From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “The Writing Life”

No Small Shame – The Dreaded Edit

The dreaded round one edit for my novel wasn’t so bad! After all!

I wasn’t sure what to expect for my first novel-length edit. My previously published work has either been short fiction for children that I can truthfully say had very few changes made to the words, or short stories published in anthologies and literary magazines that were all edited in-house with no input from me. So I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than that the publisher had said that the manuscript didn’t require a full structural edit.

I was still a tad nervous before the files arrived. What if the freelance editor had different ideas? What if she wanted major changes? What if she didn’t get my book? What if she hated it? You know the type of paranoid writer thoughts fuelled by an over-zealous imagination.

Well the editor’s files duly did arrive. A huge sigh of relief could be heard as I read her report. There were some lovely words expressed ie: compelling narrative; strong protagonist, distinctive voice; highly engaging; nuanced view of human frailty, complexity of character etc. All wonderful positives to read and very reassuring to a debut novelist.

The editor provided a structural analysis and made some suggestions for better establishing some of the settings ie: where they were located in relation to other places, the mileage and time distances etc.

I also needed to do some more work on a couple of the minor characters to give ‘a stronger sense of who they are—both independently’ of my main character ‘and outside of their narrative function’. Though this involved careful thought, words-wise it only really entailed adding a few lines apiece, but these truly made a difference and either brought in or strengthened existing character traits or backstory in subtle but important ways.

I then had to tackle the issue of my ‘unwieldy syntax’. As mentioned in a previous post, the voice of my novel is distinctive and my unwieldy syntax the narrative style. But, along with the editor, I do want the prose to be readable. So a delicate dance ensued where I had to make some tricky decisions, to simplify or not to simplify. In many cases, I rewrote the sentence. Hopefully it will still be highly readable and yet still retain its unique voice.

Though I know my edit was not overly onerous as many edits can reportedly be, and I was very fortunate to be given a very reasonable deadline, being a bit on the conscientious side, I took my full allotted time to get it back. And, because I’m running behind in keeping up with my blog posts on this last intense leg of the journey From Hook to Book, before I could blog about the first round edit, the second round arrived.

It was all very straightforward. For me, the hard part was sending it back once it was done. The terror of knowing that once I pressed send, it was gone and unchangeable. The next time I would see the manuscript, it would be typeset and at proofreading stage. I would then not be permitted to make any changes unless they were true errors. Terrifying! Of course, I met the round two deadline, but I didn’t press send until the very last day!

And then I promptly got sick. A bug I couldn’t beat and a cough that wouldn’t go for six whole weeks. So I guess the edit was more stressful on me than I’d thought.

I learned so much through the process though, particularly the fascinating difference it made in adding some tiny details that expanded my minor characters and gave a deeper insight into their backstories in such small but significant ways. We writers are so blessed to have editors.

Now back to work. Guess what’s just arrived – yep, the proofread round. I know I’m going to have to sit on my hands and fight the urge to fiddle, unless I find a real, actual error.

But it’s all happening and getting so exciting! The book is in sight.

Stay tuned for a cover reveal. It’s going to be any day now!

HNSA Colleen McCullough Residency 2019

When I first saw the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) announcement of their inaugural Colleen McCullough Residency, I was blown away by the generosity of the prize and the amazing opportunity open to all eligible attendees at the 2019 HNSA Conference in Sydney last weekend.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a week on the beautiful Norfolk Island, once home and inspiration to one of our country’s most acclaimed writers? Plus airfares, transfers, hire car, tours of both the Colleen McCullough library and the island, supplied by the generous sponsors, along with the incredible bonus of staying and writing on the grounds of the McCullough estate!

I am so thrilled and excited to have been awarded the inaugural HNSA Colleen McCullough Residency for an Established Writer. AND I GET TO GO TO NORFOLK ISLAND IN FEBRUARY!!!

When the final judge of the residency shortlists, best-selling author, Nicole Alexander, began to read out a couple of telling details from the winning established author submission, ie: set in France, post-WW1 etc, my heart just about stopped beating. And when she read out my name, I really couldn’t believe it. But, eventually, I did manage to collect myself and my certificate from Nicole, and utter a few inarticulate words.

It’s taken a few days to sink in, though never the fact what an amazing opportunity I’ve been given. It’s also incredibly validating to know that the choices I made a few months ago to start my novel at a different point in the story have worked. I’m so excited about my WIP, but I won’t go into any details about the project here at this early stage of the writing.

Congratulations to Sally Colin James, winner of the aspiring category. We’ve already planned to get together at the end of the writing day and debrief, perhaps share a meal and a sunset.

No doubt, come February, this blog will feature some beautiful photos set amid the inspiration of Norfolk Island, a place I’ve always, always wanted to visit. I only wish Colleen McCullough was still in residence, per chance I could meet her. Hopefully some more of her magic will rub off on me.

My grateful thanks to HNSA, Nicole Alexander, Burnt Pine Travel, Baunti Escapes and the McCullough Estate for the opportunity, their support and sponsorship.

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.

Month of Writing Wrap

My Month of Writing is over. Yay! I achieved my goal of adding 25,000-words to my manuscript and met my deadline last Friday 31st August at 7.29pm. (Then I collapsed with exhaustion! And wine!)

I only exceeded my goal by a miniscule 93 words but I’m really pleased with the new scenes and chapters I’ve written and the considerable development of the storyline. It’s not all sparkling prose that’s for sure, but the bones are there. (Though, I’m not sure that the final 1000-words written on Friday will stay or go. I haven’t been back yet to read them over and fear they may have turned into waffly exposition in order to hit the 55,000 mark by my self-imposed deadline.)

So was it a good approach or a positive way to write for me?

Yes and no! Yes: it worked on lots of levels: achieved word count, added scenes, developed storyline. No, it’s not a way I’d want to write all the time. I really missed taking time to go back and edit and rework scenes as I went, but I realised early-on that if I wanted to hit my word count goal, I had to just write and worry if it was all working later.

The real positive is that the new scenes capture the essence of what I want to say and where I want the story to go. And now they’re written I have something to work on. Another bonus is that these latest 25,000-words have really progressed the plot and inspired an important sub-plot in the story.

I don’t think that I could ever do NaNoWriMo with its word count goal of 50,000 words. I started my month of writing with a strong plan for the different scenes that I wanted to write in the belief that I should be able to just sit down first thing each morning and crack on with the writing. I can actually write quite quickly when I’m in scene but, regardless of all my planning and good intentions, it still took me half the day to get started – as is usual for me. Turns out I still need to dream, think, imagine my way into the writing. The great thing though is that by having my Month of Writing goal and deadline, I did just crack on with the writing before the end of the day and it was incredibly satisfying to watch that story/word count grow daily. (Or almost daily.)

So, the stats:

Achieved:

  • 13 new scenes
  • 25,093 words
  • 1 new subplot
  • belief and confidence this story is worth writing

Pros:

  • inspiration to get words down
  • permission to write regardless of quality (equally a con)
  • inspired serious plotting
  • enforced the writing of some ‘skipped’ scenes
  • enabled strong character development through intense writing
  • proved the idea has legs (even if still a spindly, wobbly first draft)

Cons:

  • permission to write regardless of quality (equally a pro)
  • gave licence to waffle
  • limited scope for editing of completed scenes (as I prefer to do as I go)

So now to review the 55,000-words to date, give in to the urge to edit and then reset my writing goal. It just won’t be quite so intense next time!

 

 

Month of Writing

Today I begin a “Month of Writing”. A writing retreat if you like with a fixed deadline and word count aim.

But it’s all self-imposed and self-inflicted! And necessary. Of course I would love to go off on a fully-fledged writing retreat in some idyllic setting, meals laid on and nothing to interrupt the writing flow but my own thoughts. But with a young puppy in the house and planning an overseas trip next year, I can’t afford either the time away or the financial outlay.

So I’ve devised a plan: I’m keeping my August calendar as clear as I can. I’ve set a 9 am daily start, so I’d better type faster now. I’ve set myself a daily word count aim of 1000-words. I’ve multiple scenes mapped out and some exciting aspects of my novel to explore. I know where it’s all heading and the only way to get there now is to write. I’ve also given myself permission to just write. Crap, if necessary. But words.

No, I don’t have to tell the world my plan (not that the world is reading my blog!), but I’m a person who thrives on accountability. This is my commitment to myself. So here I go – manuscript currently at 30,200-words. End of month aim 55,0000-words. I’m leaving myself a little leeway, because life always interrupts. My plan is to bar the door against all but the most important of interruptions. See you on the 31st.

Permission to Write Crap and Crap on!

It’s time for me to get back to blogging, but, from now on, without always spending hours researching or pedantically connecting all my posts to serious writing subjects, which takes away from real, actual writing time.

At the beginning of a new novel project real writing is top of my agenda.

At least that was the plan until I sat down to start and out poured a pile of… clunky, flat sentences, sour similes, in scenes seemingly going nowhere.

OMG! What had happened to the joyful act of writing that I remembered, the excitement and thrill of the perfect word or sentence appearing on the page? Dialogue that my characters had no trouble giving voice to?

Oh yeah, that was writing my last novel, of many, many drafts! Long contemplated, researched, workshopped, drafted and redrafted, edited and at last complete, and where for the longest time I’d known where my characters were going and why and what they were doing. In essence, working with a tame, respectable, easily approachable and beloved friend.

Starting a new project is more like opening the door to an unhouse-trained, ill-behaved, messy, unrecognisable, often traitorous beast.

 

“There is no beginning that is a blank page,”  Amitava Kumar

The prospect of that blank page and beautifully set-up EMPTY Scrivener mss file became mind-boggling and scary and confidence crippling. In my panic, and procrastination, I buried myself in research. It took me awhile to work out that really I was just avoiding the blank page. I began to think I couldn’t write. My idea was crap. No-one would want to read it. And what did I know about Paris post-WW1 anyway?

Creativity is always a leap of faith. You’re faced with a blank page, blank easel, or an empty stage.” Julia Cameron

Then I remembered I didn’t know much about pit villages in Scotland, early 20th century immigration, WW1 or shellshock until I began to read and research for my previous novel either.

Most importantly, after initially freaking out, then giving myself a stiff talking to, I recalled some sage advice from the wise pen of Ann Lamott, author of the popular writing book, Bird by Bird. “Writing is not rapturous. The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” Just what I needed to hear. And action.

“I have done, this year, what I said I would: overcome my fear of facing a blank page day after day, acknowledging myself, in my deepest emotions, a writer, come what may.” Sylvie Plath

Three weeks after giving myself permission to write crap, in fact insisting I write crap, if that’s all that hit the page, as long as I bloody-well wrote words, my word-count has grown by more than 12,000-words. After some further prodding and poking (editing), because I had actual words to work with, I can now see where my story is going. The tone and voice are developing and beginning to ring true. Scene by scene I’m getting to know my characters and their world. I’m beginning to really like my MC and love again the act of writing.

Of course, I’m not alone in fear of the blank page. It’s still scary at times, but I wouldn’t ever want to do anything else.

Oh, what a feeling..!

Sheldon excited

That feeling when your brand new story/character/world becomes real and – OMG, it/he/she speaks to you!

Especially when you feared after finishing your previous project (of many drafts and years) that the same passion might never strike you again.

Despite reading many blogs/interviews/author biographies to the contrary – the promise of a long-held idea becomes real. Maybe even has legs!

Oh, what a feeling!

 

 

Tagged

Alison Pith HelmetI have been tagged by lovely and prolific writer and friend Alison Reynolds to share my writing process in the “Tagged” blog tour. A bit of a worry since, as a child, I was “Chris of the Scabby Knees”, more likely to fall over than tag anyone. So just as well email is faster than me at tagging.

The Littlest bushranger_FRONT COVERAlison Reynolds is the author of the gorgeous A Year with Marmalade and The Littlest Bushranger picture books as well as the popular Ranger in Danger (choose your own adventure) series. And, “TA DA”, very, very soon a brand new Marmalade adventure. In fact, I’m excited to host Alison – next week – on her whirlwind blog tour to help launch A New Friend for Marmalade.

To find out more about Alison and more of her brilliant books you can visit her website at http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au.

What am I working on?

I am working on a YA historical novel set in convict Tasmania. It’s a bit scary saying that, because really it’s done and time to send it out into the world. That’s the hard part though, because a writer always fears – it might come back.

DSC03909 copyHow does my work differ from others in its genre?

When writing my last two novels, both the main characters’ voices  arrived strong and distinct. I hope this originality of voice will help set them apart from some other historical works. I write very much from story rather than the historical period I’m writing in. Of course, I want the details and history to be correct, but I don’t want to give my reader a history lesson. Detail is soon sacrificed if it ruins the moment or pace.

Rue de Kanga - Peronne copyRooDeKanga 1918 Peronne copyWhy do I write what I write?

These days I write mostly historical fiction because it’s become an absolute passion for me and, as it turns out, it’s what I’ve always loved most to read. Starting with A Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce, back in the days when I could read all night by torchlight to get to the end of a book or crash to sleep trying. I get so lost in the research, learning about the different ways of doing day-to-day tasks, gutting and skinning rabbits, lighting a fire, dressing and talking, that sometimes I forget to write.

I love that I get to talk to so many interesting people from all over the world too, including an ex-Scottish coal miner, the owner of a French chateau, and an expert on antique weapons, discussing everything from botany to broomsticks, cockatoos to crinolines. Plus I’ve been fortunate to go to some truly amazing places. A lot of the time only in my mind, yes. But my research has taken me to Scotland, down a real coal mine, onto the battlefields and into towns in France still bearing the scars of WW1, and forced me to face some fears stepping nervously through tunnels deep under the city of Arras.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How does my writing process work?

My process varies depending on what I’m writing. For short titles, I tend to plot first and then write out the story. But for my historical novels, I found the settings first and then the main characters arrived. I always knew what the problem/conflict was to start, just not how my character would solve it. With a basic starting point, I wrote to find out how things turned out. Themes and subplots emerged later, through many hours of daydreaming, midnight musing and redrafting, as well as during the writing.

ww1 mortar in wall IMG_1351 copyUntil I really get to know a character, many thousands of words into the writing, I can’t know how they will react to different challenges or what decisions they might make. Sometimes they surprise me and their decisions can lead to a plot twist that I wasn’t planning on. I can write copious notes in notebooks, ideas and scenes, and possible scenarios for the story, yet when I look back, months later, it has all turned out so differently. The character/s I planned in my notebook never turn out the same as the one/s that come to life on the page.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s  thrilling when a new character I hadn’t planned turns up. Shattering when one dies unexpectedly, yet rightly for the story. Sometimes things occur because they’re inevitable and no other way things could have worked out.

Then the editing process begins. Stuff gets chucked out, stuff gets rewritten and stuff gets added. So I guess my process is not systematic, though I’m always in control, even if I do have to wrench it back sometimes from my characters.

Now it’s my turn to tag. I’m out of breath, but have managed to catch up with three wonderful writers and friends.

Liz CorbettElizabeth Jane Corbett is a fellow writing group buddy and beautiful historical fiction writer. When she isn’t writing, Elizabeth Jane works as a librarian, teaches Welsh and blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In her spare time, she also writes copy and reviews for the Historical Novels Review. In 2007, an early draft of her historical novel, Chrysalis, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna manuscript development award. In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another story, Silent Night, was also shortlisted for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. She is currently in the final stages of re-drafting her original historical novel. She expects to have it ready for submission by the middle of the year.

clairesaxbyThe multi-talented Claire Saxby is hard to catch. She’s busy, busy with three new picture books in production and the author of the stunning Big Red and gorgeous Sea Dog.  Claire writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. She has published picture books and chapter books, short stories and articles. Her poetry appears in magazines, anthologies, on train walls and in museum resources. Claire lives in Melbourne and loves it, despite what anyone says about the weather.

Claire’s most recent picture books are ‘Meet the ANZACS’ illustrated by Max Berry (Random House), ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ illustrated by Graham Byrne (Walker Books) and ‘Seadog’, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Random House) which won the  Speech Pathology Award for Young Children in 2013. You can learn more about Claire on her website.

KatApel_Bully_B&W_SmLastly I’ve stretched all the way to QLD to tag the beautiful and very talented, Kathryn Apel. I met Kat through Month of Poetry, which she runs and coordinates each year. Kat was born and bred a farm girl – but she’s still scared of cows! Kat lives amongst the gum trees, kangaroos and cattle, on a grazing property in Queensland. Her chapter book, ‘Fencing with Fear’ is part of the Aussie! Read! series, and her rural rhyming picture book, ‘This is the Mud!’ has been read by Justine on ABC PlaySchool. Kat’s verse novel for younger readers, ‘Bully on the Bus’ will be released in July, with UQP. Prior to publication it won the published author’s manuscript section of the 2012 CYA Competition.

Kathryn co-ordinates Month of Poetry each January, and has had poetry published in magazines and on CD in Australia and New Zealand.

You can read more about her work at katswhiskers.wordpress.com

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.

DSC04628DSC04612

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.

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