Monthly Archives: December 2012

New Year Writing Resolutions

They’re saying the world might end tomorrow – in which case this will be my last blog. It doesn’t feel like my last blog, so I choose to side with the sceptics. In which case, a fresh, new year is approaching and I thought I’d share my top ten New Year Writing Resolutions with you. If you can, I’d love you to do the same. Hopefully, we shall inspire each other.

WRITING RESOLUTIONS 2013

1. Unplug kettle. In fact, get rid of it altogether, it’s an unhealthy distraction.

2. Stop using Thesaurus on first draft – and stop referring to it as a The-o-saurus.

3. Colons: stop using them.

4. Rouse from coma when not writing.

5. Tweet no more than three times per day. Stop checking Follower stats.

6. Read more, write more, drink less wine.

7. Get novel published before I die or the world ends – whichever comes first.

8. Write first draft for me, subsequent drafts for you.

9. Clean house at least once per month.

10. Learn, evolve, enjoy.

What are yours (writing or otherwise)?

I shall be spending time with my novel after Christmas, far from Twitter and my blog, immersed in the wilderness with the kookaburras and koalas. Hopefully, I shall draw inspiration from my surroundings and finish my book. Look forward to catching up in the New Year!

Until then,

Happy Writing and Merry Christmas.

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How True Are Your Characters?

I was told by my teacher once (very nicely) that she found some of the dialogue in my novel unconvincing. She couldn’t imagine my central characters – ten and eleven years of age – saying the things they did. As I read back through the dialogue, I realised she was right.  Having a ten-year old son myself it should have been obvious, but I think I had been drawing from previous reading experiences rather than the world around me (I read too many Enid Blyton books in my youth). I had to tune back in and remind myself how children interact and behave in the modern world.  I began to stalk them, secretly studying my own kids as they argued, as they played. I hid behind their bedroom doors when they had friends over. I lurked around at the park  jotting down the words they used, the things they talked about, their tone etc. (No charges were laid).

Charles Dickens created some of the most memorable characters in fiction and most of them were based on real people. Dickens’ friend and biographer, John Forster, once said that Dickens made “characters real existences, not by describing them but by letting them describe themselves.” 

I have started again using my observations, working to create characters that feel alive, that kids can identify with  – there’s nothing more jarring in a novel than characters that don’t ring true.  This applies to the most imaginary characters  –  meaning you recognise their emotions and believe their actions. The concept of the film ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is far from believable, yet we go along with it because the relationship between the two characters is driven by a real affection – it doesn’t feel artificial.

A friend once gave me a useful piece of advice to read through your story separately for each character. That way, you can gain a better grasp for their reactions, mannerisms, dialogue – are they true to the character?

Other pieces of advice I have in my notebook – highlighted with bright yellow stars  – are:

–     Draw from people you know, the world around you

–     Understand what your character wants, what is stopping them, how they are going to get it

–     Create one character from a range of people if necessary: the way one person speaks, the way another walks etc.

–     Build your characters up both visually & verbally

–     Ask yourself, what are their relationships, beliefs, habits, activities, strengths, weaknesses, vices, pet peeves

–     Let your character grow naturally as you write

–     Get your characters to describe each other

The better we get to know our characters the more alive they will become.

Do you have any different or interesting techniques to develop your characters?  

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Self-Doubt Be Gone! You’re Killing My Novel!

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“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  Sylvia Plath

I’m having one of those days.  

It could be the bleak, grey clouds, or the stifling heat that has sent my hair to soggy mayhem. It could be my lack of sleep last night, or the neighbour’s dog that’s been left outside and insists on whining about it. It could be any one of these things that has hindered my writing today. But I don’t think so. I’ve not written one word of my novel and believe me it’s not through lack of trying. I’ve spent hours staring at the white, blank space beyond the last full stop. I’ve read and re-read the last paragraph, stretched my fingers, clamped my head between my hands and pleaded for the next scene to present itself.  Yet I’ve achieved nothing, zero, nada.

No. I’m certain it’s because I’ve reached the Grande Finale – and I’ve plummeted into profound, floundering doubt about whether I can pull it off or not.  For starters it involves a battle scene and I’m not exactly what you’d call an expert in this field.  I’ve never swung a sword or shot a gun.  I can’t even karate-kick.  I feel inexperienced, unfamiliar with my topic and unwittingly out of my depth.

Yet it’s also more than that.  Once I finish I’ll want to cast it out to the experts, a sardine to sharks.  I’ll need their honest feedback that will be brutal and cruel.  They’ll despise it.  Advise me to wipe it, burn it, forget the whole miserable idea and seek a different profession using my hands, not my head, perhaps in a sausage factory.

I have stared at that page til my sight turned fuzzy. Switched to Twitter, Facebook, a quick hunt through the fridge – the page remaining as blank as my mind. 

I turned to the experts for inspiration.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”   Sigmund Freud.

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”  Vincent van Gogh

“I found my first novel difficult. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s any more difficult than driving a cab or going to any other job, but there are so many opportunities for self-doubt, that you just kind of need to soldier on.”  Anthony Doerr

As writers we know that self-doubt is part of the territory, we have to wade our way through those murky waters.  We need to focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses when the doubts really kick in.  Be creative and find ways around it.

I’ve been scouring the Internet to find the best advice I can to deal with self-doubt.  I found an article by Author and fiction writer AJ Humpage very helpful.  She says, ‘Psychologists believe self-doubt is borne from our childhood, usually from parents, teachers and peers telling kids that they aren’t good enough, they’ll amount to nothing. Eventually the child will start to believe it, causing them to doubt their abilities. These doubts are then carried through to adulthood. Most of our cognitive development and reasoning about our abilities is laid down through childhood.’

She goes on to say‘The more work you send out, the better the understanding you gain from feedback. It helps you develop your skills, improve your writing and gain experience. Most of all enjoy the whole writing process. You don’t have to be great all of the time because in reality, you can’t. Confidence breeds assurance, so keep sending, keep learning, keep developing and become a better writer.’ 

Tonight I plan to snuggle up on the sofa and watch Braveheart.  Just my notebook and me.  I shall draw inspiration from the tried and tested.

 

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Too much word play?

Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words.

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

So simple and yet so haunting.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated with a novel.  We have to consider scene, characters, plots, subplots, goals, conflict, tension, structure, dialogue, drama, resolution… Breathe. Rotate neck. Put kettle on. 

Yet there is something consoling about Hemingway’s six words. It’s often the simplest sentences that are the most evoking.  It’s about making every word count and scratching the redundant ones.  Part of writing well is the gift of arranging words to evoke image and emotion, so long as the writing contributes to the progression of the story.  When we become too lost in word play we need to ask ourselves whom we’re writing for – ourselves or our readers?

I revisited a few chapters of my novel the other day.  I try not to do this too often – I have to fight my restless fingers itching to edit and push myself forward (for me, editing is like sorting out my wardrobe.  Kill the clutter.  I feel cleansed and liberated).  I scrubbed two thousand words of pure descriptive genius that had absolutely nothing to do with the story.  I set them aside, in a file named ‘homeless’.

Stephen King once famously said, Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it break’s your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

Elmore Leonard,  I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

But then this one,

Toni MorrisonYou rely on a sentence to say more than the denotation and the connotation; you revel in the smoke that the words send up.

Reminder to self – Create fire, make earth move and people weep, but make every word count.

Here’s my attempt at a six-word story –  

‘Congratulations it’s a boy. Not human.’

What’s yours?

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Finding Stillness

A friend sent me an inspiring article yesterday, ‘The Art of Being Still’ by Silas House.  ‘The problem is, too many writers today are afraid to be still.  I’m not talking about the kind of stillness that involves locking yourself in a room with a laptop, while you wait for the words to come. We writers must learn how to become still in our heads, to achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened,’ he writes.

 It’s a wonderful thing when you read something that wakes you up like a cold slab of ice to the back of your neck.  This week, having flurried the kids away to school, I dashed back to my desk, rotated my neck, clicked my knuckles and began the final scene to my children’s novel.   I managed two sentences before the bleeping of emails distracted me.  Five sentences and the doorbell rang: my weekly fruit delivery.  Eight sentences and the revving of the postman’s motorbike delivering my mail.

 Three hours later, I had achieved ten sentences of my book, five email responses including agreeing to host a couple’s cooking class and, completely side-tracked, listening to a radio scam involving a prank phone call to Kate Middleton in hospital.   

Silas goes on to say, ‘I am nearly always in motion, but those who know me best realize that I am being still even in my most active moments.’  He is talking about using the world for our writing by observing the details around us.  We are constantly on the move, flitting from one appointment to the next: the vet, the accountant, the school principal, the kinesiologist.  Each appointment bringing its own new and varied headache of worries.  Yet to find the stillness Silas is talking about, we have to block all these distracting, mundane thoughts and focus on our writing.  The school principal could bring inspiration for a character, the kinesiologist an idea for a scene.  It’s about keeping our heads clear and our notebooks close.

This stillness should also be present when we do find the time to write.  In this fast, technical era, we are easily distracted.  I know of friends who cast their laptops aside, pick up their pencils and notebooks and take themselves to some tranquil corner of the house.  The soft movement of lead on paper, away from the tap tapping of the keyboard, enables them to think more clearly.  

There is a place I sometimes retreat to.  Just me and my laptop.  No Internet access.  No fruit deliveries.  A café, hidden within the grounds of a local plant nursery.  I hide under the shade of a young Maple tree surrounded by Snow Maidens and Magnolias, tapping away and lost to my novel, coffee after coffee.

Tip for the day – find that place that enables you to find your stillness.  Soak in the sounds and scents around you.  And write.

How do you find your stillness?

(To read Silas’ full article click here)

 

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My First Blog

A small blog about a small book getting to the top of a very large slush pile… hopefully.

Hello and welcome to my first blog!

I’m writing a book.  The God Damn Book, my family calls it.  My first, and I’m lost within it. 

I’m not functioning in the outside world quite as I used to.  Dishes pile high, the laundry basket is growing mold.  I’m late for everything. 

Our dust has become so grimy it traps live flies and insects.  Our spiders sidle about bulging at the abdomen.  No longer the need to spend endless hours weaving webs.  They crawl along my kitchen windowsill lapping up the latest dust victims with their fangs.

Stray ants roam our pantry.  There’s always a tasty potato moulded to the shelf at least two years past its prime.

Please don’t ask me about our toilets.  The Pubaholic’s stopped using them.  He claims the toilets on the building site are more hygienic.

Welcome to my first blog.  Here we shan’t feel guilty.  Leave those dishes.  Pick up your ragged notebook.  Let your creativity spill word by word.  We shall spur each other on.

Of course, should I publish the God Damn Book, all will be forgiven. 

So, that’s my mission.  To conquer that editor’s slush pile.  And I will share my secrets with you along the way.

Every Monday, every Friday, except I realise today is Tuesday.

Let’s journey together.  And in between let’s loose ourselves within our books.  After all, that’s the fun part.

For today, I’ll leave you with a paragraph I once read by an editor of a Melbourne publishing house.  It read something like this,

‘The primary cause of pain for editors is the swelling hunchback.  Hours spent bent over pages slavishly deleting and stabbing manuscripts with nubby pencils leads to hunchbackery (the technical term) and an addiction to codeine. Editorial addictions span further than codeine.  Like all office workers, we have our caffeine dependencies but most editors also have a thing for hard liquor.  This isn’t entirely because we’re ugly, humpbacked loners, rather it is to wash away the many exclamation marks, misplaced apostrophes and Generation-Y abbreviations we’re exposed to throughout the day.’

Mmm… So that’s what we’re up against.  Tip for the day – Think twice before sending in your manuscript without a good professional edit.

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