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Archive for the tag “The Writing Life”

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!

 

 

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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.

A Writer’s Week Done

Read:

2 junior novels

1 YA novel

Words Written:   4700

Words Edited:    9300

CONVICT SLANG:

bolter – one who runs away or leaves a place suddenly

crap’d – hanged

qock’d – forgetful, absent in mind

Wild horse familyDID YOU KNOW?

Horses in convict Tasmania were a rarity. The high cost of owning a horse was prohibitive and usually only wealthy settlers, senior officials and military officers rode or owned the animals.

Just one of the interesting snippets I’ve learned while researching my current WIP. I read heaps and did lots of research before even starting to write my story, but some of the everyday work/life details, I just merrily wrote in thinking that I would verify the details later. Horses and dogs seemed a given, but then I discovered – no, not so. It’s amazing how changing some of these small details can require significant changes to a chapter. We don’t just write ‘the man rode his horse’. We incorporate the imagery of that horse ride into the scene, which means that all the subsequent references, sounds of harness clinking, flicking a fly with the reins, smell of horse sweat have to go too. Of course, I would always rather discover such errors myself in draft stage rather than have someone pick up my mistake in a published book. Still it amazed me to discover that a horse, something I saw as part of ordinary, working day life in Australia, even in convict times, was such a rarity due to our immense isolation from mother England and the expense of shipping livestock so prohibitive. Nothing is certain in historical fiction until it’s cross-checked and verified. Even though fiction, it needs to be right.

 

Source: Convict slang A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language (Author James Hardy Vaux 1812)

Celebrating Poetrix, Poets and Adieu!

Poetrix 40 coverSaturday 1st June saw the birth of this new poet with the publication of my poem Life in the final issue of Poetrix. It was a thrill to see my first published poem in print and have the opportunity to read it aloud in front of poetrix peers and poetry lovers, all gathered to celebrate the launch of Poetrix 40 and herald its farewell at the Williamstown Literary Festival.

It was inspirational to hear the thanks of poets who read their work and how Poetrix gave many their first chance at publication too. Some said that first acceptance also gave them the confidence to continue submitting to both Poetrix and other publications and grow their body of work.

Chris reading "Life" at Poetrix LaunchI am honoured for my poem to be included in this final issue alongside some powerful and beautiful poetry and some very well-known, well-published poets. I mourn the closing of Poetrix, just when I am just starting out, but none could argue that Sherryl Clark and her editorial team deserve a rest after producing two issues a year for over two decades. That’s a lot of reading, editing, collating and organising!

Sherryl Clark launching PoetrixPoetrix has seen twenty years of production, the publication of hundreds of poems and the birth of many new poets. In her launch speech, Sherryl explained how Poetrix began in 1993 after a survey revealed the disparity between the numbers of female to male poets being published and reviewed, and after a reported slur by an editor who refused to publish women’s poetry calling their poems “domestic, suburban vignettes”. Western Women Writers went to work to remedy the disparity and through lots of hard work raised the funds to set up Poetrix magazine.

I loved Sherryl’s explanation for the logic behind the title – how if a female aviator is called an aviatrix, a female poet must be called a poetrix.

Thank you Poetrix for enabling my poetry debut and for the warm encouragement of those I spoke to on the Committee. Now to honour your faith by continuing to submit and hopefully see my poetry further published. And now, I can call myself a poet.

The Paper-full Office

It’s time to put my office back together, after emptying it for new carpet, but I cringe to re-store all the boxes of old manuscript drafts and files. I’m wondering what to keep and what to chuck?

Even the tax man only makes me keep my paperwork three years. Am I just being precious keeping all these manuscript drafts of my published books, not to mention multiple drafts of many unpublished titles?

I’m so far distant from a paperless office I’m out the other side. In fact, adding much more paper, I will be – on the far side of the door. I truly don’t mind lots of books and paper stuff, but… seriously, it’s time to cull.

Surely even well-known authors who donate their work and boxes of manuscript to the Lu Rees Archives don’t keep everything? Or perhaps they do and that’s why they donate their life work when still living, to get the boxes out of their homes.

With that thought, I ducked into the website of the Lu Rees Archive to get an idea of what they do hold. Heaps, it seems, and, very interestingly, they also tell you how to look after your papers. I discovered I’m breaking all the taboos and shortening my paperwork’s life span by using metal pins, staples and rubber bands amongst other no-nos. The website explains that “metal rusts very quickly and leaves permanent marks. Rubber bands quickly disintegrate, leaving marks. Self-stick removable notes easily fall off, and when they do remain, may shift from the desired spot and leave a sticky residue. Sticky tape eventually loses its sticking capability and leaves marks as well as a residue. Liquid paper and correction tape wear off and crack.

One great and surprising tip recommends using HB pencil to label your files etc, because pencil lasts for centuries and doesn’t damage like inks and pens. Lots to learn if fame ever finds me and my work.

But, since I’m not famous, yet, and running out of room, perhaps a mini cull would suffice.

How many or much do you keep of old drafts, notes and paperwork from your manuscripts? Is there a good reason to keep all or any of it? Please let me know your method and ideas in the comments?

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