Tag Archives: Pep Talk

Whether the weather is right to write?

We are going through the change of seasons at the moment from a wet, cold winter to a (no doubt) hot, dry summer. Some days are warm with balmy evenings, others so cold as to inspire you to light the fire. This has underscored a fallacy of mine which I have secretly suspected, but have now been forced to face.

There is no such thing as writing weather.

In summer I delude myself into thinking that in the cooler season I’ll be more likely to nurse the warm laptop and tap out the opus. In winter, shivering under my blanket, I think about how much freer I’ll be to type without having to worry about opening a gap in my tepee when I write in summer. Really, it’s all just bollocks.

When summer and winter come on top of each other in two concurrent days, as they have just recently, you are forced to face the fact that the writing either happens, or it doesn’t and the weather has absolutely no bearing on that whatsoever.

So instead of planning my writing calendar by the weather report I’ll just force myself to sit down and write every day. EVERY DAY! And if things work out, I shouldn’t even know what the weather is doing.

Dreams

I have dreams every night, sometimes they are really crazy ones (like the man-eating guitars that were chasing me earlier in the week), but what is common to all of them is that I have absolutely no control over what happens next. So why is it that when we talk of our hopes and aspirations for the future we call them dreams?

Is the reason because we think these things are just as ephemeral and intangible as the dreams that entertain (or horrify) us each night? Am I naive to think that with a plan, a goal list and a lot of hard work I can attain my dreams? Have I read one too many self-help books?

The other phrase I hear a lot is ‘dare to dream’ –like there is something inherently dangerous about doing it. Again this could be the self-help books talking, but I think it would be much more daring not to dream. Without dreams what on earth would motivate you to get up each day? If you are not working toward something, what are you doing?

Apologies for the existential post, but I have been letting my dreams slide a little over the past couple of months, but it doesn’t mean that I have let them go. I just took a little lazy break and now it is time to get back to the dream grindstone.

I can’t imagine living life any other way.

Happy writing,

Nat

#NotWriting

Sometimes you get a cold, or you have a busy day at work, or you have some kind of emotional turmoil, so you don’t feel like writing. And sometimes you just don’t feel like writing.

So what is it with all this guilt?

I’ve never heard a knitter lamenting that they haven’t picked up the sticks for a few weeks now, or a balsa aircraft maker embarrassingly whispering under their breath that they haven’t cut out the struts for their bi-plane, even though they started it over two months ago. Why do writers feel like we are failing if we let a week (or four) slip by with no new words being written?

Just look at the Twitter #NotWriting string to see how many excuses people come up with for neglecting the page. But don’t look for my tweet, it’s not that I haven’t written one, it’s just that it is now buried so deeply under the sediment of writer guilt from across the globe that it has probably fallen off the Twitter memory banks.

This is at risk of becoming a pandemic!

I don’t believe you are going to forget the craft of writing, or that you are not dedicated if you don’t force yourself to the notebook each day. A week is also not worth worrying about, and a month is just buying your subconscious some time to work without stress. Get to three months without a tickle of the muse and you might be in trouble, but even then I use the word might.

So for all those out there #NotWriting –chillax, you’ll be writing again before you know it.

Move to trash

It’s funny how when I post a blog the refreshed screen always comes up such that my cursor is poised over the ‘Move to trash’ option. I can’t help but think it is my blog software commenting on the quality of my most recent post.

This is the paranoia a writer must live with.

Neil Gaiman famously tells the story of how he calls his editor during every book at the ¾ mark (or something close to that point) and says it is totally crap and no-one will ever want to read it (I’m paraphrasing by the way). Writers all seem to go through this, the only difference is at what point it occurs. As far as I’m concerned, as long as it is not when you write ‘The End’ then you can get through it. If you hate it when it’s finished you are really in trouble!

I too hit the ‘this isn’t working I might as well throw it away’ at about the ¾ point. Even with short stories and sometimes flash fiction. I now know that I should celebrate when I get to that stage as it means I’ve only got a ¼ of the story to go! But as lightly as I talk of it, it can be a really difficult point to get through. This is where novels get put down and not looked at again for months, or even years. It is also usually a fictitious fear.

I have set aside many unfinished stories as lost causes, only to go back and read them later and have no idea why I stopped writing them. What’s worse is you are no longer on the roll so you cannot just pick them up and start writing with the same flow. Sometimes I even forget what the end was meant to be.  At best it means re-writes at worst it can be terminal (for the story, I’m not THAT melodramatic).

Breathing time for any story can be a good thing. If it is not working, or you don’t love it, putting it down can be a good idea. The key is not to let it sit too long. I think anything you turn your back on should be revisited within a week of setting it aside. This is long enough to be free of that strange writer paranoia that sucks you down into a mire of negativity, as well as distancing you enough to read with fresh, honest eyes.

Remember, editing is always an option. Heavy editing can save a badly written piece, and it doesn’t matter if you completely re-write 2/3rds of what you originally put to paper. But if the story is never finished, there is nothing to save.

Happy writing

Nat

Heart or pocket?

LOVE OR MONEYI don’t think anyone in this day and age becomes a writer as a way to make lots of money, or if you do you just need to attend one writing convention or read a few blogs (thanks Lamellae for putting me onto that one) to quickly learn that there are easier ways to make your first million. But all writers at some point have to ask themselves, are they writing to make some money, or are they writing purely for themselves?

I’d like to think that ultimately the goal of all of us is to get to the second option. We will always be our first market that must be satisfied for us to be happy writers. Unfortunately being happy about what your write doesn’t always equate to being paid for what you write.

At the extreme end, you can write annual reports and business plans for companies and get paid for writing, but will you be satisfied? By the same token, you can write that story that has been bumping around in your head these past twenty years about a dog who can fly, and no-one else might want to read it, let alone pay for it.  

So with WriMoFoFo now started I’ve decided that for me a job can be the equivalent of my annual report writing. Typing out words isn’t what brings me pleasure, it is creating worlds and characters and flying dogs. So WriMoFoFo is going to be all about me this time around, and I’m going to have some fun.

After all, if my ultimate goal (as a writer) is to be able to write what I want to write, well then I can hand myself that goal right now. I’ll worry about publication later.

Nat

The rollercoaster of rejection

Each time I get that reply email in my inbox; RE: Submission; story title goes here, my heart skips a beat. My email does not give me a little preview of what the body of text says, so for a moment it can go either way. Is it an acceptance, or a rejection? I won’t know until I open it.

As you can imagine more often it is the ‘we enjoyed reading your story, but felt it was not right for our publication’ version of email rather than the ‘we loved your story and we want to publish it’ type, but for every sub there is a moment where in my heart it has been accepted. Especially when the email is about a novel.

A perverse part of me enjoys that moment, and I have been known to put off opening the email so I can draw out the feeling a little bit longer. When I open it and get the bad news of rejection I used to feel hurt, but I’ve found a great way of getting over that is to have my next market picked out so that I can quickly crush the pain of rejection with the hope of a new submission (after re-reading the story, of course, to ensure I am still actually happy with it, it might be getting rejected for a reason).

Then there is the other side of rejection which is not so exciting, and that’s no response at all. If the market listing says they don’t respond but consider it rejected if they haven’t responded within a certain time frame, I’ll put a note in my submissions tracking spreadsheet so the date is flagged, then I take that as a rejection. But there are some places that just say nothing and give no hints about what they are thinking.

This is a bad position to be in. Do they like it and they are just finding the right time/place to publish it? Have they lost it? Was there a change in staff? Did they lose my contact details? Or have they dismissed it and just cheated me of the few seconds of hope with the response email?

Unfortunately this is all part of the process, and you need to have a plan. Mine is simple, for a short story; after three months query (unless their market listing says not to). If they don’t respond to the query, after six months consider it rejected (you may want to start sending it to other markets before you get to six months). I’ve never had a story accepted after six months with no contact from the publisher beforehand, so I think it is a safe to assume they don’t want it. For a novel I do the same, but query after six months, reject after twelve.

There is nothing wrong with being rejected, and generally you get a very generic rejection email, so you can come up with all your own excuses (didn’t fit in with the existing line-up, they already had a story with a similar theme, wasn’t genre enough etc.). But once you have had a story rejected a few times you would be wise to take a closer look at it, or give it to someone else to read and give you some hints as to why it was rejected.

Remember, each rejection is one step closer to that story’s acceptance! And I promise, even your favourite author has had good work rejected. Don’t let it get you down!

Happy writing,

Nat

To love a thief

Not long ago I put out a call to a bunch of friends asking for their favourite books. I wanted something un-put-down-able. I needed both distraction and inspiration (ie I was looking for further procrastination and ultimately its cure with regard to my own writing). It was a great success, and I got a heap of suggestions which I am slowly working my way through.

Now without giving away what I have read, so far I have been amazed by the difference in my reaction to these much-loved books of my friends. One I enjoyed in parts, one was as much fun as a visit to the dentist, and one I devoured, not wanting to put it down when the clock rolled around to midnight and I had to be up by 7 the next morning.

This got me thinking about the different aspects to a novel and how unique combinations make the perfect mix for each of us. It might be the story itself which grabs you, or the characters, the writing style, the moral, the originality or one of a million other things within the book. None of us are exactly alike, and probably what is going on in our lives when we first read the novel also plays a part, so even we are not a constant. There cannot be a perfect book!

I’m going to keep this in mind when I get my next rejection. An editor needs to love your story to print it, and if among my own friends (where we have similar interests and experiences) we have such differences in opinion about what is good, then I should keep faith that soon I will find the editor who shares my mix of ‘what makes a good story’ and will pick up my manuscript.  

For the record, the book I always recommend is Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief which isn’t really even spec fic. For me it was a beautiful novel which got the mix just right, well my mix anyway.

Happy reading.

Bending time

On Tuesday I had reason to wait around in an airport for over an hour. I managed to secure a seat in front of a TV and watched in shock as the latest natural disaster unfolded on the screen. After an hour of riveting, yet horrifying viewing I checked my watch and was amazed to see that really only ten minutes had passed. Three hours later, and I had only used up 30 minutes of my wait time. Something very strange was going on.

I pulled myself away from the vision of yet more evidence that maybe the 2012 fanatics were not all card carrying nutbags, and decided to walk the concourse. After watching three planes take off I nervously looked at my watch, sure I had wasted too much time and boarding was probably well underway at my now distant gate.

Only three more minutes had passed.

Then it struck me; time in the airport moves at a different pace. If you are early, it feels like wading through honey in a shaggy, full-length coat, if you are running late for your flight, it is like walking on sloping glass in shoes made of butter.

There must be a way to harness this.

I have friends who a) actually make some money out of writing, so b) have real deadlines for delivering it (not just self-made Excel spreadsheets with cells that change colour if you are behind). I think these friends need to book themselves on a flight somewhere and turn up for the plane a week early. Using my recent experience I estimate that it should give them about a year’s worth of writing time.

In the meantime, after nearly a day of waiting, my hour was up and I caught my flight home, ever mindful of all the people who would not be getting home that night, and how awfully fast and slow their minutes must be. I guess the message in this is no matter what speed your minutes are passing, they are indeed passing, so you need to make the most of every single one.

Nat

The darker side of imagination

We all have an imagination, even those of us in serious jobs, living serious lives full of serious things. Gifted liberally with these fictional flights of fancy as children, all of us hold onto at least a little imagination when we ‘grow up’.  

It is our imagining of how good that double-choc gelato might taste that inspires us to break our New Year’s resolutions. It is our imagining of travelling around Australia in a Ute with a caravan and a border collie when we retire that inspires us to keep working, and it is our imagining of writing that last word to our perfect opus that inspires us to keep writing.

But imaginations are not only used for good.

Imagination can dress up as fear, and stop us from doing something significant, as we use it to ‘see’ all that can go wrong. It can cause us to perceive judgements, pain and criticisms in the words of others, when no such intent is there. It can also allow us to justify terrible behaviour by imagining a just cause.

However, bad imaginings are not always ‘bad’. Last night I took a long time to go to sleep as I imagined the night that some people were spending in Queensland; marooned on rooftops, not knowing when the house might collapse and spill them out into the torrent of flood water. Of not knowing where loved ones were, or if they had made it to dry land in time. While this side of my imagination left me sad and exhausted, I think it squarely goes on the good side of imagination.

Empathy is one of the most important emotions needed for humanity to get along in peace, and you cannot have empathy without imagination. Empathy helps us to understand others, and it inspires us to help in times of need. It can also make us appreciate our good fortune, which we all take for granted too often.

So if you too were kept up last night with thoughts of the victims of the Queensland floods, please continue to use your imagination for good. You can always donate, but I’m sure you could brainstorm a better way to help, if you just ask for a little guidance from your imagination.

Nat

I got the wrong ghost

I tried to channel my blog tonight. I just let my fingers hit the keys and hoped that something really witty would come out. It didn’t. I did manage three words that made sense: as, ale, & fie. I could probably turn them into a story, but it would involve a tavern, a beanstalk and lots of plagiarism.

Sometimes the words just don’t come.

What do you do when that happens? Well I can now tell you with confidence that you don’t just randomly bang away at the keyboard, unless you are after a sentence like this; Ncaieu as fie lai balie ale asei fo faiewnbix oain woine aosienaow’b. Then you hit some unknown combination of keys and minimise everything on your screen.

The best thing to do is just start writing. Write what you are thinking, even if it is about how much you don’t know what to write about. Describe the high level plot of the chapter or story you are hoping to start (or finish). Or tell the story of what you did this morning, even if it was something dull like going ballooning or juggling knives. Just write anything!

Will it be witty and wonderful and the best piece of work you have ever done? Not likely, but it will be words, and everyone knows that words lead to words. So while you might end up binning your first few paragraphs (or pages) before you get to the good stuff, at least you will be on the path to the good stuff, and that’s what counts.

So don’t let writer’s block beat you, and whatever you do, don’t let silly excuses stop you from writing. If all you can channel is an illiterate goat, then ditch the black arts and go for the literary ones, force the work out.

Happy writing,

Nat