Tag Archives: Writing

Notes on writing

To blog or not to blog…

It seems like everyone I know has recently started a blog. Most of us are trying to stick to a theme (mine is meant to be the journey of a writer, just in case you’ve missed that). But about six weeks into it you suddenly find you are writing about your cat, your impending high school reunion, or your inability to embracing the move from daylight savings time. The theme gets a bit lost. So when is it okay to deviate from your theme?

As I said in an earlier entry, every action in a writer’s world can be put down as gathering material, likewise all writing can be passed off as ‘exploratory creativity’ –but when does a blog move from sharing your views on a theme to gratuitous ‘me-ism’? And does it matter? After all, would readers rather hear about my success on Saturday when I forced myself to sit at the computer until I wrote a page and actually ended up with five (true story). Or would they rather read about the challenges in making six fingered gloves, complete with false fingers, so I could attend a ‘P’ party as a person with Polydactyly instead of a pirate (of which there were eight).

The first story, while it gives me the warm-fuzzies and fits well with my theme, won’t ring many people’s bells as a story. Conversely, the six fingered gloves have nothing to do with writing (despite the apparent benefits, they didn’t improve my typing speed) but probably piques more interest.

But I think it is important to keep with a theme, so here is my writer-ly advice for this week; write. Sit down, allow for no excuses, and put words on the page. It has always been my last line of attack when I don’t want to write, and it always works. Only once you have those precious (even if they are crap) words in the computer can you waste your time on other endeavours, like building six fingered gloves.

Happy writing!

Nat

The Hidden Broccoli

It is overcast in Melbourne today, so my brain has switched over to winter mode and I’m cooking pumpkin soup for lunch. It is immaterial that the temperature is going to get to 31°C, we just don’t do overcast and warm in Melbourne, so this climate-change induced weather phenomenon has still managed to trigger my soup making behaviour.

Why am I babbling about soup? Whenever I cook I always try to hide some good stuff in the food, especially green good stuff. So true to form I have just diced up some broccoli and dumped it in the pot with all the yummy carb-filled ingredients which make up the majority of my pumpkin soup (plus a little curry, a couple of Vietnamese mint leaves and a dash of chilli –try it). The point being, no matter how bloody delicious my meals are, they always contain at least a hint of healthy stuff.

And so it is with my writing. I will always try to sneak at least a little bit of ‘good’ into everything I write; be it a horror story, a humorous flash fiction piece or even a blog entry (note the climate change remark earlier). The main thing is to try and keep it subtle. If people can taste the broccoli they won’t eat the soup.

Am I an expert? No way! But I think it is important to try. Published writers have so much power, they can talk to hundreds of thousands of people at a time, getting into their heads and hearts so deeply that they have the opportunity to shape belief systems, to make people care. Some do it beautifully; Robert J Sawyer, Jennifer Fallon. Others are a little more clunky, but we forgive them anyway. The point is they try.

So when you get published remember; you have an opportunity to use your power for good. Imagine if we all snuck a little broccoli in each time we wrote. The world could be a much better place.

Happy writing,

Nat

Clusters of Fortune

For some strange reason writing rejections always come in groups. I find I manage to shrug off the first one pretty easily. But the second one, which always follows just 24 short hours afterwards, always delivers a bigger blow than it should (especially when the reason for rejection is that the reader believes it is too hard to find a 100 year old oak tree in Australia. Never mind there are heaps of 100 year old oak trees here, never mind that I never said the story was set in Australia. Never mind it’s not even important to the story. Not bitter, not bitter, not bitter…). We won’t even talk about what the third rejection does (and you always know that one is less than a week away). That is the cluster rule of writing.

But there is an upside.

Acceptances, too, come in groups. I told you of the recent hold request. Just a day after that I had a story accepted. Irrational superstition forbade me to tell you about it until all the pieces of paper were signed and the proofs approved. But the excitement of receiving good news so hot on the heels of good news is as uplifting as the second rejection is crushing. It makes you believe there is a future for your writing after all.

I’d like to say that is why we do it. Why writers write. But the truth is we write because there are stories in our heads that haunt us until we put them on paper and give them to others to read. It is a personal exorcism. The frustrating part is how difficult it is to get your babies read.

So please, read abundantly, read openly and read dangerously. You never know where you might go or what you might learn. And the more people read, the more magazines will print stories and the more clusters of acceptances I will get in my inbox!

Happy reading,

Nat

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