Where my writing is pulling me lately

I have a love hate relationship with blogging. It comes in fits and spurts. I genuinely love writing, so blogging seems a natural hobby to have. Except that it isn’t. Most days, thinking of a blog post feels like hard work. I already have enough on my plate with trying to think of words to put into my second manuscript now that my first is out on submission. I also deal with words most days of the week through my day job, and when I’m not working in one capacity or another, I’m probably trying to tackle my ever growing TBR (To Be Read) pile.

I know I’m not the only writer to suffer from these problems, and really it’s not a problem in the grand scheme of things. Yes, having an active blog would make my engagement as a writer and potential author easier. I would probably be able to grow my audience if I posted more regularly and that would mean more people to know about and buy my book when (not if) it eventually comes out. I’ve just never been one of those people who can blog when there’s nothing to say. It takes a certain level of training to be able to think up and fire off creative writing every day.

The other thing I have been putting my focus towards lately is a course in Copywriting through the Australian Writers Centre. For a long time I’ve fancied that one day I will quit my ‘normal’ job and go out on my own as a freelance writer. The only thing is, as aforementioned, I don’t seem to have the stamina for thinking up and evidently pitching idea after idea to publications, in order to make any sort of living. That’s a bit of a problem if I ever want to freelance.

In truth, I like that I channel my creative words into my novels. It’s what I am most passionate about. I also really enjoy reworking other people’s words. I always have. (Maybe it’s that little bit of control freak in me?) In another life, perhaps I would have pursued a career in editing, and maybe I still will. I have such a keen eye for detail that I actually enjoy proofreading and editing other people’s work. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but I do like to read good quality content. Sloppy mistakes hurt my soul – but hey, we ALL make them. I’m not about shaming people if they don’t have a strong grasp on grammar or have a tendency to make silly mistakes. If everyone was perfect there’d be no reason for editors. And I love editors.

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When I saw the copywriting course advertised through AWC, I thought why not give it a go? It’s creative writing, but with the theme/facts already at hand. No need to scrounge around thinking of the angle or the story. It’s about taking the facts and presenting them in an interesting and saleable way.

We are actually surrounded by copy. It’s in just about everything we read and look at every day. That brochure on the table of a coffee shop, the annoying pop up internet ads, newsletters, blog posts, traditional ads, they’re all copy. Surely I’m not the only one who gets annoyed when copy is riddled with mistakes or simply doesn’t sound right?

I didn’t think so.

A good copy writer will be able to take a creative brief and pull something together that a client will want to use. I’m hoping that’s what this course will give me. The skills and confidence to put myself out there and get behind all that copy we see day to day.

After all, I’ve been perfecting other people’s copy for more than a decade now. It’s about time I started writing it myself.

If you’d like to know more about copywriting or any of my other freelance work, contact me here.

 

Writers’ Retreat at Aldinga Beach

One of the many perks of participating in the Fiona McIntosh Masterclass is the growing network of writers you get to connect with. Fiona has set up a closed Masterclass Alumni facebook group, where we can share successes and coordinate state based meet-ups. It’s through this group that I was fortunate enough to be invited to a South Australia Writers Retreat, hosted by two of Fiona’s early masterclassers. It was located at a gorgeous 1960s Holiday House overlooking the beach at Aldinga.

For anyone familiar with South Australia’s landscape, Aldinga is a far cry from my home region: the Barossa Valley. But the retreat started on a Friday night so I only had to drive from work in the city; about half the distance compared to coming from home.

The weather was horrendous. Autumn finally decided to show up, and she did so with gusto. The wind and rain whipped my car around and it was far too dark to see the house numbers by the time I arrived. Thankfully, someone else stopped ahead of me and looked to be scouting the area, and with two sets of headlights on the road below, our hosts braved the wind and rain to stand on the balcony and wave us down.

Once I was inside, dry and wearing my ugg boots, we all sat down to a lovely dinner of homemade pumpkin soup and bread rolls. The perfect accompaniment for cold weather and getting to know everyone. There were six of us in total that first night (plus the dog and cat), with another to join the following day for the write in.

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The balcony between showers

With full bellies, we moved to the lounge to settle in and watch, The Last Masterclass on DVD. For those of you that don’t know, Fiona took over the masterclass schedule from Bryce Courtenay after he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 2012. It was wonderful to see the master himself, his passion and humbling attitude towards his life, work and ultimately his death. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend watching it.

It was an early night for me, being wiped from a day at work and the long drive. The next day would be all about writing.

I woke at 7.30am, a wonderful sleep in for me, being used to a toddler waking me much earlier most days. The other guests were up and it wasn’t long before we all congregated in the kitchen to stare out of the window between downpours to get a glimpse of the ocean. We had free reign to help ourselves to tea, coffee, toast, cereal and loads of fruit. There was no schedule, it was simply an opportunity for us to concentrate on our work without the interruptions of home.

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Not a bad backdrop to work to.

I dove straight into the revision of draft #4 of my manuscript. However, I found sitting for long periods of time quite intense, so like a fidgeting child I kept getting up to walk around, stretch or make a cup of tea. When sitting at the table got too much, I moved to the couch with a rug and read through a couple of chapters of the manuscript I am beta reading at the moment. By half past twelve, tummies were grumbling and it was time to make a sandwich and have some more soup.

I settled down to review another chapter after lunch, but by halfway through I was getting fidgety again. So when Sandy mentioned she was going for a stroll outside, I decided to join her. Wind or not, I needed to stretch my legs.

It was a brisk walk as the rain picked up again, but it did the trick. I was certainly awake after being blown about for 15 minutes. The rest of the afternoon flew by and before I knew it, I’d revised five chapters.

 

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We headed out to a cafe for dinner and had a lovely time. Once back at the house, we settled in with tea and fruit and lazed on the couches to chat. I was the first to bed again that night, relishing the chance for undisrupted sleep.

I woke at 6am Sunday morning after a lovely long sleep, but feeling famished. I got up and made myself some tea and toast, and pottered about, mostly eyeing the view. The rain had finally eased off!

Because I was keen to get back to my family, I headed off at 9am. It would take me an hour and forty minutes to get home, and I knew I’d have lots to do when I got there, so no time to dawdle.

Overall, the weekend was really valuable. I met some wonderful, supportive women whom I know I will be able to call on in future if I ever need advice or someone to read over my work. Though a full day of writing was intense, it forced me to be productive and to keep the rhythm of writing going. And though we were at a beach house, I’m secretly grateful that it was a blustery time, as it kept us inside and focused.

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Fred the Cat

 

Taking the next step

Sending ones first manuscript into the world is no easy step. Like the wavering toddle of a baby learning to walk, learning to hush your inner critic long enough to send a file to someone other than your best friend or mother, can be very daunting. I should know, in the past year I have taken a number of steps like this on my walk to publication.

I started my book in late 2014. A project with no expectations or limitations. I’d always dreamed of being a writer, but I had a job I loved and a comfortable, reasonably carefree life. I wanted to see if I could write a book.

It turns out I can! Though, not a particularly good one. At the time, that didn’t matter, because nobody was going to read it. When I decided to take the next logical step in the process and revise the draft, I made a number of revelations, not least of all that maybe I actually did want to make something real of this story.

I signed up to a Masters of Creative Writing. I applied for Fiona McIntosh’s Commercial Fiction Masterclass. I wrote and rewrote my story until it became something I could almost be proud of.

Through each of these meanderings, I shared a chapter here and there. I took on board feedback and criticism and tried to apply parts of these to the whole. Earlier this year, I got my manuscript to a point where I thought, I need someone other than myself to read this and tell me where it’s not working. I was too close to it now and needed a fresh perspective.

But the thought of someone else reading my work in full was daunting. It was a necessary step, I knew, but one that seemed much harder than all the ones before it. Sharing the whole manuscript would be like stripping off my clothes and standing before a crowd, letting them see all there was to me, with no coverings to hide my scars and imperfections.

When I nervously hit send on the email, a miraculous thing happened; I came up with a new story idea. Just. Like. That. It was as if my brain suddenly freed up an entire shelf’s worth of space for something new. The second I released this huge part of myself, reasoning that I would not think or tinker with my manuscript until all four beta readers had returned their feedback, my brain was open and ready for the next thing.

The saying, ‘when one door closes another door opens’ had never held any meaning for me before. In my life, I’ve been the director of the doors. Deliberately opening them and walking through. I always knew what was on the other side. Yet, there I was, fearing that I would be told my work is rubbish, fearing that I would have a void where my ongoing draft had previously been, and most of all, fearing that I wouldn’t have another book in me.

Sending your work into the world, can be like stepping off a cliff. You’re free falling, almost suspended in the air knowing that soon enough, you’re going to hit the water. It’s going to hurt like hell, but you’re too far gone now to change it.

Strangely, the worry about what my beta readers think has subsided. Don’t get me wrong, I still care deeply and want my book to be a success. I want to publish that story, but I’ve also realised that it’s not all that I have to offer. If it doesn’t get picked up, it’s okay, because now I have something new to focus on, and the experience and tenacity to see it through to the end.

The thing with writing a book is that you’ll step over multiple cliffs, climb back up and do it all again. When all my beta feedback comes in, I’ll revise and rewrite and then move onto the next step; either sending to an editor, a publisher or an agent willing to take on my debut novel.

And if my book does get picked up, then the journey really begins!

Yoga is like writing

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I am a yoga tragic. I love it, and have done for years. But I’m by no means great at it, or that committed. I have phases of frequent practice, which helps me to become more flexible, stronger and generally less achy in my muscles.

I notice how quickly I lose my strength and flexibility after periods of not practicing, and how much longer it takes me to get back to where I once was. I didn’t attend a class for an entire year or more after having my son. Now that I have started to attend regular classes again, I realise how hard I must have worked before. I can appreciate how good I once was. Of course, at the time I thought I was rubbish.

Writing is like yoga. You show up on the mat every day for a month, and it gets easier. The Vinyasa flows and your body almost aches for the routine. You find comfort in the mundane. You stretch and pull and push yourself into positions you didn’t think were possible, let alone comfortable.

When you show up and write day after day, you find a rhythm and a stride. It’s easier to push away the negative thoughts because you’re there. You’re doing it. You are a writer.

When I was working on my WIP every day, or at least a few times every week, the words just seemed to flow. I didn’t have any blocks or self-doubts. I just wrote as if no one was ever going to read it.

Then I put it away and didn’t look at it for a long time and I lost all my confidence. When I came back to it, it seemed all too hard. How could I make this thing I had once been so committed to, a regular part of my life again?

With practice.

With patience.

With perseverance.

As with my yoga, the only way I can improve is if I keep at it. Every week I stand on the mat and give it my time. My undivided, uninterrupted attention.

Every time you show up, on the mat, or at the desk, you’re proving to yourself that you can do it. That you want to be better. That you have the commitment to see this thing through until it’s as effortless as breathing.

Show up. It’s the only way.

 

 

8 common areas to focus on when editing my WIP + a Printable

I’ve just completed the full read-through of my 80,000+ word draft. I decided NOT to edit as I read, but rather took hand written, chapter by chapter notes. A number of themes arose as I read back through each of my chapter notes. I thought it best to summarise these in bullet points so that I could print them out and keep them somewhere prominent when I do my editing.

At the moment, that somewhere prominent is on the ‘stickies’ app on my Mac – this way my notes can always travel with me. But I also like to have a print out to pin to my desk for easy reference.

Instead of focusing on the details unique to my WIP, I thought it would be more useful to others to make these generic, and to put them in a fun printable for anyone else who might struggle with these same areas!

These are the things I most often skim over, or perhaps don’t pay enough attention to when I’m head down and writing fast:

  1. SHOW don’t tell!
  2. Similes need to be appropriate to the text.
  3. Needs more inner monologue / emotions.
  4. Read dialogue aloud – does it sound authentic?
  5. The actions don’t suit the characters. They’re too generic or they all feel like the same person.
  6. The word choices aren’t appropriate to time / genre / character.
  7. Misnomers in the timelines and small details are inaccurate or inconsistent.
  8. Too many repetitive words.

Do any of these sounds familiar to you? If so, feel free to print out this poster and hang it somewhere easily visible (preferably your writing desk and not the back of the toilet door.)

Would it be useful if I showed you an excerpt of my WIP where these problems exist for me? Please let me know in the comments below.

printable tips for reviewing your manuscript

Click here to download the printable.

 

How my humble veggie patch taught me about slow living

Slow living is on the rise in Australia, with the release of books such as Slow by Australian author Brooke McAlary and others such as Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner. I’m new to the trend and yet to find out what ‘slow living’ really means. Though I assume it’s somewhat a combination of lifestyle choices, such as practicing meditation, limiting screen time and social media, and growing / preparing your food from scratch.

Jodi Gibson reviewed ‘Slow’ over on her blog recently and it piqued my interest. So the idea of slow living has been on my radar for a few weeks. However, I’ve been dancing with elements of the slow living movement for some time now. I had a stint with baking my own sourdough bread, and I do grow much of my own produce – as I posted about here. I am a sucker for anything that reduces waste and maximises my time, and I know there is still more that I could be doing.

As I was crawling out of bed at six o’clock this morning, where the temperature gauge on my phone had already hit 30 degrees Celsius, I thought about how my poor veggies would suffer. The mercury is set to skyrocket into the mid 40s today, and all I could think about was keeping those plants alive. I nurtured and nourished the seeds, watered them and sheltered them until they were ready to be planted out. Now I’m seeing the fruits of my labours with a bounty of cherry tomatoes and fat zucchini’s.

We had always intended to set up proper irrigation from our water tank to the veggie plot, so as to reduce the effort of watering in Summer. But we only managed to lay one dripper line to the tomato bed. The three other beds rely on my commitment to watering by hand. We don’t even have a tap close enough to use a hose, so I am watering with a watering can.

As I filled the watering can for the fourth time this morning, picking cherry tomatoes while I waited for it to fill, I realised; I’m so happy. This is what happy feels like. Sure, I could have laid irrigation, but then my efforts in the garden at this time of year would be limited to turning on a tap. Instead, while the rest of the house was sleeping, I was in the garden, enjoying the coolest part of a scorching day. The birds had begun to chirp and I filled some buckets for them. Placed them around the backyard so the wildlife would have access to water throughout the day.

I can’t help but think how much my appreciation for life’s simplest activities has grown since I started growing my own food. And how often we take our food for granted.

How often do you consider where your food has come from? How much effort took to produce it? What challenges did the growers face to get that food to the supermarket shelves? And how much are they being rewarded for their efforts? These are all questions that we need to keep in mind when we take a trip to the supermarket. Our choices reflect back on the market and the farmers that have worked hard to make that food available.

Food for thought, I guess.

I’m keen to keep exploring the idea of slow living, and for the revelations it will no doubt continue to bring.

 

Garden Update: Summer 2018

The first thing I did in our yard when we moved into our new home was to set up raised garden beds. Despite having half an acre of land at our disposal, the soil isn’t all that great and raised beds seemed like the perfect, easy way to satiate my love for growing and making things from scratch.

Three years on, the raised beds have evolved and multiplied, and we also have a working compost that provides a wonderful boost of nutrients each time I replant a bed.

Last year I resolved to step up my gardening game and grow plants from seeds only. Part of the appeal of growing your own food is the money that it saves. While buying seedlings is convenient and cheaper than buying from the supermarket, I knew there was more benefits to be had from the seeds.

I’m so pleased and proud to say that my first attempt at growing from seeds has been a roaring success! While not everything I started out in the trays of seed raising mix survived the transfer to the bigger plot, the majority did and I’m already beginning to harvest the fruits and veggies of my labours!

I’ve taken a few snaps of my burgeoning garden, which includes tomatoes, sweet corn, zucchini, beetroot, swiss chard, mixed lettuce, chilli, capsicum and some surprising (and random) plants that have popped up thanks to the compost, including pumpkin!

My next challenge is to learn how to harvest and save the seeds from these plants for next year. If you have any tips or information on how to do this, please do let me know in the comments.

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And some bonus pictures from the garden…

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The Writer’s Room: Kylie Orr

My next interviewee needs little introduction, mostly because her bio just about covers everything you could possibly need to know! Aside from saying that I met Kylie at Masterclass this year and that she had me in stitches from the get go, you need to know that she’s definitely one to watch. I have no doubt that Kylie’s debut novel is going to be an absolute page turner! Publishers would be mad to pass this lady in.

Buckle in…

Kylie Orr in a Melbourne-based writer who has her fingers in many pies. 

After completing a Bachelor of Arts (English Major) Kylie travelled to Europe and beyond. She discovered her dream job as a Janet Jackson back-up dancer was not realistic, so returned home to jobs in banking, customer service, retail and more travel, before falling into human resources.

She paused her desire to conquer the corporate world, and left to have a billion babies. Well, four of them, to be precise. This is when she reassessed both her sanity and her career options. Loss of sanity was a bygone conclusion, but she still held hope for a flamboyant career.

Kylie wanted to write, loved to write and had no shortage of lofty dreams about shacks in the South of France amongst the lavender as she wrote life-changing novels. So wrote she did, and has been ever since (without the France part). For the past ten years, Kylie has been a regular feature writer for various online and print publications, most notably Fairfax’s parenting website, Essential Baby.

Her award-winning short stories have been shortlisted in Autumn Authors, Cancer Council Awards, My Child’s Parenting Express, and Stringybark. Kylie’s corporate writing has helped startups, Teenstr and Incogo and a voice for their brand. She writes web content, corporate communication, and long to-do lists for her husband.

Kylie’s four children’s picture books published by Lake Press, are to be released in Canada in 2018. She also has a young readers chapter book series and a commercial fiction novel in progress. 

Kylie lives on the side of a cliff with her four children and one husband who fuel her creativity. She is constantly inspired, moved and amused.

1. Firstly, can you give us a bit of a run down of your writing approach? (when, where, how much, etc)

I actually have quite a disciplined approach to writing, now that my children are all at school. I ensure I write every day between the hours of 9am and 3pm. Naturally, life with four kids means I can’t devote the entire school hours to writing – there are always sports days to attend, errands to run, other commitments that might take an hour or two away from my keyboard – but I ensure I sit at my desk for at least three hours each day. It’s not always easy to force the creative brain to work, and sometimes my most productive times are just before I have to collect the kids from school, which can be a little frustrating but I work within the confines of balancing family and writing.

I share a home office with my husband who runs his own IT business. It’s an interesting combo – he’s often deep in writing code while I’m deep in writing my novel and I interrupt him often! I like to ask what he thinks of a certain line I’ve just written, or quiz him about a character’s motivation. He’s very patient. Strangely, he doesn’t often ask my opinion about the code he’s writing… I do put up with him crunching his sourdough toast very loudly, so I think we’re even.

I occasionally write at ridiculous hours of the morning if I can’t sleep. I have a paper and pen next to my bed and sometimes jot down brilliant ideas, that don’t seem so brilliant when the morning comes. I wrote my first children’s book, ‘Whose Pants?’ at 2am, after taking a cold and flu night tablet that had the opposite effect of drowsy. I wouldn’t recommend it, but sometimes gems are discovered even when the brain is a little foggy.

As for the actual process of writing – I am a ‘pantser’ which is strange because I’m a planner, and very organised in every other aspect of my life. Writing is more like a free falling activity for me. I have a tiny pop of a an idea, and I run with it. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Sometimes I can rearrange the ideas into a neater, more continuous flow, and sometimes I ditch them altogether. I find the pieces that work best are ones that just roll out in one beautiful red carpet. Not really possible when writing a novel, so that has been a big eye opener for me!

2. Is writing your main gig, or do you do it on the side of other work (paid or not), and how does that look on a practical level?

I have been a feature writer for Essential Baby for almost 10 years, and do other freelance writing for various online publications. I write web / corporate content, general articles etc. It pays some of the bills, but certainly not all of them. My family commitments come first, and I fit writing in around them. Luckily, my husband is the breadwinner and I have the luxury of playing with words for love not money. Although a bit more cold hard cash would be very appreciated, so my plans are to amp up the writing as my children become more independent!

3. What genre do you write in and can you share a bit about what you’ve written to date, or what you’re working on now?

I write feature articles for digital publications as my main bread and butter. The most predominant topic I write about is parenting. I’ve written over 200 articles – not all of them about temper tantrums and pooey nappies – and the subject matter has evolved as my children grow and I discover more and more areas of contention or challenge. I like to write about parenting in an honest way. I don’t think it’s helpful to any new (or experienced) parent to sugarcoat life with kids. It’s hard, not often rewarded and very often judged. I am usually self-deprecating but sometimes I have a strong opinion about a component of parenting and I put that forward to incite discussion. At times, it can invite the haters too, which isn’t much fun.

I write short stories because I like to practice the art of being concise. A skill I’m not great at – I like to crap on. Ask my family and friends.

I have just published four children’s picture board books, through Lake Press, which are being released in Canada in Jan 2018, and can be purchased locally via my website www.kylieorr.com 

The big kahuna I’m working on is my commercial women’s fiction novel, ‘The Fundraiser’. It has been a labour of love for almost three years. I am determined to get it to a publishable state, and am very excited to be working with a freelance editor who can hopefully help me mould this baby into a fine piece of fiction.

4. Why did you start writing?

I’ve always loved writing. I love telling stories (verbally) and I guess that transpired to writing stories down. I completed an Arts Degree and majored in English. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I just followed my passion – writing. But it took me a long time to get to the stage where I could call myself a ‘writer’. I worked in many other jobs first and only took up writing when I had my firstborn (now 14!).

I write because I have to. If I don’t write, I’m an unbearable human being to be around. I write because I have stories that itch my skin, that keep me awake at night and if I don’t write them down, they spread like a rash and consume me.

I write because there are characters in my head that take over valuable real estate in my brain if I don’t let them out.

I write because I have things I need to say, things I want to say. I write to share my experience, to entertain, amuse and hopefully move people in some way.

I’d like to say I write for the money but so far I’ve barely made a living from it.

I write because I love words but mostly because I love to tell a story. I write because if I didn’t, I don’t know what else I’d do.

I need to have a creative outlet, I need to challenge my brain in a way that scares me. I need to set myself challenges and hurdles and I can honestly say, writing has been the one that offers me the most challenge and therefore the greatest rewards. It’s also had me rocking in a corner, so it’s not all fairy floss and ferris wheels.

5. Where do you draw inspiration for your writing?

I’m inspired by the small details in life. I think writers (and creatives in general) notice things other people don’t. We watch how people interact; the nuances in voice and tone, the flickers in body language that tell a million more stories than words ever can. We are tuned into smell and sounds and tastes. I’m intrigued by minuscule differences – tiny scars on the back of a hand, a curious tattoo, an underbite, a cowlick. I wonder what story that tells about a person.

I see characters wherever I go. Sitting in the car at the traffic lights, I can concoct a story about the person sitting next to me, in their car, picking their nose. Not necessarily a good story, but it has a plot and a character!

I also like hearing other people’s stories and sometimes use these as springboards for developing more involved plots.

6. What’s your favourite thing about being a writer?

Playing with words and characters. Telling stories that entertain or move people. Making shit up. (See, you don’t always have to be eloquent to be a writer!)

7. And what do you find most challenging?

The rejection.

Before writing, I worked in industries where the feedback was almost always positive. As a human resources manager, I was big on feedback for staff and always lapped up praise and suggestions for improvement myself. I knew I was good at those jobs, because staff appraisal processes told me I was doing a great job, and that was reflected in my salary.

When I became a mum, I learned quickly that feedback was limited to a toddler screaming in a supermarket aisle when you didn’t buy them the lolly they demanded. Sure, there were also the gummy smiles of babies and the snugly cuddles of small children, but for the most part, I felt like I was doing a terrible job at this whole mothering game. I felt surrounded by judgment and people who did it better. Taking on a writing career as a mother, compounded the feelings of failure!

Writing online is a risky venture – you open yourself up to anonymous people having strong opinions about your topic matter and about your writing skill – I’ve had my grammar publicly corrected and my parenting criticised. I’ve been told by people who have never met me that I’m an awful mother, based on articles I’ve written.

It can be brutal, confidence-crushing, and soul-destroying. Pitching story ideas to editors that either ignore you altogether or reject your ideas, is part of the job, but I don’t think it ever gets easier. Writing an entire novel for years, only for it to be turned down, is a colossal rejection but all writers know it is par for the course. My skin is thicker these days and I have had to edit my self-talk to ignore the imposter in my brain, telling me I’m not good enough. Sometimes it is like wading through molasses, but that just makes the wins all the sweeter, and the determination much stronger.

8. What sort of training / study have you undertaken as part of your writing journey, and have you found it useful?

BA (English Major)

Professional Writing & Editing Course (that I didn’t finish because I was pregnant and never went back after I had my first baby).

A plethora of short courses in creative writing, writing for children, writing for magazines etc.

A one-on-one 6-month mentorship with Kathryn Heyman (author) to guide me through my novel.

Fiona McIntosh’s Commercial Fiction Masterclass.

To be honest, Fiona’s class gave me the best and most practical advice, as well as the boot up the arse I needed. I think the other courses were useful for the stage of my life I was at – a generalist degree taught me to study, collate information, and hone my passions. The short courses offered a basic grounding in the topic matter. The mentorship gave me guidance and deadlines, which I needed to motivate me to an end product. Ultimately, I think practice and life experience are the two most important attributes for a writer. There is a point where you have enough theory and just need to get writing.

9. Do you have any advice for other emerging writers?

Just start writing. Anything. I started with short stories, and I read back on them now, 15 years later, and realise how terrible they were but you have to start somewhere. At the time, I was very proud of them! I try to be articulate and funny in most of my communications, including emails to friends, because I enjoy the fun you can have with words. I don’t mind a swear word, too, which obviously needs a specific audience…

When I was trying to write my novel and agonising over the opening line, so much so that it paralysed me, the one quote I read that helped was, ‘you can’t edit a blank page’ (and perhaps ‘write drunk, edit sober’ although I’ve never tried that). Your first draft of anything will be shit. Accept it and believe it will get better and just get on with it. You can’t polish thin air, so get something down on paper (or screen) and fix it later. Fear is a paralyser, but panic is a great motivator. Give yourself deadlines. And meet them.

And of course, read. A lot. Although sometimes that disheartens me because I feel like I will never be as good as some of the best (I love Lionel Shriver and Tim Winton but will never be able to write like them, because it’s not my natural style).

One other out-of-the-box thing I did to challenge myself was to enter 25 word or less competitions! Sounds like a sad story of a morbidly obese dole bludger, but it actually taught me to really think about what I wanted to say, and I won a few things, including a 10-day trip for 2 to Peru! I don’t do it much anymore but it was a successful year if you count the winnings 🙂

Kylie’s four children’s books, ‘Whose Pants?’ ‘Whose Shoes?’ “Whose Hat?” ‘Whose Bag?’ are available via her website. 

You can also connect with Kylie via Instagram and Twitter.

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On my book shelf this summer

I haven’t posted much about what I read, mostly because I’ve been so focussed on my writing for the last six months. As my draft is coming to the real pointy end, I’m looking forward to taking some time out to read a bit more. My book club, which has been really quiet this year, is also reconvening. For a change, I thought I’d share what’s on my To Be Read (TBR) pile.

I read a relatively wide variety of books, though my favourites are usually contemporary fiction. On my bedside table I always have a stack of books that I want to get through. Always fiction, maybe a re-read, sometimes a memoir or non-fiction and quite often, something a little spiritual or thought-provoking.

At the moment, I have three books on the bedside table, another three eBooks on my phone and four I need to track down over the coming months. So, here’s my list:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This was a book club pick from months and months ago. I’ll admit, I started it some time ago but I just couldn’t get into it. I’ve seen the TV series and I think it was done so wonderfully that I can’t help but feel let down by the book. However, had I read the book first I probably would have loved it as well as the show.
  2. Those Faraday Girls by Monica McInerney. I’m a huge MM fan and have read most of her books. I’ve actually read this one, too, but it was years ago. I found it at my parents house recently and decided to bring it home to devour again. I’d like to model my own writing on MM. I think she’s a master story teller; I’ve got a long way to go.
  3. Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez. This is the sequel to a book we read in the first year of my book club, some four years ago now. I’m not sure I’ll get to it anytime soon. When I do, I know it’ll be quick and easy, and wonderful to be back in the Middle East with a group of strong, intelligent and resilient women.
  4. True Refuge by Annabelle McInnes. This post-apocalyptic romance was written by my fellow masterclasser and friend, Annabelle. I’ve only just started it and though it’s not the type of book I’d usually pick up, I’m enjoying the fast pace and unnerving premise. It’s only the first in a trilogy so I’ll no doubt be dipping into this world for quite a while yet.
  5. The Tea Gardens by Fiona McIntosh. I love tea and the kind of fiction that takes me on an armchair journey across the world (and into the past). I’m sure I’ll love this.
  6. A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester. This came up as a free eBook through iTunes just the other day and I couldn’t resist snapping it up. I’ve long followed Natasha on Twitter and her blog, and I’m sure I’ll love her books. I bought her most recent, Her Mother’s Secret, for a friend earlier this year (and I’m waiting for it to boomerang back to me ;P).

Upcoming Book Club picks:

Mine is See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. I read an article Sarah wrote about the research that went into this book, including a stay at the house where the murder actually took place (it’s now a BnB), and I just knew I had to read it.

My other clubbers have chosen, What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, History of Wolves by Emily Fredlund and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

 

Phew! That’s my list… What’s on your TBR pile at the moment?