What I learned in 2013: The one about writing

This January, I am looking at what I learned last year, so I can do better this year.  The first post was about Christmas, but now the festive season is well and truly over.  Epiphany (the feast of) has come and gone, the Christmas decorations have been put away (with the exception of the one that got missed, which will now sit on the windowsill until Michaelmas*) and it’s time to think seriously about what 2013 has taught me about writing and what that means for 2014.

*I don’t know when that is either. But it’s a long time from Christmas and it sounds good!

First, partly because it’s the most recent lesson, and because it encompasses some other things I’ve learned about me and writing this year, I have learned that…

…NaNoWriMo is not for me (don’t all faint at once).

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month.  It’s a joint effort where people around the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in November.  People do it as a way to encourage them to write.  The idea is to give yourself a challenging word count every day for a limited time as a spur to persist, push through and get down some words.

It sounds like a good idea and for several years now, I’ve given it a go.  In none of them, have I got anywhere near writing 50,000 words.  More to the point, I think I would have written more in November if I hadn’t attempted it.  And here’s why:

  • Arbitrary goals set by someone else (or even set by myself) with a ‘win’ or ‘lose’ status attached to them get my back up.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that I think I’m naturally ornery.  I don’t like being told what to do.  Even when it’s good for me.  Maybe especially when it’s good for me.  But it also stems from my long and disastrous relationship with weight-loss dieting.  I have learned the hard way that diets don’t work.  They set you up by making you obsessed with food, then telling you not to eat.  They divorce you from your natural relationship with hunger, by dictating what, and sometimes when, you will eat, with no reference to individuality or circumstances.  They make you crazy.  (There is a much bigger post – indeed, thesis – in this, but I’m restraining myself because that’s not what THIS one is about.)
    And I worked out this year that NaNoWriMo feels like a ‘diet’ to me.  An arbitrary set of rules, that may or may not mean anything useful, that you ‘win’ if you follow and ‘lose’ if you don’t.  This makes me cross.  It Continue reading

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.


Have a great day – your own way!

SYWTBAW: Getting your work out there

Flying into the unknownA couple of weeks ago I started a new series on the blog called ‘So you want to be a writer?’  It seems I have plenty of things to say on this topic, as I have roughly fifty scraps of paper lying around the house with ideas for posts scribbled on them, but so far they haven’t made it to the blog. (Writer reality number 15: there are more ideas than there are hours to realise them.)

But today I thought I’d liberate one of them from its scrappy home and it’s this:

Writers put it out there.

Their work, that is!

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NaNo, Planning, Persistence and the curious incident of the dog and the blog post*

Okay, I’ma goin’ to tell you what I’ve been up to (sorry, channelling Kanye there – and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write) but first, I have to ask, do you think that somewhere, sometime there was an actual dog-eating-homework incident?

Do you think that at some innocent time in history, a good and conscientious child actually did their report on the Greater Northern Brown-Snouted Crocodile, complete with diagrams and graphs and neatly ruled borders, only to have it mauled beyond recognition by a puppy with self-control issues?**

I like to think there was.  Because I have had my post eaten.  Admittedly, not by a puppy and my borders probably weren’t as tidy, but I had a writing post for Monday and I wrote it and it was nearly finished and almost completely made sense, when the internet ATE IT.  (Which should teach me not to compose on the blog server and probably will – until I forget and backslide and it happens again.)

There was an upside to all this: I learned that I can swear with a fluency and vehemence that frankly, impressed me.  But I will not demonstrate that for you here, since I like to keep myself naice in print.  Also, now that I have calmed down, I would blush and blushing does not become me.  I’ll redo that writing post next Monday and you can tell me whether it was worth the effort!

In the meantime, though, I would like, if you would bear with me, to update you on my NaNoWriMo progress and lessons learned in the attempt.  You will remember, if you are a regular, that I took on NaNo (unofficially) mostly to overcome The Fear.

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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?

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Wednesday WIP: Unexpected writerly inspiration and ideas from my friends

So, on Monday, I took up a writing challenge and put out an open invitation to others to join in.

(BTW, that invitation is still well and truly open so if you haven’t had a chance to throw your bit into the ring yet, please do! Click the blue ‘Monday’ above.)

I was delighted to see how many people responded and how good their snippets of work were.  If you haven’t seen them yet, do have a look and if you feel inclined, I’m sure the contributors would love your feedback.

I was expecting to enjoy reading the work.  What was an unexpected pleasure was finding two little gems of ‘advice’ that I can use immediately in my current manuscript.

The first was this one, from Bella

One thing that always works for me is to have an “out of body” experience. That’s when I have a look at what’s currently taking place as if I were a spectator of the tragedy or comedy unfolding before me. No longer am I the protagonist, but instead, a bystander who is able to observe so she can later recount what she has witnessed.

She was talking about finding inspiration for a blog post, but it burst upon me as a way to overcome the slight block I’ve been experiencing in my story.  I need to get some of my characters through a list of tasks and wasn’t sure how to approach it.  But this has made me realise that perhaps I’m overthinking it.  I’m well into this story.  These characters are well fleshed-out now, with personalities and ideas of their own.  Maybe what I need to do is just give them the task list, perch like the proverbial fly on the wall and watch what they do.

If you’re not a writer, that may sound extremely odd, but if you are, you might like to try it too.  I know it’s made me excited about writing these scenes I’ve been avoiding, and I’m all for anything that can do that!

The other little nugget of wonderful was from Jett, who said this:

As a rule, I want each character to be interesting enough – even if they only have a couple lines – that if I had to I could write a story on them.

This is an excellent reminder.  I once read somewhere – I think it was in Stephen King’s, On Writing, that every character in a scene thinks they’re the protagonist and as writers, we need to remember that.  If a character doesn’t bring wants and needs to a scene, he or she shouldn’t be in it – or the story.  Since my ‘list of tasks’ involves several minor characters and a hovering bad guy (who thinks he’s a good guy) this is a timely reminder for me.  So thanks, Jett!

Incidentally, Jett has recently set up a Kickstarter for what sounds like a fascinating project dealing with unknown women’s history.  He was too polite to mention it in his comment, but this is a subject close to my heart, so I’m doing it now! Check it out his post about it here.

So I’m off to get some scenes done in the story, refreshed by an unexpected source.  What about you? Have you had any serendipitous moments of clarity?

Writers, follow your own star and dream big

‘Dream no little dreams, for they contain no magic’.

I don’t know who said this first.  (I read it on the side of a memento coffee mug from a RWA conference and it was provided by Vicki Lewis Thompson.)

I just know that it is a phrase that is speaking to me at the moment on the subject of writing.

It came to mind yesterday when I saw the girl, who is on school holidays, spend a good couple of hours creating a personal translation key for the runes in The Hobbit.  I’m pretty sure this would have pleased its author.

When J.R.R. Tolkien sat down to write the Hobbit he could not have had any idea that they book would be as popular and enduring as it turned out to be. If what I read is true, he never intended to be a novelist.  He only wrote the stories to introduce people to the mythology he was creating.

Yes, that’s right, J.R.R. didn’t set out to write a book.  He set out to create a whole mythology for a country (England) that he felt lacked a proper one.

What a completely mental thing to try to do.

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Lights, Camera, Action: or how movies can make you a better novelist (and revisions less painful)

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: she’s just looking for an excuse to watch The Holiday while she should be working.

Well… okay, it may be true that a movie a little like that is running in the background while I type this, but it’s for a good reason and if you’ll bear with me, I’ll explain.

A week or so ago, I was meditating on the extraordinary power a movie’s music has to evoke emotion, meaning and even a sense of place in the audience.*

So then I got to thinking about all the other clever people who are involved in creating the experience we have when we go to the cinema.

It’s not just the actors, although they get most of the glory (when there’s glory to be had).  There’s the cinematographer and the director who frame the shots and decide what we actually see on the screen.  There are the production and set designers and builders who create the world of the movie and provide so many subtle cues about the characters and what’s important.  There are costume designers, who quite literally ‘make’ the characters, if the old saying about clothes is true.  There are sound and lighting and cgi people and foley artists and props people and casting agents and editors and… you get the idea.

When you consider all that talent, all those people who make up the team and bring you the movie, one starts to wonder what the writer brings.

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Monday on Writing talks Pronouns and Communication

Has anything I have said to date on this blog has led you to believe that I read the Harvard Business Review?

Go on, you can be honest. 😉

Well, occasionally, I do, as I believe in broadening the mind (and, you know, himself sometimes brings one home from his flitting about on planes).

Anyway, in the December 2011 edition they had a FASCINATING article about research done by one James W Pennebaker on how the use of pronouns reveals one’s personality.

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I sold a book!

Oh, my lovelies, you have no idea how long I have waited to write that title on a post!

Well, actually, since some of you have been following me since I started writing this blog, maybe you do.  Although since, to some degree, I’ve always wanted to write a book, maybe the lifetime of the blog doesn’t really cut it. 😉

But enough waffling, down to details!

First, it isn’t the one I got the competition placing for, although that placing did indirectly lead to the sale.  Second, for the old-school among you, I should warn you that, at least to begin with, it will be in e-book form only.  Third, it isn’t out yet, nor do I have cover art, although both those things should happen soon, I hope.

But I still think it’s pretty cool!

The title of my first release is Rules are for Breaking and it is a contemporary romance starring two pig-headed people who both need to learn that you can’t run a relationship the way you run a business, before they can have their happy ending.

(Can I just say that I have never described the story that way before but it tickles me no end and is pretty accurate, so I’m letting it stand!)

It is coming out under the brand spanking new digital romance imprint of Penguin Australia, Destiny Romance. Destiny was launched at the recent RWA conference and can I say, they know how to throw a ‘do’ those girls!

It’s very exciting (to me, anyway!) for a number of reasons.

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