crime story that was equally dependent on the spec fic element and the crime. I didn’t think I would necessarily get a shot at first or second prize, but I thought my story was a great candidate for the cross-genre or best movie idea prizes.

It got nothing.

So, I’m slowly working through that disappointment. After trying so hard and getting nowhere, it made me question my own ability. I know that’s something all writers go through – which is why I wrote this post today, just in case someone else going through this reads it while wondering if they should give up. Please don’t.

I am in the process of picking myself up and dusting myself off. I will send the story to a spec fic market and hopefully get it published. The experience hurt, but I’ll move on. That’s a big part of what being a writer is about. And I can’t lose sight of the fact that at the very least, I got a story out of this of which I’m really proud.

And in all sincerity, congratulations to those who did make the cut for the shortlist. Except the people in the running for best cross-genre story – kidding! Mostly. 😉

Top 10 writer things to do – Visualisation

Eye

Okay, I’m not going to go all ‘the secret’ on you, but visualisation is a powerful tool. I’m a qualified hypnotherapist (scary huh?) and almost all of what hypnosis is about is visualisation. The difference is that when under hypnosis you can bypass your RAS (let’s just say conscious mind, look it up if you are interested) and work on your unconscious mind. If that sounds a bit too fluffy for you, then cut out the expert, and work directly with your conscious mind with a bit of visualisation. It takes a bit longer, but can still get you there in the end.

For you scientists out there, who don’t believe in destiny, think of it this way; every day you make decisions that take you in the direction in which you expect to go. Regular visualisation primes your mind to expect to go toward whatever you are visualising. If you don’t visualise, your mind doesn’t really have a goal so it will opt for the decision that keeps the status quo. Fine if you want to keep working in that day job.

Writers, perhaps more than any others, are perfectly placed to make visualisation work, because we are always imagining our stories, so are very comfortable in the imagined world. The problem is that writers also tend to be a bit bad at positive self-talk. I have my own theories on why, but that is best shared face to face over a glass of wine. I know that personally, I’m shocking at making time for visualisation. Even when I add it to my weekly list of things to do, it is inevitably forced out late on Sunday night just so I can cross it off the list. Not an ideal way of going about it.

The key to visualising well is to have a specific event to watch; walking up to receive an award for your published book, a book signing with a line of people going out the door, a room full of people attending a reading that you are doing. Got it? Be specific and be as detailed as possible. Don’t just hold a copy of your book in your hand and know that it has sold well. But be sure to see your book in your visualisation. You have to know what your aim is; success can come from many things, so we want to tie this to your novel.

The next major thing is not just to imagine the scenario, but let yourself feel the emotions of that scenario. Feel the excitement that so many people love your book, feel the relief that you no longer have to go to the day job (hmmm, a bit of a recurring theme for me), revel in the joy of someone else knowing your characters as intimately as you do. When you feel those emotions in the visualisation you feel it in real life too, and your body will want more.

The final key to good visualisation is to do it regularly. Hurriedly imagining you goal on a Sunday night once a month isn’t going to cut it. I would even say once a day is not too often. To this end, I might take my own advice and make it part of my nightly routine, just like brushing my teeth. Let’s see if it helps?

Now I won’t promise that this will get you published, but it might help you to overcome the sloth you feel at the end of long, hard day at work, so that instead of sitting in front of the TV you write. After all, it is getting the words on the page that will eventually get you published, so anything that helps with that has got to be good.

Better use of time

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have started translating my weekly goals onto a daily goal list. I’m still doing it, and it is working brilliantly. The funny thing is that I’m actually adding more goals as the week goes on, so I’m getting even more done.

To meet my targets, I’ve had to force myself stop watching TV on work nights. This seems to have cured me of an unknown addiction. Now I can survive without knowing who gets voted off of Survivor. I’ve also realised that it doesn’t matter if I watch all my TV in one binge session on a Friday night (I loved ABC’s War On Waste).

Most importantly I’ve discovered that I feel a lot better about going to work when I have knocked out 2,000 words, or edited a couple of chapters the night before. All this time it’s been within my power to give myself what I’ve always wanted; to write.

There are so many ways we can use time, but some take more courage, more willpower and more determination than others. But when you make those choices it can be so much more rewarding. I know I’m only three weeks in, but my general happiness and contentedness is so much higher than it has been in a long time. And my word counts are still nearly as high as when I had my 4 months off last year.

Another benefit I have noticed is that I seem to be living more in the ‘now’. I enjoy the sunrise when I walk to the bus before work. I appreciate the songs of the magpies as they welcome me home (or more accurately the leftover cat food they know I’m about to throw out). I realise that I can take moments of time for myself at any time. Even while I’m waiting for SharePoint to apply my metadata (which seems to take so much longer now it is in the cloud) I can look out the window at the park and be in my own little world for a few seconds. Time really is what we make of it.

Sunrise on the way to the bus stop

Tricks to get you writing

I’m doing my annual read of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ –this book always inspires me to write more. In one part of the book King talks about how after his accident he found that none of his usual tricks worked to get him writing. He doesn’t actually detail what his tricks are, and I think that is because the tricks are things that you set up that work for you, no-one can make them up for you.

Let me give you an example; when I can’t write I play three games (no more, no less) of Freecell. It was a habit I forcefully set some years ago where I only EVER allowed myself to play Freecell before I wrote. If I played the game I had to write. This programmed me to get ready to write any time I play Freecell. It works beautifully.

But it doesn’t have to be habitual programming, I’ve heard of lots of tricks that writers use to get them writing; have a conversation with your protagonist about anything, write a back-story scene that you are never going to use, write the most exciting scene in your story even if you are not yet up to that, type whatever words come into your mind about any topic, write freehand while laying on the lounge. There are as many tricks as there are writers.

I’m into NLP, hypnotherapy and psychology, so I like the idea of programming myself to get over these humps, hence setting the Freecell habit at a time when the writing was going well. But if you are not into that, experiment to find the trick that works for you, and be prepared to think outside the box – it may be a location or type of tea that gets you writing. Just remember, if the trick you are trying takes you away from writing it is not a successful trick. There is a big difference between something inspiring you (like watching a move) and something getting you to sit down at the page and write.

The Unreliable Narrator

There is a format of writing know as the unreliable narrator. This is where the character taking you through the story is lying to you, but you don’t know it. For example, they may talk about how wonderful person X is and can’t understand why someone would murder them, then the punch line of the story is that they are the one who murdered person X.

Generally this style annoys me (though when pulled off well it can be excellent), and the only way I can relate it back to real life is those friends (and we all have them) who exaggerate their stories and sometimes get confused about what they imagined and what actually happened. And let’s face it, we know they do this so we don’t put a lot of stock in their tales anyway.

But then I realised we do all have an unreliable narrator who we cannot trust; ourselves.

I recently wrote a story and tried to edit it within 24 hours of finishing due to a writing group deadline. The edit was a waste of time. The story looked like a mess to me. I couldn’t see enough good bits to exorcise the bad bits. Yesterday I edited it again. There were lots of good bits, yes there were also lots of opportunities for improvement, but it was not the total write-off that my first edit indicated.

Then I was talking to a friend who was saying how much she hated her novel right now, and instantly I went ‘oh, you’re up to that bit’ –because it is so common for writers to hate their story at some stage, usually closer to the end than the beginning. It is our unreliable narrator kicking in and telling us stuff is crap when it is not.

I’m sure this same narrator tells us we are stupid, fat, ugly etc. and we believe it. If only it was so easy to recognise our exaggerating, lying self in real life as it is when it comes to editing. I guess we do have the benefit of writers groups to tell us that it is not crap (and honestly tell us when it is), but our friends and family are probably a little less reliable when we check in with them about if we really are being stupid.

Wright and wrong

Writers group opened with the usual guilty confessions about how much we had not written since last month. This is a fairly common conversation in both my writers groups, yet each month there is new writing to be critiqued so something must be getting written.

Are we expecting too much of ourselves?

For the most part we are not full-time writers. We have jobs, families, friends, gardens and pets that have genuine claims on our time too. There is no denying that writing is a lonely game, and you have to make sacrifices that others won’t necessarily understand, but I wonder if we are all a bit too heavy on the guilt.

It is hard to find the balance between saying no to the social events so you can get your story finished and giving your time to those who need you and who, in turn, you will need in the future. After all, if we do reach the goal of getting published, we want to have loved ones to invite to the book launch.

I’m starting to realise how important it is to factor in the non-writing time. You can either plan for it and enjoy it, or you can put unrealistic expectations on yourself and get disappointed. Sometimes having a bit of a break can be good for your writing.

Goals

I am a huge believer in goals. Every New Year I set my annual goals, and then based on those I set some smaller goals, and then every week I have a list of 20 goals that I wish to achieve. They can be as simple as paying a bill or as significant as submitting a novel.

In September I was part of WriMoFoFo which is all about setting a goal and trying to achieve it in four weeks. There were a lot of us who started the WriMoFoFo journey, but what surprised me was the number of people who dropped off. It made me wonder about people’s relationship with their goals.

Given I have a list of twenty things to achieve every week, I’m quite used to not achieving all my goals, and I’m okay with that. I could count on one hand how many times this year I have been able to cross off all twenty items in a week. I don’t think the point of goals is to make you feel guilty if you don’t achieve them, but rather to get you focused on trying to achieve them.

If I have a goal roll over on my list over four weeks (and yes, if I don’t achieve them they do roll over to the next week) I realise it is too big for one week and on some level I must be finding it overwhelming so I’m not doing it. My response is to break it down into a smaller goal.

Earlier this year, when I was struggling to write anything, I changed my goal to just turning on my computer. I had to turn my computer on four times a week. Yes, some days I just turned the computer on, checked my email and then turned it off again, but some of those days I wrote. The next week I made my writing targets.

Goals should not be set in stone, big goals may not change; I will always want my novel published by an established publishing house, but the sub-goals I use to get there are constantly evolving, and I think that is how it needs to be. Don’t let you goals overwhelm you, let them speak to you, let them guide you about what is enough to expect of yourself, and what is too much in one go.

The most important thing of all about goals is that they should be achievable, so if you aren’t making your goals, break them down. Every journey starts with a first step, don’t make that step too far to take, or you will forever stay standing where you are.

My movie

No, I’m not talking about the one I’m writing, I mean the one I’m living. I don’t know why, but I always think of life as being like our own personal movie. In my more philosophical moments I wonder if I have made all this up and you are just actors in my movie, but then I smell jasmine in the moonlight, or listen to Alison Moyet singing Only You, and I realise there is no way I could be that creative.

I just read (again) Illusions by Richard Bach. Every time I read it I love it and I want to start reading it again the moment I get to the last page. I love the idea that we live by our accepted illusions, and that changing our life is as ‘simple’ as seeing through those illusions. But to borrow a Matrix-ism, I am yet to take the red pill.

I do believe in fate, but I also believe in free will. I also think that all time is simultaneous, and therefore it follows that just because something was fated to happen doesn’t negate the possibility that you chose for it to be –it is just that all time and therefore all choices have already happened and therefore must be.

Okay, maybe I just squeezed a book’s worth of philosophy into a paragraph, but the point is, change only happens if we make it. I don’t know that I’m quite ready to take the red pill, I love chocolate and the good parts of family too much, but I’m ready for some change. So I will stop looking at my limitations and give more things a go.

If nothing else it should increase my word count for WriMoFoFo

P.S. A very special HAPPY BIRTHDAY today to my (almost) life-long friend Karen. I miss you very much and I’m glad you are still in my movie – I just wish we could be shot in the same scene a little more often 🙂

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Adelaide Writers’ Week – On Writing

I had a good time at Adelaide Writers’ Week this year, though the 35 degree days did lead to a few headaches and a bit of heat exhaustion! I discovered a few new authors and was made both richer (in experience) and poorer (in book purchases) for having been there.

A funny thing that I noticed with a number of the authors was the concept of when they started to write. A lot of them did not start writing, or even think about becoming writers until their late twenties, thirties or even forties!

Having been writing books since I was in primary school, this shocked me at first. How can you just decide to write? Just knock out a book and get it published in a couple of years? I had been slogging away my whole life and still did not have a publishing contract to show for it.

Instead of drowning in my jealousy (I may have dog-paddled in it for a while) I kept listening, and a theme emerged, both in those who, like me, had always wanted to write, and those who came later to the idea; they all wrote a story.

Yes, it is a crazy idea; to be a writer one has to write a story and finish it. Sure, I have been writing most of my life, intensely over the past 10 years, and I have hundreds of thousands of word to show for it, but how many novels have I written to completion and put through at least one editing round? How many? One.

When you look at it like that it makes perfect sense, in fact the ONLY way you can become an author is to write a story, finish it, polish it and send it off. Everything else is just practice.

I may have seven novels on the go, but until I finish them, it can only ever be a hobby. That was my big take-away from Adelaide Writers’ Week. I’ve always laboured over the fact I need to write, but it is the finishing and polishing that I really need to focus on.