From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Writer’s well-being”

The Writer is In!

Late last year I fell off the horse – figuratively speaking! Of course! After months of head down, unrelenting focus on trying to get down the first draft of my WIP, one day in early November, I suffered a complete crisis of confidence over where my story was going. And if I could write at all. Add in two very disappointing rejections that week, a day apart, and I quite literally melted down.

In all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve tried to approach it professionally – as a job. Even through the most gutting knock backs, after manuscripts have gone to acquisitions meetings and not made it through, I’ve given myself the standard 24 hours to mourn and cry, but the next day I’d be back on the proverbial horse and back at my desk.

Being a Friday, I figured, a couple of wines and a good cry and come Monday I’d be back at my desk as always. But even as I walked out my office door, I sensed something was different this time. It was as if a switch had flicked in my brain. I can’t do this. Do I even want to do this anymore? I was sick to my stomach in fear this might not just herald a break.

Over the coming days, I couldn’t even step into my office. I’d lost my nerve, my mojo, and, it seemed, my will to write. What the hell was wrong with me? The question nagged again, did I even want to write? It’s too hard. It hurts. Who and what am I writing for?

It took time before I could face a good hard think about writing and my practice. But when I did, I realised that somewhere, somehow, my determination to get words down had become an obsession. I’d barely noticed in the passing months that I’d stopped exercising and going to the swimming pool (too busy), or working in my garden (too wet/too cold), or even taking time out for friends (I’d catch up as soon as my draft was done). Even playtime and training sessions with our precious puppy had become snatched moments between writing. Poor baby!

I came to the sad realisation too that I had no hobbies, nothing that was not connected to writing. How and when did that happen? I’d been given a beautiful mirrorless camera the preceding Christmas and it had scarcely been out of its bag.

I have a little easel (pictured above) on a shelf in my office bookcase with the sign, “The Writer is In”. As a joke, when I made it, I made one for the reverse side, “The Writer is Out.” (I’d never turned it around.) The week after my meltdown, I spotted it as I left my office, after being unable to open my manuscript for the umpteenth time. I cried as I turned the sign around, wondering if the writer would ever be in again? Again, the question: Did I even want to write anymore?

But when someone near and dear innocently asked, what do you want to do then? ‘WRITE!’ came my savage reply. ‘It’s who I am. What I do. All I want to do!’ (Despite the voice screaming in my head, ‘I just don’t know if I can do it anymore.’)

Turns out, there is more to life than just writing. In these past few weeks, I’ve undertaken a CAE Intensive Photography Course, worked prodigiously in my garden, read some great books – for pure enjoyment, romped, played and generally hung out with a very cute, small, white dog, as well as with some human friends. I’ve given my house a mini-makeover and enjoyed a lovely Christmas and holiday break with my family. Plus I’ve pretty well planned and booked an overseas trip for us later in the year. Plus, as of this week, I’m back in the pool.

I’m also booked to do a 5-day writing masterclass in February and I’m sincerely looking forward to it (more on that another day) and I’ve finally found some words (if only to write this blog post – it’s a start!)

Oh, and I nearly forgot, Santa brought me a most special present. I’ve always, always, wanted to learn to play the piano and shortly before Christmas I took the time to ask the question, was it possible to teach an older dog such a trick. Turns out, Yes! It is. In the weeks since, I’ve been practising with an app, learned to play a couple of songs, and, hooray, hooray, today I had my very first piano lesson!

I also reread my WIP and turns out, there is a story there. One I really want to write. So it seems, albeit it tentatively, the writer/photographer/piano player/gardener/dog buddy is IN.

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Standing in Elite Company

Hemingway stood up to writeStanding up to work is a growing trend, though it seems Ernest Hemingway always wrote standing up due to a WW1 war injury. Only he stood at a typewriter balanced on a bookcase according to a 1954 interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review. “He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.” 

I can’t boast such an exotic foot mat as Hemingway, but I’m really excited to have a brand new standing desk thanks to writer and Facebook buddy Tania McCartney heralding the Varidesk you see pictured below.

Hemingway wasn’t alone. Well he probably was, while he was writing, but it seems that a few other well-known writers stood up to write too i.e. Lewis Carroll, Alexander Nabokov, George Sand and Virginia Woolf. So it seems I’ve joined good company.

Varidesk standing deskLots of medical studies these days are revealing the health benefits of standing up to work too, at least part of the day, including James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic who cites the following benefits:

  1. Reduced Risk of Obesity
  2. Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Other Metabolic Problems
  3. Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
  4. Reduced Risk of Cancer
  5. Lower Long-Term Mortality Risk

(You can read more on Levine’s study: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-health-benefits-standing-desks-180950259)

I’d never heard of a standing-desk until I went to work in 2004 for a company run by an innovative and very creative Dane. To me, at first, standing up to work seemed a very tiring idea. But, as I learned through my occasional opportunities to stand up at one or other of the two standing-desks in the office, it’s really good for your concentration, not to mention your back and posture.

I’ve often thought of getting a purpose-built stand-up desk in my own office at home since, but couldn’t justify the expense fearing that my good intentions might tire quicker than my legs.

So, YAY! to Tania because the Varidesk is a very good idea. More a riser than an actual desk as it sits on top of my desk, but it’s really easy to put up and put down so I can stand up or sit down to work at a whim. It even comes with an app to download onto your computer to tell you when to stand up, sit down and even how many calories you’re burning. I don’t quite care how accurate it might be calorie counting-wise, but it’s a great reminder when I’ve been sitting awhile to stand up again.Varidesk timer  calorie counter

I’ve got to say I work best standing up to email, research and even type a blog post, but when serious prose writing I tend to need to sit down. I get so absorbed that I don’t want to strain anything standing too long, since in these early days of adjustment, I’m not quite in tune yet with the whole standing business. I just know that my back is going to thank me long term and hopefully my butt and hips too.

Mainly I’m just aiming to be fitter and thinner, and hopefully live a whole lot longer to write a whole lot more books!

 

 

Every writer needs a hobby

Writers are lucky. We love our work. Well we do when we’re not having to rewrite whole slabs that seemed so promising at first, but fell so flat; or freaking out didn’t I change that bit last week? Have I lost that draft? Aaah! Or suddenly discovering that something we’ve set up cannot work and it’s all about to come crashing down. Eeek! Etc, etc.

We love our story so much that sometimes it’s easy to keep writing, day in and day out, until one day, you realise that you’ve not only forgotten to smell the roses, but they’ve budded up, bloomed and fallen while you’ve not been looking. I think the official term is “lack of balance”.

This year I’m going to try working to more like office hours, take weekends. (Of course flexi-time is included. And maybe even RDOs, since I do the roster.) At least when not working to a deadline or in that heady, urgent “new” story zone that demands you write, right then, to catch all the ideas and characters buzzing in your head.

It’s sort-of hard getting away from writing/work when one’s hobbies are reading and writing poetry though, but, with a new address and larger garden, I’ve discovered a new passion – growing vegies and herbs and all things edible.

DSC04620Growing food is not unlike writing a new story, especially watching it grow from seed. Waiting to see if that tiny kernel will sprout into a seedling. One that will grow and grow and flower and once the prettiness falls away, the fruit remains to develop and mature into something palatable. Something to be enjoyed and satisfy and leave  you recalling it later. (Sorry, that could just be indigestion!)

I’m loving the watering (thinking time), harvest, and the eating of what we are growing. Nearly as much as sending a new manuscript out into the world and seeing a published book come back.

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It must be January…

…because it’s Month of Poetry. Yay!

What an inspirational way to launch the year and reinvigorate the writing muscle. Month of Poetry is run every year in January by the very talented and lovely Kathryn (Kat) Apel who gives experienced and novice poets alike a forum to write and post a poem a day, and exchange comments and feedback with one another. This is my third time participating and I’m learning so much and about so many (new to me) forms.mop12

It’s such a wonderful way to jump into the writing year. And a fabulous kick-start for me after a complete break from writing since the beginning of December. Though it’s been wonderful to take time-out, it’s also been quite strange because I can’t remember the last time I spent so long away from a WIP, blogging or some form of writing. But after several months focused on rewriting my YA historical novel, and two house moves in between, it was definitely time to rest and play. And finish unpacking boxes!

my year

I’m really looking forward to this year. So much is on the horizon and lots happening for this writer. I’m heading to Varuna Writer’s House in March to take up my two-week Residential Fellowship and I can’t wait to catch the whispers in its walls and soak up the inspiration. I plan to write up a storm.Varuna Writers House

I’ve taken on an exciting new role as Support to our new Victorian SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor, Caz Goodwin. And I’m really looking forward to meeting more of our members and participating in the exciting range of events planned for this year.

SCBWI Conf-logoI’m attending the SCBWI International Conference in Sydney in July. It’s going to be fantastic to catch up with some online friends and writing buddies from around Australia and meet lots of new ones, not to mention attend all the fabulous sessions and panels.

A quick trip to Tassie will enable me to tweak a couple of descriptions and double-check a couple of locations in my WIP.

So welcome 2014. I’ve cleared out my email inbox, tidied my desk, and, at last, filed my considerable WIP research. Phew! That was a job and a half. So I’m ready and raring to go a hunting words. The best part is to so look forward to getting back to work, doing exactly what I love.

Step by step to publication

 

After lots of emails crossing paths in the ether all week from various writing buddies… I’m putting it out there. How can we writers inspire, buoy, encourage and fool ourselves into keeping steadfast on our journey to publication?

More often than not, it’s a long, long haul from Point A – the idea that inspired the story to Point B – publication.

Sounds simple enough. I mean how hard can it be? A few thousand words! How long can it take? A few months!

Turns out – not so easy. Not so fast. A novel isn’t written in a day, a week, a month or, for most us, even a year. It needs to evolve, develop and be written page by painful page, draft by draft. (Unless, of course, the muse is in town and on those golden days it verily hurtles along.)

We need sustenance along the way. Small incentives towards making the dream a reality and I’m not  talking chocolate, a glass of bubbles on each chapter completed or trinkets in small velvet boxes. No, I mean some writerly stepping stones to support our self-belief and enthusiasm from point A to B. Because at some point along the path, there’ll be more quicksand than shore, more shale than stone under our feet. With no agent, or publisher beside us mopping our brows and waving the chequered flag, we can be the ones to flag. Our writing stalls and suddenly that brilliant idea seems trite, unoriginal and going nowhere.

We don’t get a treasure map, or to kick the odd doubloon to tell us we’re on track. We shake the compass, but it only points north – as the crow flies. It doesn’t tell us the easy roads or shortcuts.

What we need is some tips to inspire and gain some kudos along the way – always great for the C.V. but more important, great for our confidence and self-belief.

Here’s my top ten stepping stones towards publication:

  1. WRITE – only words on the page can grow a story.
  2. Join a writing group (find kindred spirits who get what you’re doing, and offer real, productive critiquing that helps your work, builds your craft, and theirs, spiralling you all towards publication).
  3. Enter competitions – to gain confidence, writing credits and crafting competence. (Not to mention certificates for your achievements book. Okay, brag book, if you want to call it that. See tip 5)
  4. Submit to anthologies, magazines – to get your name out there, gain confidence, writing credits and inspiration to continue.
  5. Keep an achievement (display) book to keep copies of those small steps, Letters to the editor, commendations, reviews you’ve written – great to browse those milestones on days you need a reminder that you’re moving forward.
  6. Build a website – create a cyber presence, AND/OR create and maintain a blog – gain a voice, a following, a kinship with fellow bloggers. (Remember to comment on other blogs and exchange reciprocal links.)
  7. Rework your chapter, story, base premise, for fiction short markets, or find non-fiction links and submit to newspapers, magazines, journals, e-sources for publication, gain writing credits and link back to your WIP.
  8. Build your writing profile through social media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Jacketflap, LinkedIn. (Suggest keeping your Facebook author persona separate from your personal family/friends persona.)
  9. Network – online groups, associations, writing organisations, attend conferences, lit festivals and industry talks.
  10. Daydream – see your book cover on the shelf – crucial to keep motivation and self-belief alive. (I’ve been known to create a cover to manifest the dream. Love modern tech.)

My writing friends and crit buddies are invaluable in keeping me focussed and motivated. Their successes enthuse me and absolutely inspire and energise me to try to keep up with them and pull out all the stops to emulate their successes. And when none of us are getting far, we can commiserate together because none of us want to kick the dog.

Sometimes that finish line PUBLICATION seems invisible and as unreachable, un-navigable as a line in a river of frothing, foaming, rushing water.

Love to hear how you hold the sometimes rickety writing craft on course – please let me know in the comments.

Writing can be a pain in the butt

Literally! And if a writer doesn’t stretch and move and shake those lower back muscles, boy, can they scream at you – just as my sciatic nerve has been screeching at me all week.

“Do you have to write?” asked my physio.

Well, it is my income, my passion and my day job, spasmodically paid as it is, so yeah, I sort-of do need to write.

“Then you and your writing and your butt are going to have to learn to work (and NOT work so often) together.”

Now, after ignoring my manuscript, my blog, Facebook and as many other activities that require sitting as I can, enabling me to catch up on heaps of other things, I’m past the agony stage and into aggravating discomfort. I must be getting better. Seems like a good time to address the issue of back care for writers and other desk jockeys and sedentary types.

According to my physiotherapist, when we sit for long periods, everything contracts and compresses, and then presses onto nerves and muscles that don’t like it much and the only way they can tell us they hurt is to make us hurt worse.

So the tricks:

  • Get up regularly and move around – stretch, bend and arch that back in a reverse position (walking stiffly to the kettle or the loo does not count)
  • Walk regularly outside of the house – in the fresh air – go up hills and down dales and stretch all sorts of different muscles
  • Ensure your desk chair is ergonomic and correctly positioned for your height, build and good posture.

My physio has me doing a few gentle exercises to stretch out my muscles and extend my lower back that seem to be really helping. He’s a muscle maestro and my back’s new bf.

Next step – Pilates class.

In keeping with doctor’s orders that’s it for this short post – most of which was written standing up. Except to say, if you have any tips or advice for back care or good writerly ergonomics, I’d love you to leave them in the comments.

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