The deadline is fast approaching…

Shortly after walking away from five days in the beautiful botanic gardens of Adelaide, with sixteen other writers, led by the fearless and charismatic Fiona McIntosh, I set myself a deadline to finish the second* first draft of my manuscript. October 31 was my D-Day.

That deadline is fast approaching. And, I’m not going to meet it.

It was an ambitious deadline, considering I have a toddler, a part (might as well be full) time job and freelance work on the side. I’ve made my peace with it. Working to a deadline is a hugely motivating way to achieve your goals. But it’s important not to get too caught up on the times when those deadlines fall through the cracks.

I had set myself a word count across four days a week. Some weeks I hit or even surpassed it, other weeks I didn’t come close. My son and I both got hit with Influenza A a few weeks ago, there was no writing to be had during that time!

Though the deadline won’t be met, I feel like I’ve still achieved so much in the past six months. Whilst I may not write every day, when I do carve out the time, I feel completely connected to my story. I’ve made huge changes and I’m proud of the work that I’ve achieved. I no longer dread opening my laptop to work on my WIP, because the story is clear to me now, and though it’s far from perfect, I am more in love with my characters than ever before.

I’ve also been able to acknowledge my limitations and put some strategies in place to work with them. After trying to fit writing into my son’s nap times and getting frustrated when he would wake up “too early”, I decided to ditch the nap time writing and either postpone it until after bed time when my husband is home and can deal with unexpected wake ups, or focus my writing energy on my train commute twice a week.

I also –  somewhat indulgently – put my son in childcare for a few hours on one of my days off so that I can buckle down and get more words on the page. I struggled with this idea at first, as if I was somehow putting my writing in front of parenting, but thankfully I have a wonderful support network of parents who reaffirmed my belief that we can’t pour from an empty cup. Resenting my son for my lack of writing time was emptying my cup quicker than I could refill it.

So where am I at with just a few days to go until deadline? As of this morning, I had written over 73,000 words. I am at the pointy end of the plot and the finish line is in sight. I have a clear idea of my ending, it just needs to be written! The anticipation of reaching the end is motivation enough to see me through the last 10K or so. I know there’s still plenty more work ahead of me, but the thought of sitting down and reading this new story from start to finish gives me such a thrill.

I am loving this journey so much more than I thought I would the second time around. I just hope that one day you all get to share in my characters’ challenges and triumphs, too.

*After feedback and learning so much at masterclass, I decided to start my WIP again, from scratch. I’d already written an 85K first draft, but so much of it needed to change that it felt more efficient to cut my losses and start again.

The Writer’s Room: Rachel Sanderson

I’m so excited to introduce you all to my next guest in the Writer’s Room; Rachel Sanderson. Though Rachel and I haven’t met in real life (yet), we’ve bonded through Twitter over sleepless nights with sick toddlers, finding time to write and reading great fiction. I subscribe to Rachel’s newsletter and it was there that I found out about publication of her debut YA novel, The Space Between. I snapped up the eBook as soon as it was released and promptly devoured it. In today’s interview, I ask the standard writing questions of Rachel, but also delve a little deeper into her novel. There are no spoilers, but if you’ve read the book, you’ll find some wonderful insight from Rachel here.

Rachel Sanderson has worked as a bakery assistant, cleaner, telemarketer, receptionist, yoga instructor, university tutor, researcher and public servant. She’s studied philosophy, Spanish, law and has a PhD in history. She co-wrote a documentary film, The End of the Rainbow, which won the First Appearance Award at the 2007 International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. The Space Between is her  first novel. It was shortlisted for the 2016 Ampersand Prize. She lives in Canberra with her partner and son.

You can find Rachel through her website, on Twitter, Facebook, and the book is available here on Amazon.

According to your bio you are a prolific reader and writer. You’ve had success in documentary writing, short stories, poetry, essays and now YA fiction. Is it difficult to switch between so many genres and styles? And how do you best approach your writing on any given day?

I’ve been writing for most of my life, so I’ve done lots of different types of writing but over a long period of time! I did a PhD in history and one of the reasons I didn’t want to continue working in academia is because I’ve always wanted to write fiction, and I found I couldn’t do both. It just didn’t work for me at all. I’ve had periods of writing poetry intensively but I’m not doing that at all at the moment. Since about 2012 I’ve been really focused on writing novels – it’s taken me such a long time to figure out how to get from one end of a story to another, and it takes so much focus and concentration, I find I can’t do all that much else now.

I do swap between genres though – I write contemporary young adult novels that tend to be on the darker, grittier side, and I’m also writing a fantasy series. I generally have multiple projects on the go simultaneously – something in early draft, something in revisions or resting in the drawer. I find I need to give my first drafts quite a bit of time to rest before I can work on them effectively – often up to six months. So it works well for me having different long-term projects underway. I also quite like the change of voice and style I get when I switch between genres – the tone is really very different, and I think writing fantasy gives me a break from the contemporary and vice versa.

In terms of my daily writing routine – I have a three-year-old and I work part-time and really just grab whatever time I can. Either early mornings, or evenings after my son goes to sleep. Sometimes I write on the bus. I have two mornings a week when my son’s in daycare and I don’t start work till late morning and I generally get a couple of hours then to work, which I absolutely treasure. I’m someone who works well to a routine and if it was just up to me I’d probably stick to a much more regular timetable and do a lot more hours, but it’s just not possible at the moment unfortunately! I’m always working around things and most of the time I live with an underlying feeling of frustration that I’m not getting more done, which is hard. I don’t do much of anything other than writing, parenting and working at the moment – any spare time I have is for writing. On the plus side, I think it makes me very focused when I do sit down to write now. I don’t procrastinate because the time is just so precious to me.

Have you undertaken any formal or informal education in writing? And have you found this beneficial in honing your craft?

When I was in high school I wrote volumes and did lots of fantastic writing workshops at a youth arts centre. I had someone who acted as a mentor to me there, and he taught me a lot, especially about editing.

Writing a PhD isn’t necessarily education in writing as such, but I have definitely found that the discipline I learned from my PhD is something I’ve taken into all the writing I’ve done since. That was how I learned just to sit down and write – when I was in the writing-phase I worked to a word count every day. I drafted and redrafted and redrafted and I wrote something big not knowing exactly where I was going, which was terrifying – which is how I always seem to work.

I’ve tried and failed to write novels for years. I have so many first chapters tucked away in boxes and drawers!  I just couldn’t figure out how to make a story move – how to make things happen. In 2012 I did a ten-month novel-writing course online through the Writers Studio in Sydney. It was very focused on the detail of story structure, and aligning your plot and character development and I did most of the course, then got a bit derailed by life events and didn’t finish it. I did Nanowrimo later that year and that was when I wrote the first draft of The Space Between. So even though I don’t tightly follow the approach we were taught, something in the course just clicked for me, at very long last, and helped me get to the point where I could actually finish a draft of a novel.  That was a huge relief!!

These days I listen to a lot of podcasts, and read Writer’s Digest and books about writing, as well as just reading fiction generally, so I try to keep learning more about the craft of writing that way.

Where do you draw inspiration for your writing?

The inspiration for my writing is primarily from my own life – not that what I’m writing is biographical but it draws on the colour and texture of my experiences. I’ve also read a lot, which I’m sure feeds my imagination. Often my writing starts with a very contained idea, a character or scene, something that sticks in my mind, and I gradually build it from there and learn more about what is surrounding it. It doesn’t all come at once for me – I generally figure things out slowly as I write, or more often as I re-write! That seems to be how I think best.

You recently self-published your first novel, The Space Between. Why did you decide to go down the self-publishing route, and what did you gain from that process?

I’ve been interested in self-publishing for a year or two now. I listen to a bunch of self-publishing podcasts which are really informative, and I’m involved in a Facebook group of self-publishing authors that’s also been really helpful.

My original plan was that I wanted to try to go hybrid – to see if I could traditionally publish my contemporary YA novels, which are stand-alones, and self-publish my fantasy series under a pen name, because series tend to do well for self-publishing authors. I started pitching The Space Between to publishers and got some really positive responses – it was shortlisted for the Ampersand Prize by Hardie-Grant Egmont, which was amazing, and Penguin Random House requested the full manuscript. I got really supportive and encouraging feedback from a number of publishers, but no contract.

I spent a year out on submission – and it’s a very very slow, glacial process. It takes so much patience and persistence, it’s quite draining. And meanwhile I was continuing to learn about self-publishing, and seeing some traditionally published Australian authors I really admire, like Alison Croggon, Ellie Marney and John Birmingham, choose to go down that route. I hit the one-year mark and just decided, pretty much on the spur of the moment, that I’d given it long enough and if I couldn’t get a contract I’d do it myself.

It’s been a steep learning curve but I’ve been so fortunate to have a hugely supportive author community to draw on for advice. When it comes down to it, publishers are businesses and they’re making a business decision about whether to invest in your work or not. If you don’t get a contract, it doesn’t mean your work is no good, or that you haven’t passed some threshold, it just means they’re not willing to invest in you for whatever reason at this point in time. But the technology is available through print-on-demand and online distribution for authors to make the choice to invest in their own work – to do the work and put it out there and let readers decide. I think that’s pretty exciting, and despite moments of absolute terror I’ve been generally loving the experience so far.

You’re based in Canberra, but you set The Space Between in Adelaide. Why did you choose this location, and what research was involved in getting the setting right?

I’m from Adelaide originally, I grew up there and most of my family is still there, so even though I’ve been living elsewhere since around 1999 I go back regularly. It felt like the natural setting for this story, and the place where they go for the camping trip is based loosely on a place I used to camp at when I was young. I honestly didn’t do all that much research – I spent a bit of time with Google Street View and that was about it!!

The Space Between incorporates some quite heavy topics. What was your driving force for writing this novel, and what do you hope people take away from it?

My dad died when I was eight years old, and as a teenager I was struggling to deal with a lot of unresolved grief and trying to make sense of that loss: what it meant to me and what it meant to my family. I think there’s a lot of that experience in the book. Grief can be such an overwhelming thing, and there’s no right way to deal with it. I’ve had a number of readers say they understood why Erica made the choices that she did but they didn’t agree with them, or they weren’t the choices they would make. I feel that you just don’t know, until you’re in that position, how you’ll respond or what you’ll do. And loss doesn’t go away, there’s no magic wand you can wave to make things all better, it takes lots of time and perspective for you to integrate those experiences into the rest of your life. The thing that shifted for me as I was writing The Space Between was that when I started, I thought I was writing a book about loss, about how we deal with losses that don’t make sense. And I worked on the story and worked on the story and one day I just hit a point where I realized that, for me, the point of the book isn’t loss, it’s love. The love between Erica and Daina is the core of the story, and the sense of that enduring love is I hope what will stay with people when they read it.

I found the characters incredibly realistic and well written. The way you developed Daina throughout the text without having her as a physical character in the scene was very clever. Was it hard to write her and your other characters?

It was an iterative process. I had the characters in my head, I think, but that didn’t necessarily translate straight away to the page. I found working with beta readers incredibly useful for this, because at some points they’d interpret characters actions completely differently to how I saw them, and that made me really examine what and how I had shown, and think hard about how to fine-tune them in every scene. So it took a lot of time to get the characters working on the page, but my sense of them was quite clear from the start.

Without giving too much away, the ending of the novel both resolves the main plot, but also leaves many questions unanswered. Is there any room in the future for a sequel, or are you happy to leave this as it is?

I’m not planning on a sequel but I’d never say never! For me, I feel like the story is finished, even with all the loose ends. I did have some ideas for an epilogue that I never wrote though, and these things can sometimes take on a life of their own…

What are you working on now?

I’ve been redrafting another contemporary YA novel called Mirror Me, which is a story about a girl who moves to a small town only to discover that she’s almost identical to another girl who was murdered there a year earlier. It’s a bit more of a thriller, with some whiffs of the supernatural, and quite a different narrative voice, which I’ve enjoyed. I just sent that off to the first batch of beta readers this week, so I’m happy to put it aside and not think about it for a while.

I’ve also just got my copy edits back on The Dying Flame, which is the first book in my Darkfall series, the fantasy I’ve been working on. I’m working through those at the moment (note to self: use less commas!) and am aiming to publish that book in late October. And then, start writing Book Two!!!!

Finally, what advice do you have for other writers who may be just starting out in the industry and looking for publication?

I’m very much just starting out too, but my main advice would probably be just to keep working. Try and polish a piece of writing to the point that you can send it out, send it out, then get started on something else. You don’t want to be too invested in any one piece of work. And think about what you want – there are lots of ways to connect with readers, there’s not just one single pathway to being a writer.

What a fantastic interview and insight into your writing process, Rachel. I hope this gives other authors who have been considering self-publishing the confidence to believe in themselves and not be deterred if a traditional publishing contract doesn’t come their way.

Weekend Wanderings – June Long Weekend

We’re just off the back of a long weekend here in South Australia, for the Queen’s Birthday. Thanks Liz! It’s the pay-off we get for continuing to fall under the monarchy as opposed to putting our big-girl pants on and becoming a republic.

Though I didn’t technically get a ‘day off’ because I don’t work on Monday’s (not in any paid capacity at least), I did take the day off of my usual writing schedule (usually Monday-Friday). I made a conscious decision to immerse myself in my family, and revel in having my husband home for an extra day out of the week. When your usual company is a 10 month old who spends his days drooling, eating and sleeping, having extra ‘adult time’ becomes a prized commodity.

We’d been away for a night visiting my in-laws on the Saturday, and we decided to use Sunday and Monday to get some long overdue projects finished in the garden. You see, I’ve been without a vegetable garden for about 6 months now. Something I never thought would happen once I’d finally got them planted up when we moved into the house in late 2014.

Any pretense of a summer patch was disassembled when we went overseas for the month of December 2016. I didn’t plant anything knowing I wouldn’t be home to water for that time, and there was no way we could rely on any sort of rainfall to get us through. Couple that with the fact that my raised beds made from hay bales were in desperate need of replacing, we made the decision to pull them up and replace them with something more permanent.

Here we are 6 months later and only just managing to fit the pallet beds my brother made with interior walls, ready for soil. So, two of the four I had envisioned are now done and ready for planting. We also constructed some steps to lead down into our garden, which you can see in the background of the below picture. These still need to be filled, but after 2.5 years living on a hill with a slope down to our garden, this progress feels like a win.

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Though I had a jolly time playing with the drill and other tools, that one day off of my routine set me into a mini motivational melt down, meaning I didn’t really get anything written on my manuscript until Thursday. Though it’s only three days that I’ve deviated from my schedule, it feels like an inconceivable loss. If I want to meet my target of completing this draft by 30 October, I’ll need to up my minimum word count, or pick up an extra day of writing. None of this is catastrophic, and I don’t regret spending the day the way I did.

It just occurs to me that, in all aspects of work, schedule slippage occurs. But for a writer, it really is up to us to keep on top of our own milestones and deadlines.

I’m determined to meet my self-imposed deadline, because if I end up getting published, the deadlines will no longer be self-imposed.

Sometimes the words just flow…

I want to tell you a secret.

Sometimes my fingers fly so fast across the keyboard, they can barely keep up with the thoughts and ideas circumnavigating my brain.

These are the times when I am in ‘the zone’ of my novel. Something has just clicked together like a missing puzzle piece and the rest just seems to fall into place. It’s almost like an avalanche, where one small change or idea has the power to influence everything else in its path.

This quite often happens when I’m layering exposition. I can get lost in the spatial awareness of my characters, or of the colour of someones eyes, the way their hair kinks out just so. These are the little details I love to write. These small details that give the reader just enough to start building a world or an image in their mind. Enough that they can be immersed in place and time without being told where, or who or what.

But then, at other times, I sit at my desk and I watch the clock slowly tick by. Writing words feels like pulling weeds. A job that has to be done, but it feels never-ending. There is no joy in these moments. I’ve had a few of these days in the past. But they’ve been fewer and farther between lately. I equate this to two changes:

  1. I am writing more regularly than ever before (excluding NaNoWriMo), and
  2. I’m writing less words.

I’m not writing less words overall, just less words each time I sit down to write. I’ve given myself permission not to reach a certain number of words if they aren’t coming. I allow myself a bit of time to see if it will be a flow or flop kind of day, and then I let it happen naturally.

These days, I’m fitting writing around a baby, so I don’t have the luxury of wiling away hours. My words need to be on point and quick. If it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.

But that’s OK, because there’s always tomorrow.

On Being a Masterclasser: Conflict

In Masterclass, Fiona stressed the importance of conflict.

As a consumer, I know how important it is to be immersed in the conflict immediately. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s picked up a book from the shelf of my local book store, opened it to the first page and read the first paragraph or so. I’m also probably not the only person to have placed the book back on the shelf in search for something else more grabbing.

However, it wasn’t until this was pointed out to me that I realised just how important those first lines are. But not just the first line of the book, the first line of each chapter, even the first line of each paragraph.

Going back over my manuscript after Masterclass, it was evident just how boring my writing came across. I was trying to tell the story, rather than show it and it was taking me far too long to get to the conflict. I felt like I was reading a letter to a new pen pal that was trying to fit in all the information of a past, and did nothing to move us into the present.

Looking at my writing with fresh eyes, it has been easy to change tactics. I simply deleted the first paragraph or so and this brought the story straight into the thick of things.

Here’s an example of the same opening paragraphs of chapter two of my current WIP.

Before:

Emily had been working as a cashier at a supermarket in Rundle Mall for a couple of years, and her best friend had secured a retail job nearby. They had decided to head overseas for a gap year between school and university.

Two weeks before they were due to fly out, and three hours into her six hour shift, Emily felt her pocket vibrate with a new text message.

“That’ll be eighty six dollars and ninety five cents.” Emily said to her customer.

The woman, middle aged and determined not to smile at Emily or give her any eye contact, pulled a card from her purse and waved it in the air.

After:

“That’ll be eighty six dollars and ninety five cents.” Emily said in a voice so sweet she could have been dribbling honey.

Her customer, a middle aged woman, seemed determined not to smile at Emily or give her any eye contact at all. She tapped at her phone during the entire transaction, barely grunting as Emily attempted to make small-talk. The woman pulled a card from her purse and waved it in the air.

The background information I was conveying upfront; that the character worked at a supermarket, that she was saving for an overseas trip and she was in her late teens, can all be determined through the actions of the scene, rather than by point blank information dumping.

Though a supermarket transaction can hardly be considered a wild adventure or conflicting situation, it’s an experience that shows a lot about the character. It also puts the reader straight into the scene, instead of mulling around the outskirts.

By considering action over information, conflict over description, it’s much easier to set a scene and allow the character to be felt.

At Masterclass, we did a short exercise to really hone in on the opening scenes of a story. We had ten minutes to write an opening that dove straight into conflict. This exercise really helped me to put the theory of story telling, and of showing not telling, into practice.

Click here to read my opening for that exercise.

 

On Being a Masterclasser: Character

One of the main things Fiona focused on during masterclass was character. In commercial fiction, character is key, character is plot. Most readers of commercial fiction want to be immersed in the story, they want to feel that they are embodying your character, or walking alongside them. This is why getting character right is vital to the success of your novel.

I’ll admit, my main protagonist came to me almost fully formed. I invested a lot of thinking time into her. But this came at a high cost to all the other characters. Even my protagonist’s daughter, who is the other main character, wasn’t well thought out.

While you don’t need to know a lot about every single character that features in your novel, if you want the main ones to be successful, it helps to give them each a profile; some things that differentiate them from others, like quirky turns of phrase that highlight their background, a unique look, an intriguing habit or tick.

I have quite a few characters, but only four that will hold court for the majority of the book. Before I started the final draft of my manuscript, I created a profile for each of these characters. I use Scrivener and fortunately there’s a built in character profile template with the software. The template includes:

  • Name of Character
  • Role in story
  • Occupation
  • Physical description (Fiona suggests sticking to just 2 or 3 and letting the reader fill in the blanks)
  • Personality
  • Habits/mannerisms
  • Background
  • Internal conflicts
  • External conflicts

I used bullet points so as not to get bogged down in details that would either be irrelevant, or hard to remember as I work my way through the story.

I also did a google image search using keywords like ‘middle aged brunette’ and chose one that resembled the character I had in mind. By including a photo I now have a reference point for any time that I want to layer a scene with exposition about the character, that will always be consistent.

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.

 

 

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 😀

 

 

My top 6 motivators for writing

Recently I tweeted that the television series, Jane the Virgin, was a good motivator for me as a writer. For those of you who’ve not seen the show, Jane, the protagonist, is an aspiring author. Whenever she sits down to write on screen or she gets a ‘big break’ as part of her storyline, I get a jolt of inspiration and pull out my laptop.

It got me thinking about all the ways in which I try to motivate myself to keep writing, especially with my current manuscript. I started it back in 2014. I wrote the first draft super quickly, because once I got started the words just came flushing out like water from a burst pipe.

And then I started the editing/rewriting process…

Back then, I had a lot more free time and I felt like I could take this time to pause and reflect because I had no deadlines and I wanted to make sure I put more care into the next drafts than I did with the first. The first draft became more of an outline as I began to refine and expand upon the story, the characters, the setting.

Three years on and it’s beginning to feel like I’ll never get it to the point I want it. But I’ve committed and I do have half of a quite polished manuscript. I’ve given myself a deadline and committed to no more drafts until this one is finalised and sent out to Beta readers.

My life looks awfully different than it did three years ago. Mainly because I became a mother and my days have become far fuller than ever before. So, how do I motivate myself to write in those precious hours between wrangling a baby, ‘keeping house’ and keeping my sanity (i.e. seeing friends/reading/general down time)?

Here’s my list:

  1. Podcasts. I prefer to listen to podcasts than to music when I go walking and I have a few favourites. Creative people are the best at encouraging creativity, and so whenever I listen to one of these gems, I always feel encouraged to get some writing done.
  2. Social Media. Twitter is my go-to for connecting with other writers. Whether I’m asking a question, just wanting to chat or looking for someone to kick me into gear, I find this the best place to be. I feel like part of a community on Twitter, and people who know how to do Twitter right are the best people to ‘follow’. These are the people that engage with you like you’re an actual human, who are funny and kind and authentic. Posting your word count is always motivating, and lots of the people I follow often post motivational quotes and tidbits about their writing. Instagram is great too, but I feel it’s less about having a community and more about admiring pretty pictures (and prose).
  3. Reading in the genre I wish to write. I like to read all kinds of books; fiction and non-fiction alike. I’m in a book club for the very reason of broadening my scope of authors and genres. But when it comes to encouraging me to write, I have to read something that makes me strive to write in that way. That is commercial women’s fiction or general fiction for me.
  4. Doing a course. I’m enrolled in a Masters of Creative Writing, though I’ve decided to defer this year.  I found my first year of study completely thrilling. I learnt so much and my writing really developed. This was in large part due to all the feedback I received from my peers when we had to workshop our writing. Though I love formal learning, I don’t necessarily think it’s the only way – often it’s not even the best way – to hone your craft. There are loads of great short courses and one-day workshops that focus on specific elements of writing. Your local Writer’s Centre will likely have a full years schedule of events and workshops, while the Australian Writing Centre offers lots of online courses at reasonable prices.
  5. Sharing my work. Though I’m not part of a Writers Group, I have made some wonderful writer/reader friends both online and off, who are generally always happy to read my work and give me feedback. Each person brings a different viewpoint and expertise. Not all of them are writers. I appreciate having people read things from an audience perspective as well as from a technical, writerly side.
  6. Procrastinating. Wait, what? How does procrastinating help motivate you, I hear you ask. I find it really hard to write at home if there are distractions, like dirty dishes, mounds of laundry or a filthy floor. If I have to be at home to write, which is most often the case, I need to ensure there’s nothing else I feel like I should be doing. So before I sit down to write, I very often do a sweep of the house; cleaning, tidying, throwing on a load of laundry, just to set myself at ease. Once that’s done, there’s no excuses and I find I am far more productive in the hour or so of writing time I have left.

I’d love to know, what keeps you motivated to write?

Welcome to my home

Many months (ahem, years) have gone by since I last blogged. In a former life, I hosted a vegan food blog, The Natural Foodie. I hosted that site for about three years, when I was really into cooking and eating and exploring vegan life. I’m still into all that, but my life has somewhat changed. I started studying towards my Masters of Creative Writing and I had a baby. Things like writing get a little tricky when you welcome an entirely dependent human being into your life.

Besides having a child, I also realised that hosting a food blog was really just a focused way for me to write creatively. It was also what I like to call ‘A Really Good Way to Procrastinate From Writing The Thing I Actually Want To Write’.

Cue, my book.

For near on four years I have been toiling away at this idea for a book in my head. I’ve played the scenes out in my mind when drifting off to sleep. I’ve daydreamed about who the characters are and what their lives are like. I’ve added scenes based on places I’ve traveled, falling in love with the architecture and the people and realising that I just had to find a way to fit them into my fictional world. So, in November of 2014 I finally got down to the business of getting that story out of my head and onto the page. I took part in my first ever NaNoWriMo and was over-the-edge excited to have broken the 50K word count in that one month alone.

By December 2014, I thought I would be tying up the loose ends, wrapping my manuscript up into a neat little bundle and sending it out to all the publishers I could think of in the hopes of getting a traditional publishing deal.

How naive I was.

I did manage to finish the first draft by February 2015, but then I went and decided that I didn’t like it being in third person and decided to rewrite the whole damn thing in first person. In August of 2015 I started my Masters and was afforded my first opportunity to workshop a couple of chapters with my fellow students and course coordinator. Well, that was an eye opener. To say the least.

The feedback was not bad. In fact much of it was quite encouraging. But there’s always room for improvement, and now that I’m looking at my writing in a far more critical light, I’ve both lost a bit of the confidence I had from my first draft, and gained a lot of skills that will be critical to the success of any full length novel I might publish.

So, why am I back blogging if I have a book to write? Well, writing can be a lonely journey, and we writers need a home for our ramblings outside of the confines of our empty offices and laptop screens. This is my writing home.