Tag Archives: Writers Group

WriMoFoFo 2013

Yes, it is on again, WriMoFoFo – Write More For Four (weeks). This was the brain child of one of my old SuperNova writing group members. The idea was born after a rather disappointing effort (on behalf of all of us) at NaNoWriMo –National Novel Writing Month.

The idea behind WriMoFoFo is that we pick the time of the challenge, usually when we are all going through a bit of a dry spell, or when there are deadlines we need to meet. NaNoWriMo is run in November which (especially in the Southern hemisphere) is traditionally full of lots of social engagements and pre-Christmas build up. Not a good time to be trying to pump out loads of words.

Another difference is that we set our own word targets. Yes it would be nice to write 50,000 words in a month, as required for NaNoWriMo, but that is a LOT of words, so the chances of hitting it for full time workers with families is pretty remote. And if you do reach the target you are either burnt out at the end, or half of what you have written is crap. This WriMoFoFo I am going for 20,000 words.

NaNoWriMo specifies everything must be new words, WriMoFoFo allows you to set editing word targets. Very handy for those of us who put editing up there with gutter cleaning and doing your taxes. WriMoFoFo also goes for just 4 weeks, instead of the NaNoWriMo month. Those extra couple of days are just too much.

Then there is the final part of WriMoFoFo that I love – the nifty spreadsheet that lets you plot, track and graph your words each day, so you can see if you are on target or how many words you need to make up in order to get there. Please feel free to contact me if you would like a copy of the nifty spreadsheet sent to you.

It starts August 24th – so plan what you want to work on and join in! See this WriMoFoFo page for more information and to post your progress. Writing can be a very lonely pastime, so a bit of support and sharing of good (and not so good) stories along the way can be really helpful!

Names

I know no less than 5 Scotts. Not people of Scottish descent, men called Scott. I have two good friends called Kirsty, 3 Georgies and an Ela and an Ella. I could probably go on, but hopefully by now you are collecting your own groups of names of friends. You see my point.

Yet that never works in a novel. The cold, hard reality that we don’t actually see the characters with our eyes, and we don’t want to be reading “raven-haired Bruce” did this, “Bruce with the black hair” did that, and “Bruce, with his dark looks…” every time we need to read about the Bruce with the dark hair as compared to Bruce with the blond hair.

I can definitely see the practicalities of that, and I can see why authors avoid it, but now I feel like the gauntlet is thrown down. I’m going to put two people with the same first name into my next story, just to see if I can get away with it.

Which brings me to another name thing I’ve noticed, with the exception of Paul Haines (who used this to great effect), you never see characters with the same first name as the author. I don’t think I could ever put a Natalie into my books, even if I was writing under a pseudonym, it would just be too weird. As a reader, you can’t help but wonder if the writer has the same traits as their name-sake (which Paul Haines loved to play with, creeping out the more delicate of us in the crit group).

Thinking about it now, it would feel like I was doing a little cameo in the book, like Clive Cussler likes to do. But to have a completely unrelated-to-me character called Natalie, I don’t know if I could do it. I guess the gauntlet is down on that one too. Now I have a pair. I’ll try to inject a Natalie into my next story without making her a) me, b) fantasy me, or c) the exact opposite of me. In fact, I’ll try to make her no relation to me at all.

I’ll let you know how I get on. In the meantime these gauntlets might come in handy for some gardening…

Adelaide writers group

This week was writers group meeting week for me. My group is only small, but we meet once a month and all of us submit a story or chapter to be critiqued. This week I was reminded (yet again) or why it is so important to be a part of a writers group.

I submitted the third chapter of a story, which I know had a big info dump in it. I needed the info dump; there was stuff the reader needed to learn that had to be revealed in a very short period of time. So despite all my internal alarms to the contrary, I resorted to an ‘as you know Bob’.

My group called me on it, as I knew (or at least hoped) they would. They also saw the bind I was in because I needed this info out fast. So we did something that will only ever happen in a writers group (or I assume for those published authors, maybe with an editor) we brainstormed how I could get around the issue, and someone came up with a fantastic solution.

This generous little piece of my fellow writers group member’s time might one day be the difference between my story getting picked up, or getting passed on. Instead of falling into a novice’s trap, I’ve now got a way around it, and I am so grateful.

So to all those people who spurn writers groups, saying they are toxic or full of jealous writers who want to see you fail, I say that you are in the wrong writers group. I’ve been in two now, both have been fantastic and full of people who want to help you to succeed.

There are so many reasons why I love my groups, and I feel blessed to have been able to find two such wonderful groups. Thank you!

Adelaide Writer’s Week 2013

The streets are packed, everyone is running late for work and it is standing room only on the bus. Adelaide’s mad March is on again. It kicked off with the fringe a couple of weeks ago, then hit a bit of a low with the Clipsal 500 starting Friday morning, countered somewhat with the launch of the Arts Festival on Friday night, lifted again by Adelaide Writers’ Week starting on Saturday.

This year there are a lot of authors I have never heard of at Writers’ Week. There are also a lot of authors who specialise in areas I don’t read a lot of; poetry, biography, political commentary. At first, I must confess, I was a little disappointed with the line-up; there are very few speculative fiction writers, and very few commercially popular writers, but I guess a big part of what the festival offers is discovery.

A lot of people have asked me what I get out of it, and in truth not many of them know I write, so the appeal for me may not be obvious. But when they asked me this, it struck me as odd that I couldn’t really answer them with any great clarity.

I do find it fascinating to hear writers talk of their process for bringing a novel into the world, but would I change my process based on their experience? I doubt it. When authors tell of where they get their ideas, does it change my idea-harvesting technique? No, not at all.

All I can conclude is that I love to hear people talk about writing, whether it be well published authors with 50 publications to their name, or my writers group friends who are still trying to find a publishing house for their first novel.

Writing can be a very lonely pastime. Sure it is also wonderful and magical, but when you resurface into the real world, you realise it is just the cat there (or a human loved one) who doesn’t fully understand where you have been for the last three hours. Writers festivals are full of people who understand, and that is a nice place to be… At least for a little while.

The Adelaide Writers’ Week runs from March 2nd to March 7th (no, not a whole week, but Adelaide Writers’ Six Days doesn’t have the same ring to it).

Writing books

I was thinking of giving a book about writing to a friend who often tells me she would like to write. The only book on the topic of writing that I can really remember enjoying was Stephen King’s On Writing. So I read it again just to make sure it was as good as my memory had built it up to be, and it was, but it was not really the right book for a writer who is only starting out.

I know there are a lot of books out there on grammar and correct prose, such as Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, but I’m trying to find something that will take her to that next step in an entertaining way. A book that will warn her about the issues of point of view slips, too many ing words, fear of said etc. But one which will do so without sounding condescending or boring.  

And while we are talking about great writing books, there is another one I would like to give a plug to, and that’s Give ‘Em What They Want by Camenson & Cook –but that is around the business of selling books, so again it is probably a bit premature for that yet.

So please give me some suggestions about writing books that you have found both interesting and useful. I should also take this chance to say a big thank you to those in my two writing groups; because of you I’ve managed to learn a lot of these tricks directly from some very talented and imaginative people.

Writing for writers?

I’m going to tie a couple of recent blog posts together today. I’m reading a great non-fiction book called ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell. It explores the quick decision making process we all employ every day, and more importantly when we decide to act on them or ignore them.

Among many interesting case studies and research anecdotes, it talks of two people who are professional tasters. Not only are they able to easily distinguish the difference between Coke and Pepsi with the same ease as if comparing wine and water, but they are able to pick up on the nuances between batches of the exact same product!

This got me thinking about my previous post about phenomenon books. Generally writers don’t like phenomenon books (and it’s not just jealousy). But these phenomenons are not pushed along by writers, they are driven by readers. In much the same way as a bag of Smiths salt and vinegar chips will always taste the same to me, but have glaring seasonal variations for the professional taster, readers do not always know the rules of writing, so when those rules are broken they don’t let it impact on their enjoyment of the book.

I read the Da Vinci Code before I joined my Melbourne writers group, and therefore before I learned many of the skills of good writing that I now know, and I loved the Da Vinci Code as much as anyone else.

Two years ago I picked it up again with the intention of reverse engineering it to try and work out what made it so popular. This time I really struggled with it. Point of view slips left me confused in some places and as you know Bob’s* were sprinkled all the way through it –how had I missed all this before?

Just like a taster can probably no longer eat mass-market brie and enjoy it, I (and many of you who comment here) have got to the point where we can no longer enjoy writing which breaks the rules unintentionally.

In some ways I am grateful for all the rules I still don’t know or haven’t mastered because I think that maybe that lack of knowledge allows me to read and enjoy a lot of popular books that many of my writer friends dismiss or dislike.

This does kind of beg the question… Who are we writing for then? Readers, or writers? I guess the answer always comes back to that same truth in writing fiction, a rule one could almost say; always write for yourself, if nothing else your rule breaking is set at the perfect level for your enjoyment.

*As you know Bob refers to the act of a character telling another character something that both of them know, purely for the purpose of letting the reader know. “As you know, Bob, we have never successfully herded the cats into a pen, but this time might be different.” Bob already knows that.

Freedom requires discipline

This weekend I got to hang out with a writer friend and talk about writing at great length. One thing that writers are always really good at is talking about writing –even if they are not so good at actually doing the writing.

She gave me the quote I’m using for the title of this blog and I wanted to share it because it really resonated with me. At first glance it seems like a contradiction; how can discipline lead to freedom? Discipline seems like the self-imposed removal of freedom, but there’s the key, SELF-imposed. You are free to exercise your own discipline, or not as the case may be. 

If you want the freedom to write, to get that publishing deal and put out the novels that are in your head, then you need to find the discipline to write them. Easy really.

So tonight, I’m going to exercise some self-discipline and get some writing done!

RIP Paul Haines

Paul Haines, one of Australia and New Zealand’s most amazing, confronting and talented writers lost his long and courageously fought battle with cancer on Monday. I consider myself blessed to have known him.

I will always remember my first meeting with my Melbourne writers group, SuperNOVA and how generous and supportive everyone was. Paul was one of those wonderful people. Over the years he has helped with my writing, teaching me things I never knew and taking me to dark places I was too scared to tread. I was privileged to read his award winning stories before they had even been picked up by publishers, and got to ask all those questions I’m sure any reader of a Haines story wished they could ask.

I think by far the most terrible, and fantastic, and gut-wrenching piece that Paul has ever written was his true tale about the battle he fought so hard and for so long. I’m sure many of us thought he was actually going to win, after all, if anyone could beat cancer it would be Paul.

So enough of my writing, please read Paul’s blog and pass it on, I’m sure it will be an award winner too some day.

Paul, you are missed, thank you for all that you have given us, and all that you gave me.

R.I.P.

New New Year’s Resolution

 

The New Year is already a week old, and most of my resolutions have taken a bit of a battering. But I was prepared for that and am happy to renew them all afresh each week if needed.

Many members of my writers group are publically declaring their writing goals, so I figure I should join in. There are two popular choices at the moment, a 500 word a day challenge and a 100 word a day challenge. Last week I thought I’d go for a soft 1,000 word a week challenge, but quickly discovered my brain had translated that to ‘only sit down on Sunday and write 1,000 words.’

So I’m joining the 100 word a day challenge. The appeal of this is that even in my grumpiest, most uninspired moments I can always force out 100 words, I can’t say the same about 500 words. And if I really am going to do this thing EVERY DAY then sometimes I’ll need the safety net of just pushing out the bare minimum.

The other thing is that once I start writing I rarely stop at 100 words. So I expect that if I manage to get into the write frame of mind (ha ha, what a clever, original pun eh?) then I should be able to push out about 700-1,000 words in one sitting.

I like that there is a responsibility to sit down every day with the daily goal. It is too easy to put off until tomorrow what you really should do today when you have a weekly target. Also, if I have a good day where I do write 700 words, I won’t be able to automatically give myself the rest of the week off. I’ll have to get a pocket notebook to keep in my bag for those days I can’t get to a computer. And I’ll be good this year and not count blog words.

Okay, let the challenge begin!

Weeding

I’m growing some garlic at the moment. What I didn’t realise when I put it in the ground nearly four months ago is that it can take up to nine months to get to maturity. This means the plot sits there for a long time not doing anything. A little bit like most of my manuscripts.

Today I decided to tackle the most recent weed infestation and it got me thinking about how much weeding is like editing. You have the ‘good’ bits, which you know are good, and you know you need to pull out the ‘bad’ bits to give the good bits the best chance they can get, but it is not as easy as it sounds.

For starters the bad bits have big root systems, and they can rip out the good bits if you pull them out without enough consideration and care. Also, especially when you start from seed, sometimes it is not easy to recognise which are the desired ‘plants’ and which are the ‘weeds’ when they first burst through the soil. You might think you are giving love and sunlight to your garlic, but it actually turns out to be onion weed.

Finally, when you have no idea, and you are doing all this for the first time, you don’t know exactly when you should harvest your plants. Too early and they will be tasteless and mediocre, too late and they will be woody and overburdened with pulp.

I guess that is why it is so important to make sure you seek advice from a gardener who has been there before, someone who has made all those same planting mistakes before you. It is always wise to seek some guidance and can save you from a ruined crop.

I really miss my writers group 🙁