From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Writing Tips”

The Importance of Story

Yesterday, I was privileged to see a live performance of Cirque du Soleil’s spectacular Saltimbanco at Rod Laver Arena. The charge in the auditorium was palpable as an eager and excited audience waited and the house lights dimmed.

Like any of Cirque du Soleil’s brilliant performances, within minutes, the rainbow of colour, superb artistry, breathtaking acts, creative and imaginative costuming, and exciting music swirled the large crowd into a single enraptured body.

We thrilled to an amazing two hours of fantastic entertainment. I enjoyed Saltimbanco immensely and thoroughly recommend it.

But… I do have to say – for me, something was missing.

Though each individual act in itself was engrossing and visually stunning, somehow the performance lacked a thread of engagement because I was seeking, expecting, a story. Other Cirque du Soleil  performances I’ve seen – on television – followed a definite storyline – drawing me in and holding me by a narrative filled with emotion and tension that stretched throughout the performance.

I wasn’t the only one to miss this aspect. The family next to us discussed in the intermission how they were searching for the guiding story during the first half also. They never found it either.

According to Wikipedia Saltimbanco has a story.

“Created in 1992, Saltimbanco was the first show in which Cirque du Soleil would narrow its focus to tell a very specific and themed story. Franco Dragone was inspired by the way multiculturalism shaped the nature and direction of Cirque du Soleil and wanted the theme of this new show to be one of “cosmopolitan urbanism”.”

I think the key word here is “theme”.  Saltimbanco has a theme, not a story. Further investigation on the official website turned up the revelation, “Saltimbanco takes spectators on an allegorical and acrobatic journey into the heart of the city”. So it was intended as a journey, not as a story as I’d gone expecting.

Thinking about it on the way home it occurred to me that, much like attending a performance, reading a book can be fraught with preconceived perceptions (i.e. a blurb or a writers’ previous work can set us up with certain expectations). Some contemporary novels feature strong and evocatively explored themes, and amazing journeys, yet intentionally lack a story. For me, as a reader, if I’m reading a novel, I’m always expectant of a story.

I read fiction for story. And I write it with the same overarching intention. Most writer/publisher talks I’ve attended tout story as the most important aspect in a work getting published. Why then do I so often hear that story is lacking in many submissions and even some published works? Some even say story is not so important in literary narratives. I disagree – on the basis of my own reading pleasure. Beautiful prose is a joy to read and may keep me turning pages – though not always nowadays – to the final page, because without story I’m left dissatisfied like a great potential has been left unfulfilled.

I don’t need every ribbon tied up in a  perfect bow. Some can flutter free at the end for my imagination to furl, tie, twist or let flutter on, but I do like a story that concludes and a narrative to drive the story from start to finish. Something to latch onto and take me on a journey.

These thoughts remind me of a chapter book mss I wrote a few years ago. I developed a character for a series of short educational stories, and found Angus a cool, likeable dude. Turned out he was a little too cool for the series, but later I helped him get up to few more tricks and adventures, and included three of the short stories reworked as chapters. I loved his attitude and humour and had high hopes for him. I sent him off to a major publisher to see if they found him funny too, but, alas, Angus came back – though with the most positive, glowing of rejection letters.

“There is a great deal we like about AA Gets a Life – the voice is great, the characters are engaging, and the relationship between Angus and Nick is very believably drawn and sensitively explored. Unfortunately, it is not quite the right fit………………………”

Why? I couldn’t understand. (And there were tears.) If so much was good, why didn’t they want it?

Some time later, Angus was rejected by a different publisher. I sat down and pored again over the first rejection letter. The answer jumped out me in a heartbeat. The Editor had said she liked the voice and characters, but what was the one thing she never mentioned?

She never mentioned the… STORY!

Like a whack over the head, I realised the mss had all these wonderful components, but no story. Admittedly, it was deceptive. On the surface it held together, even sounded pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. I still love it. But, reading back over it, I realised it was episodic. (The danger of cobbling, I’ve since learned.) Sure it had a narrative line, but it was not connected to a big enough hook or nearly strong enough storyline to carry a whole book. Angus is a great character. He deserves a real story to live in, and live through. So now he’s back on the drawing board of my imagination, and soon to start on his journey to a junior novel. This time supported by a strong storyline.

For now he has to wait, but he’s starting to fidget and call from the sidelines. ‘Hurry up and finish that novel. It’s my turn.’

Maybe story is not so important to everyone. Thank goodness there’s lots of readers out there loving different genres, styles and structures. I’d love to know, do you read for story? And do you read between the lines of your rejection letters? Just drop me a line in the comments to let me know.

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Best (Poetry Comp.) Advice I’ve ever had…

 

 

“The more unique your perspective, the better your chances of success…”   skb

 
 
[Image: Night view – beneath the Eiffel Tower © Chris Bell]

Character Tracking: Help, two of my characters are missing?

Where do characters go between chapters when they don’t appear in those chapters?

Are they standing just off-stage? It seems a couple of mine nipped completely out of sight (and mind) and one forgot to come back at all. Problem was they didn’t even send a post card? Or wave and say, hey, I’m still around, just not centre stage.

An astute crit buddy and reader handed back my manuscript yesterday, and calmly told me two of my characters had gone AWOL.

I hadn’t even noticed they were missing. Fortunately, they’re not going to be hard to find because, really, I know where they are. And what they’re doing. I just forgot to tell  the reader.

My mss reader attached to the missing characters. She wanted to know why the daughter never considered her absent father, whom she loved, yet gave thought to her absent mother. And why when she moved away from a significant, loved friend did she not think or mention her again?

Some characters, important to the reader, merit being given another thought or mention, even if we don’t see them appear in the story again. At least let the reader know what happened when the husband who was away at war returned to the wife we’ve met. We don’t need to go visit them, but a quick reference will satisfy the reader that things turned out or didn’t for that character.

This valuable feedback alerted me to some important considerations when working with a manuscript covering a span of years and multiple characters.

  • Out of sight – shouldn’t necessarily mean out of mind.
  • Lesser characters can be forgotten when focussing on strong characters.
  • If a character has been important to the story or main character/s, even if story moves on, a look back, thought or mention can stop them fading out or going missing.

So how do we keep track and be less careless about losing our characters. I’ll share a couple of strategies I’m going to try for this manuscript.

TIP 1: Ask what is everyone else in the story doing while your main characters and focus are elsewhere. Is it relevant? Does the reader need to know?

TIP 2: Use a style sheet to track multiple characters. Map which chapters they appear in. If they don’t get a mention in consecutive or future chapters, interrogate does it matter? Even if a character goes deliberately missing for most of the story, does anyone need ever think of that person again?

Some characters fade out and are never missed. That’s fine too. Tracking them though alerts us to whether it matters.

Have you ever lost a character? Do you think to look for them? I’d love you to share any strategies you may have for keeping track of your unruly characters’ whereabouts. Please feel free to post your comments.

Travelling Back in Story to Move Forward

Back at the end of October, I was like a kid let out of school for summer. But with a firm goal to finish my novel by new semester start. (Next Tuesday.)

Ha, ha, ha!

What naivety! But, oh, how thrilling the challenge! (When I wasn’t gnashing teeth and tearing out my hair.)

An unmet challenge – as it turns out.

But… you know, it doesn’t matter. Not at all, because, though I’ve written and rewritten and deleted heaps of words over the past four months, I’ve learned so much more – about my story, about my characters, and what I’m trying to say. I’ve discovered the real journey my main character is travelling on. And how to articulate it.

Still I struggled with the beginning. I kept coming up against an invisible barrier, blocking me, yet I couldn’t see why I was blocked.

I always knew the beginning needed to be rewritten, because the initial, early draft chapters were really me writing my way into my story and characters. And even though I knew some aspects of these chapters needed to stay as crucial backstory, I struggled with how and where to begin. 

I’ve rewritten the beginning chapter three times now. Each draft not quite working – despite some deceptively good words and ideas. (It’s tricky when words seem good, to discover why they’re not working. Especially if it turns out to be a tiny but destabilising aspect.)

I had the story pinned, but could not pin down my main character. Something wasn’t gelling, and I had no idea why.

This week I set out to write a small snapshot, set a few years before the start of my story.  My intention being to travel back and show one character before he “changed”. Without intending to, within this scene, I captured the essence of my story along with the true relationship of the two main characters. I can see now why things went on to pan out the way they do, yet there is no hint in the actual words on what’s to come.

I also discovered I’d painted a crucial aspect of their older relationship wrong in my first draft beginnings.

The problem lay in my initial setup. I wrote the pair’s relationship, and stuck with it. I forgot to go back and interrogate. Sure, I returned to examine my story starting point and setting, but not my original setup of my characters’ relationship. On the surface, it works. But after writing the scene from their early years, a crucial difference jumped out at me. An expectation seeded in my main character in the original drafts, that is missing in the writing on their early years.

BRAIN FLASH “Ah! That was never supposed to be the way of it.”

This single expectation coloured the way I wrote the next few chapters. In turn, skewing attitudes and responses, and many of the characters’ ongoing outlooks and motivations.

Even before this discovery, I was set to rewrite several early chapters to change the relationship. I was gobsmacked to realise that if I’d written the early year’s piece before I wrote the rest of the novel, I’d have written it differently from the start and saved myself a lot of the work ahead of me.

But that’s what writing a novel organically is all about. Discovery! Growing a story.

I had to write the entire narrative to find out where it was going. Now it’s about going back to the beginning, with the benefit of that knowledge, and knowing truly who my characters are, to test and ensure the narrative line works from beginning to end.

So, if things aren’t working with or between your characters, try taking them back to their earlier years, particularly if they had a connection in their younger years. Let them explore a new situation at that point of their lives – or even, as I did, just their everyday world. If your characters are older, plant them in a different situation than you’re intending for them in your story. Or write them older still and see what’s happened in the intervening years and how they interact now. You might be surprised by the revelations too.

Writing a long-length work of fiction is a thrilling, frustrating, learning journey that takes lots of rewrites and rethinks, but in the end it’s about writing your way into your characters and to where they’re going. Ongoing until the novel is finished. Another lesson learned and a step forward in my writing journey too.

Love to hear if you’ve had an Ah Ha! flash of revelation in your writing. Please share by posting a comment.

Where Writers Write

There’s nothing like the sound of graders and diggers jack-hammering into rock to send a  writer out of the house and into the “real”.

They’re laying new pipes and digging up old drains in the land across from our street. Tearing at my solitude and banging in my headspace.

Sending me out to write in the world out of doors. What a treat! One I forget that I can easily have – anytime – instead of sitting within the same four walls. Today, I rediscovered writing out of my normal environment is also a great idea generating activity. One I intend to utilise more in the future. (And I might need to, if only to escape and preserve my sanity while the new estate goes in over the road.)

Have laptop, and/or notebook, can travel. And where better than to the park on a day like today. Warm and sultry and lulling. SNAP. Into the writing, please. That’s what you’re here for, not to snooze and daydream all day. Oh, scratch that. Daydreaming is good. I’m a writer. I’m allowed to daydream whenever I want – it’s called working for us writers.

Yet, how often was I told as a child to get my head out of the clouds? Oh, what brilliant novels might I have written already if my head had stayed up there imagining all these years. Anyway, time to get those daydreams down. On with it now.

Ideas abound all around the park.

 

From that dog over there – off his lead – sniffing all the wonderful smells and checking out who’s been visiting before him. What stories he could tell.

 

 

 

 

To the ibis wandering around the picnic tables, waiting on crumbs. With such a long beak, I bet that fellow’s ventured into many a body’s business. I’m sure he could tell some tales.

 

***

If ideas enough aren’t found in nature, look at the old man sitting on the bench in his old scaffy suit coat on such a warm day. His shopping bags don’t look much like they hold groceries. What stories lie behind the deep grooves in his cheeks, dark with ingrained dirt. What life has he led? Once upon a time did he have a small boy who called him daddy and wanted to grow up just like him? What happened in between?

Or the lady gardener wrenching around the hose on her weed spray with such ferocity like she’d like to pick it up and strangle someone. Who’s she mad at? What was the screaming match about before she left home this morning?

And why is that icecream vendor scowling out his window inviting the customers closer. Not! What does he go home to? Who is not waiting for him at day’s end? Is that why he trundles around the streets into the evening playing his shonky tunes? Why doesn’t he want to go home?

***

Do you ever write in the real? Where do you go? How does it change your writing? Do you take your laptop or write longhand? Love to hear your thoughts, just leave me a comment.

Writing time for Writers

Time to write. Huh?

It’s all very well to be ready, willing and able to sit your writer’s bum on the chair and position your fingers on the keyboard.

With your next chapter in mind and your ideas parading as the best plot ever thought up, first you take time out to check your emails, network on Facebook and palaver all over the internet rather than tap and type and work on your masterpiece.

Even now I’m procrastinating by blogging about lack of time to write instead of working. BUT I must add, today, I’m doing it in my “new” official blogging space and time.

Yes, I’m on a strict TIMEtable. (I’m on a diet too, but that’s a whole other story incorporating similar themes such as lack of discipline, time, ability to stick to the program etc.)

The only way I can think of to organise my writing life and time, and get some actual writing done, is to implement a serious time management strategy. (But TM sounds terminally boring, unwriterly and so far out of the creative sphere, can I bear it?)

YES. I’ve got a lot to accomplish this year, and I know I severely neglected my reading time in the one just gone. Beyond my passion, reading is a necessity, not a luxury for a writer. So how to fit it all in.

I’ve avoided TM. I kept thinking with a bit of self-discipline I could keep on track. But, NO. I don’t know where the minutes (ahem, hours) go when I’m online. It’s easy enough to lose track when internet researching; at least that’s work. Yes, I know networking and social media connections are important business to writers too. But where to draw the line in order to get the actual writing done.

Sometimes, I think I’ll just duck in to Facebook for five minutes, but how am I to know that there’ll be 300+ recent posts waiting? An hour later, I’ll duck out again. (Or I’ll catch up on some great blog posts, but they can take up serious writing time too.)

No more ducking. It’s time to get serious about time. So I’ve mapped my weekdays, and I’m going to stick to the timetable. I can be flexible, in an emergency, or with other writerly calls, but not with online networking. It’s going to have a time and place, and a finite number of minutes devoted per day.

I’ve pasted a diagram of my draft timetable below to show my good intentions. I’ll let you know how I get on. Meanwhile, I’d love you to share your tips for time management or comment on how you go about organising and separating your actual writing time and business of writing calls on your time. How much time do you spend writing/FBooking/social networking/blogging etc? I find other writers’ processes fascinating.

Now all I’ve got to do is master some diet discipline and I might fit less snugly into my new party dress. One thing at a time though…

Manuscript Mapping/Scene Interrogation

Lots of authors use index cards to map their plot, create scenes and work out structure or scene placement.

Last week I used a similar exercise to track my novel’s progress using index cards, preparatory to restructuring the manuscript.

First: I wrote up every scene/story break in my novel. I was gobsmacked to find there were one hundred and twenty four scenes. Is that way too many? They seemed appropriate during the writing. But since it sounded so many, I went to my bookcase and checked out lots of books. Some have few story breaks, but to my relief, others had lots and lots too.

The aim of the exercise was threefold.

1. To check for crucial and strong scenes (hoping there’d be lots)
2. To interrogate whether each scene grew the plot and propelled the story forward
3. To enable me to juggle the scenes when I (shortly) experiment with the structure.

I used a system of stickers and stars to denote:

  1. Crucial scene
  2. Strong scene
  3. Rewrite scene
  4. Delete scene
  5. Propels plot
  6. Merge (really short storybreaks) into next/previous scene

I’m now thinking I should add a couple of new coloured stars to track story arcs and conflicts too.

Now on this third draft, every scene is going to have to justify its existence. I plan to recheck if I’ve been over-generous in my assessment or too harsh. (I did get into the playing with the stars and stickers, and want to be sure I didn’t get carried away.) Mostly I’m aiming for a balance that will work for the story. It’s not an action thriller so every scene won’t be action, but I do need to check whether too many scenes are narration/introspection/action/conflict, and if the ratio works.

It was a really interesting exercise in that so many little things emerged to check, rewrite, explain too. It also revealed how I’ve neglected some of my transitions, and though I know how much time has elapsed since the last scene, in places, I’ve forgotten to tell the reader.

That’s the benefit of not looking at the full manuscript for some months. Much jumped out and is clearer now. All in all though, I’m pretty pleased how it’s all coming together.

Next week I’m advancing to cutting and pasting. No, not with clag and scissors – even more fun – with text.

If you have any tips or methods to work out structuring your manuscript or interrogating its individual scenes, I’d love to hear about them.

(PS: If you’re lucky enough to be a Mac user, a fantastic sounding program called Scrivener lets you index your scenes on an online corkboard. Too cool. Can’t wait to check out the PC version – due out next year.)

To pitch, or not to pitch…

To pitch, or not to pitch?

That is the question I asked myself before the SCBWI International Conference in Sydney last weekend.

Of course there’d be positives, maybe even joys, such as:

  • Feedback on my idea/WIP
  • Practice at presenting in public
  • Self-promotion benefits in getting my name and face in front of publishers and peers.

But there’d also be terrors:

  • What if I bombed in front of all those people?
  • What if no one liked my concept?
  • What if I knocked three publishers out of the equation in one fell pitch?

I can hardly believe that I not only answered yes to the question of pitching, but got up the courage to put my name in the hat (or vase in this case), and ended up being the first name called.

I suspect it helped having no time to get nervous in the days prior. With my 82 year-old Dad in hospital, looking at bypass surgery, pitching was the last thing on my mind. For a couple of days, attending the conference (that I’d so looked forward to for months) began to seem doubtful.

Besides, I’d thought that we’d had to put in to pitch months before while I was away overseas, and was surprised to read on the website a week prior that we could nominate to pitch up until the Saturday of the conference. And then I saw the words, “Make sure your pitch is entertaining.” “Do not tell the plot.” “Focus on the concept.” OMG!

Entertain? Who me?

Hilarious – I’m not, nor particularly quirky either. How on earth do you make a concept entertaining? I wondered, as I lay in bed on the Monday morning, musing over what I would do if I was brave and had any acting talent. The only way I could think of was to go into the voice of my character. All the while, another little voice nagged, you can’t do the accent. (The accent that comes whenever I’m writing the story. The accent I’ve been asked not to do by my adult children when I read aloud in their hearing.) But what would I do, if I were brave..?

I wrote out a few paragraphs that Maire, my protagonist, might say if she was talking to someone about her new life, all the while telling myself it was fine to do the exercise, because I’d never get up in front of room full of people, let alone publishers, to recite it.

Then my week turned spare, and I gave up all thoughts of preparing a pitch. That is until we got the all clear on Thursday evening, and I raced home to pack and type up Maire’s words onto labels, stuck them on my business cards, and wrote out my concept. I ran through it several times, subjecting hubby to two of the readings, and ran over it in my head before going to sleep, as soon as I woke up, in the shower next morning, and the same again in Sydney the night and morning prior.

I have to say a big part of my confidence to pitch came thanks to the encouragement of good writing friends. First, Claire Saxby at the airport, encouraging me not to miss such a great opportunity. Adding her hints to my arguments about nerves, “Breathe, go slow. Go as slow as you can. You can never go too slowly.” (Words that incidentally came back to me as I presented.) And it’s amazing how when you go slow, the words come to you and you don’t skip over or forget half.

Dee White and Alison Reynolds gave up their morning tea break to play publishers so I could practice on them, and they reminded me to locate the year first, because my novel is historical, and to state my word count among other valuable tips. Most important was their encouragement, once again, to go for it.

Chris Bell SCBWI pitch session. Photograph courtesy: Claire Saxby

Chris Bell SCBWI pitch session. Photograph courtesy: Claire Saxby

I’m pleased to say my pitch went very well, despite my stomach churning and my left hand beginning to shake so badly halfway through, I thought I’d drop my cue cards. I was thrilled to bits with the very positive response of the publishers, especially with all of them wanting to read more when it’s finished.

When I thanked one of them later, she suggested I must have practiced a lot. I mumbled that I hadn’t really, thinking guiltily about my horror week and how the pitch had come together. It was only later that I realised I had actually been preparing unknowingly for weeks. (Two years if you add the writing time spent on the novel.) But the concept aspect I’d been working on at uni through the RMIT Masters program, so I’d had the chance to boil down the essence of my novel to a sentence, and think of it as a concept and not just the story. So the basis was there, just waiting to come out. My character gave me the voice to do so. And the pitch session the opportunity.

I’m so glad I got brave. (Thanks to plenty of encouragement and positive feedback.)

I learned a lot about myself through the pitching experience and even more about my character.

My three best tips for a winning pitch:

  • Be brave enough to be creative
  • Know your project (let your passion show)
  • Practice (running it through in your head counts as practice).

PLUS: My very best advice for writers and illustrators who want to pitch to publishers:

GO FOR IT!

Keeping the Space (the headspace)

Much as I try to work on my novel consistently, uni and life keep throwing tasks and challenges in my path to distract me.

I’m writing my Y/A historical novel in a very definite voice and often fear I’ll lose it if I have too much time away; or, worse, disconnect from my characters. It takes a heap of time then trying to reconnect into the story. Deterrents enough today to put me off starting.

I’m banging my head wondering, how did I do it last year when I had many occasions when I simply couldn’t get to the keyboard to write and yet every time I sat down, the words still flowed?

 Aha. I remember. I stayed in the zone. Kept my head in the story.

I visited my story space every day – often several times. I talked to my characters. And more important got them talking to each other, and kept them talking, sometimes yelling. Okay, sometimes they weren’t even on speaking terms, but they were always interacting in some way.

Makes me sound kind-of nuts when I write it down.

I’d lie in bed, or stand under the shower, and let the last scene I’d written play out like a movie in my head, and then let that scene flow on into the next – and watch it develop. Sometimes the freedom to daydream allowed it to take off in an exciting, unimagined, tangent. (No, in drought affected Melbourne, I don’t let the water keep flowing, usually by that stage I’m scrambling for towel and pen and paper.)

I might not ever use the ideas, notes, or lines of dialogue that come from my musings, but the effect is that it keeps my characters close, and enables them to grow through exploring their options, feelings and possibilities even though I’m not putting a word on paper. Then the next time I am able to sit down and write, it’s amazing how easily words come.

Note to self: (and anyone else it may help) Where ever we are in the writing journey, we need to hold onto the dream and keep our story headspace. Or, know when it’s time to give that headspace a good rest and come back invigorated and ready to reignite the passion. The most important thing is to keep blowing gently on the flicker of writing fire, so that it never completely cools. Even then, with the right fuel and spark, any fire can be relit.

Just Write It

Who said you could write a book? Who’d want to read what you write? That’s a bunch of crap, and you know it.

I used to listen to that obnoxious Self-doubt Elf scoffing on my shoulder to the point I’d start to wonder why I even wanted to write. Probably my idea was rubbish. And who was I to think I could be a writer?

I’d tidy my desk; clean out my file tray; check my email; and make another cup of tea. Anything rather than face the blank screen. (I can’t even add the verb beckoning+screen. At least a creamy fresh page in a notebook is a smidge friendly. There’s nothing buddy-buddy at all about a block of white on a computer screen.)

Anyhow, back to topic. Today, when I was thinking (okay, agonising) about what I would write in my first blog post, I fretted over a fresh approach, a new idea, and the big freeze began. It took answering four emails and three cups of tea before I remembered, I don’t need to freeze anymore. I have the perfect tool to send that pesky elf packing, and magic me a blog post.

Three little words began to chant in my head. Just write it. Just write it. Or roughly translated, stop stuffing around and do it.
 
This mantra has become one of the most powerful tools in my writing arsenal. Sort of like the bulldozing tank in wartime, mowing down all resistance in its path.

Two years ago, renowned Australian author, Andrea Goldsmith, shared this gem with me during a Year of the Novel course. And I have to tell you, it’s enabled me to write through grief, despair, self-doubt and procrastination. All in spite of my heels grinding into the carpet in my initial effort to deny its validity.

But I have to work out the readership. My story could be adult or young adult.
No need to decide that now. Just write it.

But I want to get the voice working at the outset. I want this novel to be published.
Don’t worry about getting published. Just write it.

But I’ve only got an idea, not a storyline.
Just Write it.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson!  Wasn’t I supposed to decide my readership first? And if I was a serious writer, write to be published?

In the end, I have to admit, I just wrote out of desperation born of necessity rather than desire.

And it worked – brilliantly. At the time I was facing a devastating personal catastrophe, watching someone I loved very much succumb to cancer. After the diagnosis I feared I wouldn’t be able to write at all. Let’s face it, a writer’s confidence is fragile even on a good day. Any upset to the big picture is pretty fracturing in all regards.

Somehow, Andrea’s words came back to me. I made a conscious decision about my WIP, (and I’m not saying it would work for everyone in the same circumstance) to try and just write it. Write in scenes, not daunting chapters. Write what my character felt about leaving her home, her country, her friends. Write how the daughter and mother related to each other. Write in snatches, or the middle of sleepless nights, just write how it came out with no intention on where or if it would fit into the finished novel. I was freed to waste no time fretting or fearful over whether the writing was good enough, publishable, working etc. Much of this writing evolved into whole scenes. Active scenes that drove the narrative. And to my amazement, I added forty thousand words to my novel during that time. It was to my deeper surprise that they turned out to be “good” words.

I’m not saying, I never get the wobblies. I do. Take today for example. BUT… if I stop panicking long enough to find the barest starting point, an interesting thought, a kernel of an idea, and start writing – the idea builds on itself and thoughts come quicker than I can type. And then I remember why I write.

Initial words on the page can be the hardest step. Sometimes continuing is more difficult. Life can be breathed into flat characters, hues can be repainted into settings, and all the rich layers of story delved into deeper in subsequent drafts. But if I never make a start… Or fail to keep going…

Just write it.

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