On being a Masterclasser: Overview

That’s what we’re known as, masterclassers. That is, the some 200 or so people who have taken the plunge and signed up for Fiona McIntosh’s five day intensive writing course. I know lots of my fellow writing peers are keen to hear how the course went, and I’m itching to share everything I’ve learnt. But not only would it be impossible for me to impart the wisdom of a seasoned pro like Fiona in the same enthralling way that she does, but it also wouldn’t be fair. She’s been in the biz for 17 years, and this is a big part of her job, her livelihood. I’m not about to take something like that away from her, or any writer.

However, over the next few posts I will share some of the highlights of the masterclass and some of the work I created whilst there.

Fiona’s masterclass is completely targeted at commercial genre fiction. So if you’re someone who writes non-fiction or literary fiction, well you may want to stop reading now. (But, please don’t!). Lots of her advice would transcend other areas of writing, but the course itself is really homing in on the commercial stuff. That is the stuff that is mass marketed and mass produced.

For me, this was a real eye-opener in terms of comparing to my previous Masters study and this. I won’t go into it, but if you are someone who wants to be traditionally published in commercial fiction, maybe don’t bother with the Masters like I did. Do some courses at your local writers centre, or take a look at this Masterclass. It really is all you need to get going.

Another great resource if you can’t afford the investment of a course like this is to pick up a writers resource like Fiona’s How To Write Your Blockbuster, or even Stephen King’s On Writing.

Some top tips for getting serious about writing:

  • Set up a writing space with good lighting.
  • Use a proper office chair with good support for your posture – kitchen chairs just won’t cut it. (I’ll admit, I’m guilty of laying in bed with my laptop, this is a BIG no no).
  • Use the best equipment you can afford and upgrade regularly. I use a Mac and Scrivener, but you don’t have to fork out a lot for decent equipment. Microsoft Word is actually the format publishers will want the manuscript in anyway.
  • Back up regularly. I am terribly guilty of not doing this. But I do have an external hard drive and I’m going to try and remember to use it. It would be devastating to lose your work.
  • Here’s the big one: Make time to write every day that you have committed to writing. Note how I didn’t say to make time to write every day period. That’s because, as Fiona says, you need a break. Writing every day can lead to burn out, just like writing loads and loads of words over 2 or 3 days can equally lead to burn out. You want to be getting into a good writing habit, and you want to sustain it. Writing in big chunks more infrequently won’t work in the long run.
  • On the days you’re not writing, let it go. Don’t think about your WIP. Don’t rewrite it in your mind. Don’t plot and plan what you’re going to write until you’re actually sitting in your chair during your dedicated writing time. Give your brain a break and enjoy your time off.
  • Exercise regularly. If you’re sitting at a computer for long periods, most days, it’s important to get out and enjoy the sunshine, get some fresh air and stretch out your muscles and bones.
  • Give up television. I know, this one hurts (some of us more than others). You don’t really need to give up TV completely, but do consider where your time is going and how enriching those hours in front of the TV really are. If you’re watching great quality drama, beautiful movies and intriguing series, by all means, set aside time for them – especially if they are relevant to your writing (era, scenery, character, etc). But do reconsider the trash. Stay away from the reality rubbish that really doesn’t serve you. It’s all contrived anyway.
  • Surround yourself with support. Whether it be a writing group, a book club or just a few friends that can cheer you on and bounce ideas around with you, support is crucial.
  • Get to know your local librarian and book seller. These people are in the know and can be your greatest allies when it comes to selling your books. They’re also great resources for research, and as potential beta readers. Librarians and book sellers generally love books, so it’s safe to say they’d be happy to help a local writer in their endeavours to get published.
  • Know your genre and read it. A lot.
  • Understand the tropes of your genre.
  • Find publishers that specialise in your genre.
  • Don’t let writing define or overwhelm you. It’s OK to be passionate about your writing, but it’s not all there is.
  • Don’t use the truth. Even if you’re writing fiction based on fact. Commercial fiction exists to entertain, so don’t be afraid to dramatise and embellish your story.
  • Relationships are key in commercial fiction. It is human nature to be drawn to interesting and dynamic people, to their conflicts and their emotions.

Over the next few posts I’ll focus a bit on the various elements of writing. Including character, description, generating ideas and publishing.

 

 

Manuscript Progress Update

Tomorrow, I’ll be commencing a five-day intensive fiction writing masterclass, facilitated by Fiona McIntosh. I’m looking forward to bunkering down with approximately 18 other writers to learn from one of the masters of Australian commercial fiction. Say what you will about her writing, Fiona McIntosh knows how to sell books. Not only that, she also capitalises on her travel agency past and has run tours to the locations of her books; France for The Lavender Keeper, Belgium for The Cholocate Tin. With the release of The Perfumer’s Secret she also hand blended and released a special perfume that featured in the book. She is more than an author, she is an entrepreneur.

I am giddy with excitement about what lies ahead for the next five days (though overwhelmed at the prospect of leaving my 8 month old for the first time). I hope to blog about each day very quickly after the masterclass while it’s still fresh in my mind. So if it interests you, be sure to check back in the coming weeks.

Right now, I am in the midst of a major rewrite of my completed manuscript. Currently it sits at just over 84,000 words. Of that I’ve edited 20,000.

As part of the masterclass, Fiona reviews both the synopsis and the first 10 pages of your manuscript. We then have a one-on-one discussion where I’m hoping she will tell me that I’m wonderfully on track and that the book is sure to be a best-seller.

Ha!

Though I do hope to get some positive feedback, I’m sure it’s more likely to be quite constructive. I just hope it doesn’t result in me needing to rethink the entire manuscript again, because I don’t think I have the stamina for that. I have too many other ideas floating around. And, after 3 years on this, I’m getting impatient to put it aside and start something new.

What would you do if you weren’t doing this?

It’s a common and seemingly innocent question, whatever its form. What’s your dream job? What would you rather be doing? It’s a conversation often bouncing around a dinner party or over drinks. How often do people reply with “This, here. What I’m doing now.” Very few I would imagine? Most likely, people rattle off glamorous ideals about travel, loads of money, freedom and flexibility, fame and infamy.

For me, the answer has always been: I would write.

However, it has taken me far too long to take ownership over this dream. I distinctly remember the first time I let myself tell someone outside of my family that I wanted to be a writer. I remember it clearly because it was the same night my brother called me to tell me he had cancer.

I was sitting in the alfresco of a Sydney restaurant, overlooking the river. I was dining with some of my colleagues, the CEO, a Board member and his wife. It was yet another work trip, where the wine was inevitably flowing and the food was delicious. When my phone started buzzing I excused myself to answer it. I stepped away from the table and walked towards the riverbank. My brother told me his results had come back; he had cancer.

He was stoic. I was trembling, the tears brimmed my eyes. When he rang off I wiped at my eyes, facing the water, not ready to walk back to the table. A part of me was annoyed that he’d told me now, while I was away for work. How could I possibly compose myself in front of all these important people, whom I was trying to impress with my professionalism, my wit and my charm?

Thankfully no-one asked me about the call when I returned to my seat. They graciously ignored my glazed eyes and sombre mood. I drank my wine and picked at my food. When the plates were taken away the conversation kicked on. Someone asked “What would you do if you weren’t doing this job?”

I don’t recall what the others said. I only remember when they all turned to me, anticipating my response. My heart leapt into my throat and my palms became slick with sweat. Maybe it was the wine? Maybe it was the news I’d just received? Whatever it was, I suddenly felt brave, though I didn’t sound it when I said, “I would be a writer. Of like, novels.” I paused, looking down into my lap, waiting for them to laugh at me.

But then, they didn’t.

For the most part the conversation went on. No one batted an eyelid really. Certainly no one laughed or made fun of me. I think they may even have smiled and nodded. Perhaps this wasn’t such a crazy idea after all? Perhaps I really could write a book?

That first step was like leaping from a cliff for me. It felt dangerous, risky but also carefree and wild. Why is it that we are so afraid to own our hearts? To let the world know that we have a dream, and it may be fraught with hardship and paved with failure, but hey, what goal isn’t worth a bit of pain and a lot of hard work?

Many years later, I’ve come to realise that saying those words out loud was only the opening of what is proving to be a very deep, very dark and seemingly endless rabbit hole. But with each step I get a little more brave and a little bit closer to realising my dream.

Now, rather than shying away from it, I’m grabbing my dream by its metaphorical horns and facing it head on. In April I’ll be attending a five day intensive masterclass with Fiona McIntosh, which promises to be both challenging and inspiring. I’ve already sent my first 10 novel pages and synopsis to Fiona for review in the lead up to our one-on-one session, where I’ll receive her critique. I’ve also learnt that on Day 4, we’ll all be required to pitch our novels to a representative from Simon and Schuster.

Yep, I’m terrified. But when the horns are pointed your way, you just have to hold on tight.

NB: The cancer was successfully removed and my brother is cancer free 😀