Tag Archives: Writing

Notes on writing

The Holiday is Over

Flying back on the day that Melbourne hosted a mini-cyclone (complete with golf ball sized hail) was, perhaps, not the highlight of my trip, though memorable could certainly describe the experience. After just a few hours of delays, and a flight where I made more promises to God than I could keep track of, I was finally back home, safe and sound.

Oddly enough I was not so much inspired by my time at Adelaide’s Writers’ Week as comforted by it. Many of the writing stories the authors relayed were akin to my own experiences. The one that resonated most closely was the 8 year novel being made up of 7 years of Solitaire (though in my case, it would be FreeCell). By the same token the whole not waiting for inspiration, permission to write a bad first draft, not knowing where your characters are going and forcing yourself to put words on the page, were also very familiar stories.

So while I may not yet be published, and I may not have a huge following, at least I know I am getting into the habits of a writer. Something great that did get mentioned again, was the advice to write for yourself, write what you want to read. Do not write just for the market. You can tweak later, but if you don’t believe in your story, no one else will either. So it looks like I can shelve my project about a vampire who uncovers Christian-based mysteries by solving a series of puzzles and word games after he gets kicked out of wizard school. Thank goodness.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers of Adelaide Writers’ Week. It is such a fantastic event, which brings writers and readers together from all over the world. What is most amazing is that all the daytime events are free. And given the big-bucks in fiction writing in Australia (particularly short fiction), that is something welcomed by all struggling writers.

Thank you also to Mum, Dad and my sister for feeding me so well. It wasn’t just extra books that weighed me down on the way home!

Nat

Adelaide Writers’ Festival

It’s day one of my give-me-holidays-or-I’ll-quit visit to the Adelaide Writers’ Festival, and so far it has been great! On a sunny day worthy of the last day of summer, and with the occasional falling leaf to remind us of what season begins tomorrow, I was lucky enough to hear Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry) speak. Audrey is refreshingly normal, very entertaining and gratefully not hung up on genre.

Today the festival has taught me how important it is for a writer to also be a confident speaker. Many people in the audience will not have read the authors who speak, so the fifteen minutes at the podium is essentially the closest a writer gets to a ‘coming soon to a cinema near you’ type ad. Those writers who make you laugh, or bring a tear to your eye are the ones who will be making sales in the book tent. Today, for me Jim Crace is the author who made me laugh, made me nod my head as if he was speaking directly to me, and made me want to hear a lot more from him. So I have no idea what he writes, but you can guarantee I will be reading it soon.

So I guess I’d better get to work on my public speaking skills, or at the very least expand my repertoire of jokes beyond what’s long, brown and sticky? A stick.

Until next time, happy writing!

Nat

Writers Groups

This weekend I went to the launch of Foz Meadows’ book Solace and Grief. Foz is part of my writers group, SuperNova, and it was fantastic to be a part of her magical moment. It was also wonderful to see so many of the group there to lend support. There is a perception out there that writers are guarded, jealous types, but my experience had been exactly the opposite.

My group are always willing to share ideas of how to improve a story, alternative ends, where its weaknesses and strengths are, and even suggestions about markets to which I might be able to sell it. This sort of information will never come from friends or family members no matter how well read they are. I won’t lie, some of the ideas people have for my stories are so out there or way off track for where I want to be going that I will just smile politely and nod as they go to a very dark place indeed with my poor, innocent protagonist, but other times they point out the tiniest change that can turn a good story into a great one.

I have often committed the sin of sending out a story before the group has seen it, and it has promptly come back, rejected. Then it goes to the group and becomes so much better than it was, but I have already burned the intended market for the story by sending it out too early. It only takes a little while to learn this lesson (oh, about five years) but it is well worth learning.

So I guess my advice for new writers this week (besides keeping up that visualisation) is to get yourself into a writers group if you are not already in one. And don’t be disheartened if you don’t like the first one you go to. Groups can be very different, some are big back-patting, and some people need that. Some will rip even the finest story into bloody pieces and leave the writer emotionally battered, but that too is perfect for other writers. Try them out, and if possible get an introduction, that way you can find out if it is the group for you.

And remember, when it is finally your turn to launch your book, no matter how much they might have criticized it, cut it to pieces and re-written it, it will be your writers group who will be first in line to buy your freshly published baby. Because they, more than anyone else you know, will understand what you had to go through to get to that point, as well as the enormity of the next part of the journey; selling it. So find a group and be prepared to share, it is the only way to learn.

Now, back to WriMoFoFo, only one week to go and I’m very far behind…

Nat

Holding

I don’t think I am doing this visualisation thing quite right. Do you picture a contract, or the email where they ask you for your book, or do you see the actual book itself? Perhaps you visualise the people lined up out the door for a signing? Or maybe you see yourself in the house of your dreams sitting in the library you have always wanted (with archaeopteryx on one wall and books lining the others) plugging away at your computer as you work on that next book.

I tried them all, but in doing so I felt like I was giving mixed signals to the powers that be. Having said that, perhaps it is no coincidence that this week I got a ‘hold’ request for a story. A hold request means someone likes your story, but they don’t want to buy it just yet. Often it is happens when a submission deadline has not yet closed or co-editors are working on something together, so other stuff might still come in and bump the story.

I know that sounds negative, but the truth is it is very exciting, something akin to when that first lotto ball falls down and it is one of your numbers. You haven’t won yet, but you certainly haven’t lost and you are a lot closer to winning than a lot of other people out there. And that is exactly how it feels; close to winning. To know you piqued enough interest that they think it ‘could’ find a home in their anthology is such a warm feeling.

So from now on I will add visualisation to my weekly task list, but unlike the ‘cleaning my wardrobe’ task, it will be one that I actually do.

Until next week, my friends,

Nat

Procrastination

Procrastination takes many forms for a writer; cleaning, planning, graphing, colour-coding POV scenes (yes, I’ve really done that), net-surfing, even staring into space. I guess in some way all these things end up contributing to the final production, but do we let them get in the way?

I learned (long enough ago that I shouldn’t disregard it as often as I do) that writing does not require inspiration. Writing just needs time. If you have time you can write. If you eat up that time with forty games of Freecell, then you don’t write. The formula is pretty simple really.

So why do I have graphs NASA would be proud of instead of a finished chapter this week? Because I let myself procrastinate. It’s like chocolate in a diet, you may want it, crave it, but you know that you have to say no. Staring at a blank screen may be the equivalent of celery and split-pea soup, but if you stare at it long enough the words will come. The diet will pay off and you will have another chapter in your computer.

This week I’m going to reacquaint myself with my willpower. This week I’m going to make myself sit down at my computer, with the internet turned off, Freecell disabled and my ever-supportive partner ready to make a cup of tea the moment I get tempted to get up and do it myself and I’m going to write. Every single night!

Let’s see how I go.

Nat

Rejection

Every writer, even the newest to the game, knows that rejection is part of the job. But knowing doesn’t make it is easier to take. You remind yourself that it is the story, and not you, that is getting rejected. But when you birthed that story, crafted it, re-wrote, re-modelled and loved it, then you can certainly find no reason to break out the un-used poppers from New Year’s Eve when you get that ‘sorry but’ email. It always cuts.

The pain, the dejection and the ‘I’m not going to do this to myself anymore’ I’ve managed to get down to about 12 minutes. It used to be as many days, but I’ve been working on it –something for which my partner is eternally grateful. At least I know I am not alone in this.

One of my favourite spec fic writers, Robert J Sawyer, talks about one of his short stories and the tale of its rejection. Lauded as being a standout story, nominated for and coming runner up for the coveted Aurora Award “Lost in the Mail” got rejected 17 times before it was accepted. 17! On my little spreadsheet (and all writers know about these spreadsheets; adding graphs and macros can eat up hours of procrastination time), when my stories hit 10 subs, I usually figure they are dead. I don’t actively kill them off, but they fall off the other spreadsheet which tracks those stories I’m actively re-working and following up.

And there is the lesson.

If you set your cut off at 10, you might miss the success at 17. If you set it at 20 you might miss the success of 42. The thing is, maybe the story does need more work, maybe a little tightening here, a bit more explanation there, and there is nothing wrong with considering and acting on that. But maybe, just maybe you simply haven’t yet found the editor who gets it, but it doesn’t mean you won’t.

So, I’ve just reviewed my short story, I’m still happy with it, so I’ve packaged it up and sent it off into the world again. It might come back, in which case I will pack another lunch for it and send it out again. Or maybe this will be the time it will find a new home. It was only attempt 3 after all, so I shouldn’t put too many expectations on it.

Cross your fingers!

Nat