Feel Good February

Further to my post on Thursday, here’s a primer for how to do some good in your community.

feel-good-feb-2

This graphic came from my new friends at Feel Good February.  A friend put me on to them the other day I thought it was a fabulous idea.  The graphic below explains the concept, but you might want also to visit their website or Facebook page. Continue reading

Sisters as inspiration…

Image courtesy of Paul Martin Eldridge/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul Martin Eldridge/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have literally dozens of half-baked posts lined up waiting to be fully baked, but I must break into transmission with some exciting (to me, anyway) news.

My big sister is, as I type, in sunny Torino (that’s Turin, Italy, for the non-Italian savvy among us) for the world Masters Games.

In case you don’t know, the Masters Games is an international sporting meet for sportspeople over 30.

I’d like you to notice that word, ‘sportspeople’.  It’s kind of important.  Because, as looking at a picture of me will probably indicate, I don’t come from a massively sporty family.

Not, mind you, that you should infer too much about the rest of my family from me.  They almost all played more sport than I did and in the case of cricket and my brothers, I believe with some skill.  And in their time they have run and played squash and been gym members and all those things that people – even me – do to try to be healthy.  (Although not squash, in my case.  Don’t have the knees for it.)

But to the best of my knowledge, none of my family has ever participated in a world competition in any sport.  And now my sister, my older sister, professional, business owner, wife and mother of two grown-up children is competing as part of a rowing team in the Masters Games.

And I am so proud of her, I could burst.

She did a bit of rowing at uni, but this recent endeavour was really started as a fun way to keep fit with some friends.  Then their coach started to get ideas and now she has a training regime and she’s got muscles on her eyebrows and knows more about her heart rate than is quite decent.

And this is the woman who, as a child, was praised by her physical education teacher for being – and I quote – ‘a neat worker’.

I have recently decided that I need to get serious about improving my fitness.  The karate is helping, but I need better general fitness to do that better.  Exercising does not come naturally to me.  ‘Bone idle’ may not quite be my second name, but ‘naturally sedentary’ is in there somewhere.  But if my sister, who is several years older than me, can make the Masters Games, then I figure literally anything is possible.  The sky – or Torino at any rate – is the limit! I’ve reached that age where you need to decide whether you are going to be fit or slid into premature old age.

Thanks partly to my sister, I’m choosing fit.

So go get ’em, girly rowing team from country Australia.  I’m barracking for you!

Fun Film Editing Video (and how it might work for writing)

Okay, I admit it, I found this video because I was trawling youtube for Doctor Who videos.  I don’t know why, because I own the full set on DVD and the most recent episodes are on iview.  But I like what some people do with clips and songs and…

Okay, I’m just a bit of a Whovian tragic, we’ll just take that as read.

But while I was doing that, I came across this clever little video.

Its purpose is to demonstrate a variety of film editing techniques using footage from Doctor Who (which is how I came across it).  You don’t need to know Doctor Who to follow it (although it would probably help to know that Doctor Who is a science fiction/fantasy series that involves time travel).

As someone with a rudimentary-but-keen-to-know-more understanding of film-making (mostly gathered from watching the extras on the extended Lord of the Rings DVDs) I found it very interesting.

But then my writerly brain kicked in and I wondered if you could use some of these ideas in the written form as well.  Cutting before and after action have different effects, as does continuing dialogue across action and so forth.  Obviously, they are different media, so it’s not a direct correlation, but the possibilities are interesting.

A lot of novelists already use screenwriting techniques to help structure and create their books.  Do you think we can also learn from the other film disciplines to make our stories better?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you have any insights or links to share, please do!

Going your own way

I was going to have a rant.  I read something about writing process that gave me the irrits, and I was going to have a rant.

But then I got to thinking (it’s my curse, being able to see things from both sides) and I decided that there was something in the advice, even though it irritated me, so I have been giving it some more, less ranty thought.

There will be a post in it, but in the meantime, the gist of what I wanted to say is:

Do what works for you.

If it’s writing like a mad thing, then editing at leisure, do that.  If it’s writing at the kitchen table after everyone is in bed, do that.  If it’s doing most of the work in your head, then writing the thing in almost one draft, do that.  Whatever gets you to ‘the end’ and makes you happy with the result is what works for you and don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong.

And now, in celebration of doing things your own way, my latest favourite musical group, Walk off the Earth, with a great a capella cover of Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble.

I should have got onto them much earlier, as they were the ones responsible for this clever cover of possibly the most covered song in the history of the internet, Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know.

I was amused to discover this little more recent send-up, which made me like them even more:

And finally, perhaps the best example of my point, of doing it your own way, this great cover of the Beatles From Me to You.

Enjoy!

Have a great day – your own way!

So you want to be a writer…

I have many ideas for posts in this series.  I’m actually brimming over with notions and really looking forward to nailing them down in the hope they will help.

But today, I have to finish clearing out a second-hand store’s worth of STUFF out of my house to make room for my husband’s new billiard table.  He never wants anything but this is something he has wanted for ages and I am going to make it happen, if I have to drag the stuff to Vinnies on a wagon!

Also, today I am also on blog duty over at Romance Writers of the Apocalypse (where I’m talking about choosing a word for the year).

So today I am just going to share one idea and a little story to get started.

The idea is this:

Writers write.

I know.  You’ve heard it before.  But it’s true.  The key thing that separates writers from non-writers is that writers write.  I will talk more about how, when, how often and the like at a later time, but I think the key thing here is persistence.

Which brings me to the story.  As regular readers know, I had my first novel published this year.

What you may not know is that I didn’t write it this year.  I didn’t write it last year either.

The novel that finally became Rules are for Breaking was written some years ago.  I submitted it at the time; it was rejected.  At the time, the market for that kind of romance was fairly limited, so rather than try to submit it elsewhere, I put it aside and moved on.  Then I ran into some major personal dramas that put writing on hold for the best part of two years.  I didn’t get much new work done.  But I came back (see the persistence theme beginning).  Having tasted the joy of finished stories (even rejected ones) I needed more.

So I started writing a different book (my girly thriller) and, in due course, I submitted the first three chapters of it to a competition run by the Romance Writers of Australia.

I didn’t win. (Did you really think the big finish was this quick?  Have you never seen any movies?)

I came second.  (Rejoicing!)

The editor who judged didn’t request my manuscript.  (Misery!)

But she gave my details to another editor at Penguin, who was starting up a new digital romance imprint, called Destiny Romance.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

(Actually, there is more to this story, but that, including the completely wrong way to handle a phone conversation with a potential publisher, is for another time!)

The point here is the one that my husband made at the time.  I said that this opportunity had come out of the blue.  He said no, it hadn’t.  He said it had come because I had kept working.  Yes, it was for work that I did earlier, but it was the work that I was doing now that got it noticed.  It was, in his words, all part of the body of work.

Or in other words, it happened because I kept writing.

So, here’s my first piece of advice, if you want to be a writer:

WRITE.

Because if you do, you too will have the chance to communicate some of the way you see the world with other people.  And some of them will ‘get it’.  And that is the true joy – and I couldn’t mean that more sincerely – of things like this: 2012 ARRA finalist

So, here’s today’s question for those who want to be writers: Watcha workin’ on?

It’s 2013: So, what now?

I’m back.  Holiday officially over, blogging and other writing firmly back on my daily menu.

It’s traditional at this time of year to make resolutions and in the past, I would have been front and centre ready to resolve to be better, stronger, faster (read, thinner) and so on, with the best of them.

But I am older and wiser now.

I know a resolution is usually as insubstantial as the breath it is uttered with.  And goals that are really dreams – that is, with no plan behind them – are about as useful as resolutions.  A resolution by any other name will stink the same by January 5…

So I have waited until after the feast of the Epiphany (it seemed appropriate) to stake my claim on the goal-field of 2013, in the hope that time to consider will keep me sensible.  This time next year, we’ll find out, I guess!

So, what do I want to achieve this year?  Monday on this blog is about writing, so I’ll start with the writing goals:

This year I aim to:

Finish and sell my ‘girly thriller’ which has taken a long time to craft, but is so close to done I can taste it.

Rewrite the companion novel to Rules are for Breaking for Destiny Romance (They’ve save me a slot for the second half of the year – would you look at that, a real live deadline!)

Write a short story – a first for me! – to enter in the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto awards.  I had an idea over the holidays which I think might work and I’m excited about writing it.

Write the second in the ‘girly thriller’ series (which will require it to go much faster than the first, but I hope I can do that!)

Have all of that done in time to clear the decks for NaNoWriMo.  Having broken my NaNo reluctance last year, I’d like to have a stab at writing something completely new in that month.  Don’t know yet what it will be. A new short romance? A novella?

I could add things to this list, but this is supposed to be about things I am actually able and going to do, not just would like to.  I dearly love a list but I have learned the hard way that it’s best to take into account one’s capacity before signing off on a list…

Which brings me to another writing goal for this year: the care and improvement of this blog.

I started blogging in March last year with a plan and I’ve mostly stuck to it.  But now I’d like to improve.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be overhauling my categories and tags, to make things easier to find and tweaking the blog schedule so I can include more of the things readers seem to like more often.  I’ll talk about the other day improvements when I get to them, but here’s what I have in mind for Mondays:

I will be starting a new series called ‘So you want to be a writer?’  I don’t claim to be an expert, but, like most of us treading this path, I’ve learnt a lot as I’ve gone and I continue to learn.  This column invites you to come on the journey with me and I’ll try to show you the ways I’ve found around the boulders, slippery shale and crevasses on the way.

I would also like to introduce a semi-regular feature of interviews with people I go to for research.  I haven’t quite worked out what to call this or how often I’ll be able to manage it, but I know I’m fascinated by people who KNOW things and I figure other writers are too.  (Friends with skills, if you’re reading this, be afraid, I WILL be coming for you!)

One feature that I didn’t manage as well as I wanted to last year was the First Friday Wordfest (mostly because I kept forgetting it was the first Friday).  So this year I will be moving the Wordfest posts to Monday and doing them whenever I think of wonderful words that I want to share!

Finally, one of my most popular series of posts last year was the ‘what makes a man sexy?‘ set.  So I might try a few more along those lines, in the context of characters.

And I think that’s enough to be going on with for now!  I have plans for Wednesdays and Fridays too, but they can wait.  With any luck you’ll come back to find out what they are! 😉

So, what about you? What are YOUR plans for this year?  If you’re a writer, what are you going to do with your year? (NB: There are some great tips for focusing on Valerie Parv’s Monday mentoring blog today.)  Tell me your plans. (Imagine seductive, impossible-to-resist voice. Go on! You’re a writer after all! 😉 )

NaNo’s history – so what’s next?

As you know, this year I participated (unofficially) in National Novel Writing Month (known to its friends as NaNoWriMo.

The stated aim is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.  But I’ll be honest with you.  I never expected to write 50,000 words.

If I had been writing a new work, I might have managed that, or something close, but I wasn’t.  I am close to the end of my big work in progress (WIP) and I had stalled somewhat, as I faced the brutal reality of pulling together a tense plot which is much more complicated than anything I’ve written before.

This is supposed to represent me being all gritty and determine to write - but really it's just an excuse to fangirl over The Hobbit!

This is supposed to represent me being all gritty and determined to write – but really it’s just an excuse to fangirl over The Hobbit!

For me, NaNo was about overcoming The Fear (yes, always capitalised, as that is how it looms in my head and heart) of failure – and using a deadline, or word count target to push through it.

So, the good news is that it worked.  I got through the part that was stalling me, am out the other side and am on the downhill run.

The even BETTER news is that I have learned something really important about how I work and how to set word count goals that are challenging but manageable.

I have previously struggled with word count goals, as the way I work means that I can seldom achieve the giddy numbers that many people do.  Sure, there are days, when the story is flowing, that I can get down several thousand goodish words which I can edit later without too much trouble into something worth reading.  But these days I tend to plan a bit more in advance, so I know more about what I’m trying to do in a scene, which means I choose my words more carefully and consequently it takes longer.  I might write many thousands of words during a session, but I end it with a much smaller number of edited words and those are the only ones I count.  Since they’re the only ones that contribute to the book’s total, that seems sensible, to me.

And naturally, the more complicated the plot and the point in the plot, the trickier the scene is to write and the more slowly I get to those magic ‘finished’ words.

However, what this hot-house period of NaNo has taught me is that, even on the worst days, writing from scratch (which no previous words to edit) and in the trickiest of scenes, I can create 1,000 finished words.

In previous times, when in the grip of production panic and comparing myself to other people (never a good idea; comparisons really are stinky) I would have flapped around saying ‘it’s not enough!’  Must do more!

But that was stupid.  This is the same thinking that led me, when editing a magazine, to decide what needed to be done on each day, without any reference to what was possible, then, when it didn’t happen, just add today’s list to tomorrow’s list.  Trust me, that way madness and sickness lie.  I succumbed to both.

And it isn’t even necessary.  If I can turn out 1,000 ‘finished’ words a day, working five days a week, I will have 100,000 words in 20 weeks – or six months, allowing for holidays and the unexpected.  That’s a whole novel.  And that is a speed I can live with.

So this is my new goal: a minimum of 1,000 good words a day.

I know this is a good goal, as it makes me feel energised and inspired, rather than overwhelmed and panicky.  I also know it’s good because I have been doing it since the 1st of December and it is working!  On the hardest day, I managed 1200 good words from scratch.  On another day, I wrote 895 edited words, and 1,000 of a rough draft of the next scene, which the following day turned into 2,500 edited words – giving me roughly 3,395 (or a chapter, basically) over the two days.  Which shows the other benefit of a good goal – because I’m not afraid of this goal, I just sit down and do it and as a result, I’m building up momentum again, something I thought I’d lost on this story!

So, although I got nowhere near the official word count, I am very happy with the results of my unofficial NaNo.  My friend Alison Stuart also found it an inspiring learning experience, even though she didn’t make the numbers either.  (You can read about what she learnt here.)

How did you go?  Did you try? Did you succeed?  What has it taught you that you can use into the future?

I must now have a Turducken

I know,  I know, Monday is supposed to be serious and about writing, but I simply cannot concentrate on serious right now.  Not now I know about the TURDUCKEN.

For those of you who were delicately culinarily nurtured, a turducken is a turkey which has been boned, then stuffed with a boned duck and a boned chicken.

No, I am not kidding.

There seems to be some difference of opinion as to whether the chicken is innermost, or the duck, and extra layers of stuffing between and inside the birds seem to be optional but really, the point is that this is one serious poultry fest.

Now, I know that many people probably think this is a little crass.  Sure, it’s kind of excessive and I believe it is very popular in the southern United States, a part of the world legendary for feasting on a scale that would have impressed Henry the 8th.

But there is part of me that LOVES this.  Continue reading

What I Learned from Offline October

Those of you who follow this blog (may blessing rain upon you for making a writer happy) might remember that, at the start of October, I decided to try to go light on the internet during that month.

Specifically, the idea was to limit online time to an hour per day, so as to have time to engage in offline pursuits that ‘fill the well’ of creativity, partly to inform NaNoWriMo in November.

As far as the stated aim of an hour a day went, I would have to say it was a colossal failure.  (I appreciate you keeping the laughs down to a polite tittering.  Your manners are valued.)

But, as an exercise in working out where the time goes and making  a plan for the future, it has been, I think, very successful.

Here’s what I discovered:

There are three main ways that I lose time to the internet.  The first is when I am avoiding jobs that I think are going to be difficult, scary or boring – or classic procrastination, in other words.  The second is in genuine work, which needs to be done, either for business, personal or volunteer reasons.  The third is in due to the fundamentally interconnected, diffuse and non-focussed nature of the way I interact with it.

So, how can I deal with these issues?

Continue reading

Gettin’ my NaNoWriMo on – or how word count can fight fear

I am assuming that everyone knows what NaNoWriMo is, but just in case you don’t, it’s a writing community challenge, in which people sign up to write fifty thousand words during November.  The idea is that you can get a novel – or a draft of one, or the bones of one, anyway – written in a month.

A lot of people love it and some have gone on to produce published, even award-winning novels from it.  But until now, I have avoided it.

This is partly because November is often a busy month for me and partly because I have never liked word count as a measure of progress.  Contrary to a lot of writing advice, I edit as I go, which means that when it comes to comparing numbers of words written in a day, I can’t keep up with people who like to write a ‘dirty draft’ then fix it up later.

But… while I’m cool with how I write, lately I’ve been finding that I just haven’t been getting enough done.

Now, I could put this down to a number of things.  I have been busy lately and this November is not going to be any less busy than usual.  It would be easy to cut myself slack and say it’s just life.

But I think there’s more to it than that.  I think I have been succumbing to The Fear. This fear has always been with me when it comes to writing.  It’s the fear that I won’t be good enough.  That I won’t be able to do justice to the ideas in my head and that I’ll let down my characters and my readers.

You’d think, now that I’ve had a book published, that the fear would lessen.  But in fact I think it’s got worse.  It’s not conscious – it certainly isn’t rational – but lately I’ve noticed that my productivity has gone to hell and I think this might be the cause.

So, I’ve decided that a concerted push at just getting the words down might be just Continue reading