Have you read the weekend papers and now sit, with third latte in hand, looking for something writerly to read? I have it for you. Here at the MRWG we are blessed with talented writers.
As it’s the first Sunday of the month, I thought I’d round up some of February’s blogs, just in case you missed a gem.
In alphabetical order, here’s a brief outline of what’s been posted.
Anna Cowen has been blogging about the art and essence of storytelling on her blog, Diary of an Accidental Housewife. (http://annacowan.com/
),yes this is the right link. During February, Anna visits the movie Dirty Dancing and also recounts an enchanting fairy tale with a strong heroine as opposed to the kind that waits around to be saved.
Emmie Dark (http://emmiedark.blogspot.com.au/
) has been posting an informal diary of her sojourn in the USA. Her photos and experiences take us off the usual tourist path and show us some of the quirky side of Texas and California. Even though we’re quite Americanized in many ways, here in Australia, Emmie shows us some fun differences.
Louise Reynolds at Lou Writes ( http://louwrites.wordpress.com/
) has been entertaining subscribers with a series called Cooking The Books. In my life as a bookkeeper it mean’s telling a few porkies, however Louise’s guests have been talking honestly about writing and cooking. A reoccurring theme is the emotional link food creates with our past and how that can evolve into inspiration for stories.
Serena Tatti of Story Editor (http://serenatattistoryeditor.blogspot.com/
) has been interviewing writers during Feb. Her guests have been sharing accounts of their writing experience. Juanita Kee’s explores loving your character and Suzanna Ross shares her experience regarding the magic of writing friends.
Well that’s a taste of what some of the MRWG members have been offering through their blog’s. If you've read them, I hope my post helped you to remember how great they were. If you haven’t seen them yet, you have a treat in store.
At my first Romance Writers of Australia conference I was like most newbies; bean-green, wide-eyed and just a little star struck.
The keynote speaker was Jenny Crusie whose blog I’ve followed with interest for a number of years. Crusie is one of those generous writers who let you into their lives so you meet their crazy friends, psychotic pets and mildly dysfunctional families.
Crusie had a major cold. She felt like crap and told us so in typical style. But when she started to talk about writing friendships she glowed. Her great mate Krissie (author Anne Stuart) had accompanied her ‘down under’. To a comment by a snuffly Crusie that she wasn’t sure an equally ill Krissie was in the audience that morning there was a shout from the audience, ‘I’m here, sister!’ Joyous stuff.
In a world of social media it’s easy to be “friends” with everyone. Writers who toiled away in isolation 20 years ago are now in touch with as many friends as they can handle at the press of a button. Not all these friends will make the ideal critique partner.
Choose your crit partner wisely. Here are my tips:
1. Each should bring as much, if not more, to the relationship. Share on a one-for-one basis to start with. Later, as the relationship develops, you can make allowances for the varying demands the other might have on her time. Synchronise writing speeds. There’s nothing worse than sending a chapter and receiving 3 in reply. It will change from time to time but you should get the feeling that you are roughly equal in the equation.
2. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
3. Check out their online identity. If they’re published, check out their reviews. See how they interact with others on their face book page, twitter, etc.
4. Decide whether you want to match interests and writing styles or go for something different. If you write sweet romance but want to prise that bedroom door open an erotic romance writer may help.
5. Look for someone you think you can learn from. If you’re in a face-to-face group already and you admire someone’s writing, ask. It may not be a yes but could lead to…
6. Consider having a couple of people you only send stuff to occasionally, prefaced by something like ‘I’m having trouble with this but can’t work out why.’ A writer on the next level is more likely to take an interest in helping if they don’t feel pressured to be a full-time CP.
7. Don’t have so many critique partners that you spend too much time reading their work and don’t have time to do your own. For me, two – three is max.
8. Commit equally to honest appraisal. Everyone loves to hear “OMG, I love it!” But we’re looking for someone who can help us move up to the next level. I like a crit partner to apply the blowtorch where warranted otherwise I’m just treading water. So put the big girl panties on and take some criticism. Fair, robust criticism will push you on. Comfy criticism will cripple you.
9. You didn’t exchange rings so don’t be scared to call it off. Some critique partnerships dwindle through lack of interest. Others need to be finished by either party. You don’t need a court order to get out of this. A simple email thanking the person for their time (which after all you have repaid if you’ve followed Rule 1) and wishing them well will go a long way to maintaining a friendship.
10. Have an honest discussion about plagiarism, use of ideas etc. Some beginning writers don’t have an understanding of this and may not respect the writing and ideas of their CP. Define right up front where the boundaries are. Spell out that all exchanged work is not to be on-forwarded and is to be destroyed on request.
11. Don’t send your writing into the void. This is your hard earned work, your property and the stuff of your dreams. Don’t send it right left and centre to people hiding behind Writerbabe69 or whatever.
12. Work out when a crit partner has taken you over. Your book is more hers than yours. She’s stronger, dominant, convinced of her opinions. You’ve received critiques with more track changes than a capital city rail system. Remember this is your book.
A good critique partner is worth her weight in gold. Good luck with your search! You can visit Louise on her website, blog or Facebook.
I often struggle with silencing my internal editor. It’s the little voice that provides a running commentary on everything I’m doing wrong with my writing. Of course, that little voice can be helpful in small, controlled doses when I’ve transferred my ideas to the page and am ready to refine them, but during the creative process, all it manages to do is feed my doubts and block creativity.
Ever stared at a blank screen, the cursor taunting you with its incessant blinking, and felt paralysed? What is so scary about that blank page? Often we have more ideas than time to work on them, so why can it be so difficult to get them from head to paper (or computer)? For me, it’s the fear of failure. The ideas seem so perfect in my head, and I want to do them justice, so I put a lot of pressure of myself. Now, when this happens I simply remind myself of the following advice that many writers would have heard time and again. ‘You can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank one’
We waste a lot of energy talking ourselves out of writing because it might not be perfect. Why not refocus that energy into putting words to paper as they come. We can go back and ‘fix’ anything we’re not happy with later.
These fears can often continue throughout the writing process. Rather than taking off with an idea and letting the words flow onto the page, I find myself critiquing each paragraph, sentence or even each word, as I go along. I’ve even been known to stop mid-sentence searching for the ‘perfect’ word to describe something as inane as the colour of the dirt on a character’s shoe. Thankfully, I’ve been able to work on that bad habit, and rather than dwelling on something so small, I will move on, or alternatively, place a small note to come back to during the editing stage.
It’s important to remember that a first draft isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s a way to let your creativity flow; to find your voice and let your ideas run wild. Once you’ve let all of that creativity out and have something to build on, then you can go back and edit. The next trick is being kind to yourself. Your inner critic will judge you and tear you apart... but if you find something you’ve written is just ‘rubbish’, have a laugh and try again. I’m sure even the most successful writers out there have cringe-worthy moments when reading over their initial drafts. It’s all part of the process.
Here are some tips to help you turn off that internal editor:
· Put a ban on editing of any kind. This can be as simple as not being allowed to read over what you’ve written, or to be even more extreme, stop yourself from using the ‘backspace’ button at all. If you’ve made a typo it can be fixed later.
· Set yourself goals. Even if you have limited writing time, aim high. This is the idea behind the popular NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Participants need to complete 50,000 words in one month. It’s a big ask, and meeting that goal requires non-stop writing during precious writing time. For most people there’s no time to edit, therefore the words, and creativity, flows. Use a productivity app/program such as ‘Write or Die’ where you can set goals around word counts or time limits. There are also consequences for not writing continuously. The descriptions below are taken from the Write or Die website.
- Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
- Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if, and only if, you continue to write.
- Kamikaze Mode: Keep writing or your work Will ‘unwrite’ itself (I’ve never been brave enough to try this one).
· If you couldn’t possibly fathom writing an entire story without editing (*puts hand up*), then restrict it to one chapter at a time, or if that still causes heart palpitations, cut that back to one scene. C’mon, I know you can get through one scene without editing!
· Plan. This will be hard for my fellow ‘pantsers’, but it’s worth trying. Have a rough plan for your story. Sometimes, the more detailed, the better. I find if I have scenes planned out at certain points of the story, even if it’s just the overall objective of a scene (e.g. Show the development of trust between hero and heroine), it helps keep momentum. Stalling, or becoming ‘blocked’, is like holding up a ‘welcome’ sign to my internal editor. I must keep moving. Note: Pantser = A novelist who writes by the Seat of their Pants, not taking time to plan the novel before beginning to write.
· Try something different. If your self-control has disappeared and you absolutely cannot stop yourself from editing, it’s time to turn off the computer and try something else. Why not grab a pen and paper? Rewriting and amending the same sentence ten times suddenly becomes more difficult. Another alternative is to dictate your story. You don’t even need a Dictaphone. Most smart phones have a voice record/memo facility. Just hit record and start talking. No editing here. That can wait for when you transcribe it all later.
After reading a great little book ‘How to write a book in 48 hours’ by Jack Morrow, I realised 1) there is money in self-help books and 2) you must be prepared before you sit down to write.
For me the ideas don’t spring forward the moment I sit at my blank computer screen, with fresh coffee, loads of chocolate and raring to go. For me it’s like extracting a tooth and I agonise over every word, paragraph and page, which can choke any spark I have.
But what if I’ve spent time thinking about my characters as I go through the day. I can plan what I’ll do to them, and see how they react. I can think about the places I can put them, where they will be out of their comfort zone. Depending on your memory jot down brief notes, or keep it tucked up in your head until it’s writing time.
And as Jack mentions, if you have a plan already in your head or jotted down, bare bones only, it must speed up your word count.
We don’t have to sit around wool gathering to do it either; we can do it while driving, in the shower, cooking the dinner, waiting in a line at the supermarket.
A few years back I did a workshop at an RWA conference and we practised meditation and the exercise of trying to picture your book, a scene, a point of change, and then sleep on it. We make this our final focus before sleep. Forget the cat, the kids’ lunches, the wet washing in the machine and just zone into your fictional world and see where it leads.
Another good tip to increase word count is to cut the internal editor out of the equation.
Assure your internal editor, and we all have one, you are getting words down. Thank him for his advice that your writing is crap and assure him you will edit it tomorrow – but not today.
Give it a go and maybe get Morrow’s book to see if you can increase your word counts.
Go with the flow and may the words and inspiration be with you.
One of my favourite facts about My Lady Untamed – my debut historical romance – is that before I wrote what has more or less become the final draft, I threw out 150,000 words. That’s roughly a draft and a half.
The book was one whole thing, and now it’s another whole thing, and somewhere in the middle I panicked and thought, “How do I even know I’m writing the same book?” All the words had changed, but most of the characters remained (though fully transformed) and the premise (though turned on its head). Some of the setting. Some of the names. Actually, hardly any of the original names remain.
The first draft of My Lady Untamed was only the second book I’d written all the way through. It was my first go at writing romance, and all the chapter titles were in a curly, romantic font.
I started reading that very first draft, that has so little to do with my book now, last week.
It was hilarious and awful and fun. It’s three years old. There are lines, here and there, startling as ghosts, that still exist in this draft of the novel.
A couple of things have become clear to me: In three years I have learnt a lot about writing. I mean A LOT. I hardly even recognise that girl who sat down at her computer every day and wrote 4,000 words in a couple of hours, because she was Writing A Novel. I envy her. I pity her.
I wouldn’t give up the craft I’ve learned for anything. Putting words together like doing a logic puzzle is one of my great joys (even when I want to take my brain out and scrub it).
But there’s something about that naïve energy I miss. It’s not careful; it’s not deeply involved in what’s said about romance these days, or thinking about whether a heroine says something interesting about feminism and gender.
I don’t think it’s possible to learn to write well, and keep that energy. It’s something we have to compromise, to become professional writers. It’s something fervent, first-time authors are self-publishing, that grabs readers’ imaginations (but still sits in opposition to what we traditionally understand as “good writing”).
That draft, though. There’s one character who ONLY TALKS IN ALL-CAPS!! AND BEAT A CHINESE PRINCESS AT CHESS, JUST ‘CAUSE!! And as refreshing as it was not to over-think my heroine, she was a hopeless doormat with martyrish self-esteem issues. Not in an interesting way. Just in a Oh dear God, THIS is my deepest id? kind of way.
As far away as that draft feels, it’s the dirt this draft grew out of. I agonised over it so deeply that I had to stop reading it half way through, even though all that agony was three years ago. In writing, as in all else, we can only go forward.
You close the romance novel having just read the final word. A warm glow fills your chest. Your mouth is curved into a luxurious smile. The good have got the happy consequences of their heroic actions and the not so good, if there are any, have gotten theirs. You radiate satisfaction.
The end is also goodbye, which makes the happiness of the heroes, who are leaving you behind as they head off into their happily-ever-after fictional life, all the more important. Their happiness is a kind of salve on the separation occurring. Although you are parting ways you can rest assured they are going to be okay. You don’t have to cling to them, wondering if this or that worked out the way they wanted it to. The happier they are equals the satisfaction you experience when parting from them.
The happiness of a hero/heroine is directly proportional to the sorrow they have been through. Like a pendulum swinging from one end of the spectrum of horrid experiences to the other end of sublime fulfillment of all wishes. Can you imagine closing a book and having a heart warming feeling if the hero needed to go to the shop for some milk but couldn't get there because of his broken leg. The heroine, his next door neighbor, saw him struggling on crutches and drove him to the shop. They looked into each other’s eyes and it was love born of gratitude that she made it possible for him to have milk in his cuppa? What the heck! No Way.
The story requires something other than the pedestrian (pardon my pun) circumstances. It requires events and situations and feelings that will wrench the hero/heroine out of their ordinary world and plunge them into the thick dark waters of their worst fears. This is the making of a really gripping will-they-drown-or-swim-to-shore story. It has to take their last ounce of everything, they almost fail but somehow they find resources within themselves they never knew they had. This creates the huge tension that is released on the hero/heroine successfully saving themselves and each other. The hero and heroine shipwrecked-together story situation has been done before, done a lot actually. Why? Because the circumstances cut them off from all support except each other. It brings out every fear of inadequacy they have about themselves. They take it out on each other and at some point have to begin working together for survival. The metaphor of a fish out of water story-line also works this way and creates a brilliant release when love fulfilled replaces severe emotional discomfort .
The amount a hero/heroine have to change, to survive their rapidly changing circumstances and emotions, must be astronomical if you want the reader to have an astronomical happy ever after fix.
Which books contain your favorite endings? Have a think about what elements the author used in creating that amazing, heart warming, keep you coming back for more glow.
My favorite ending to a romance novel would have to be, hands down, Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot went through a hellish ten year separation before they could finally be together and boy they both had to learn some serious lessons before they could work it out. During his awakening, his actions put him in the position of almost having to marry someone else. Oh NO! Seriously, every time I re-read it I feel anxious for them, as if I don't know that it's going to be okay.
I’d love to tell you the tantalizing way Jane Austen constructs the resolution to this story and how the happy ending is written, but I won’t. If you've read it, you already know. If you haven’t read it then you really have a treat waiting for you.
If you’d like to share the titles of books you've loved the ending of, that would be great. No spoilers though. Giving away the ending is sacrilege. If it’s a romance novel we know it’s going to be happy. That’s one of the important reasons I love reading and writing them.
There are times when less is more and an easy way to improve our writing is to look for too much description and delete it. As writers, we paint a picture by describing settings, characters, and clothes, but it’s not always necessary to describe every little detail.
When we enter a room for the first time, our senses work in unison. We take in the sights, smells, and sounds, we feel the heat/cold/ambience, but mostly taste doesn’t come into play in this instance. We use our five senses concurrently and view the overall picture. Our eyes take in the main parts—the light or darkness, key colours, furniture, maybe some paintings, but we don’t focus on every single trinket on every table or dresser, or the brush strokes used in the paintings. If we went into complete details about the entire room, chances are we would lose our reader after a couple of paragraphs.
The same goes for descriptions of every character and what each person is wearing. An overview is sufficient.
The subject of an active voice sentence performs the action of the verb.
*I painted the wall* is written in the active voice.
*I* is the subject
*painted* is the verb
*the wall* is the object
When the object of the sentence is having something done to it, the verb is passive.
*The wall was painted by me* is in the passive voice.
*the wall* changes from object to subject
*I* becomes *me* when turned from subject to object.
*painted* becomes *was painted*
Of course it’s fine to use the passive voice occasionally, but a paragraph with half a dozen *wases* or *weres* can be very distracting.
Concentrate on the words that don’t add anything to your story, whether repeating the same word several times close to each other (unless occasionally for emphasis), or conveying the same information more than once.
e.g. my most used word is *just*. I just love writing just about anything using the word *just*, just too often.
Here’s a list I’ve compiled through several sources of words that are used too often, or words that add little to the meaning of a sentence:
• At the present time
• Began to
• By means of
• Considering the fact that
• Moved to
Some of them might seem fine by you, but most of these are imprecise in certain circumstances.
*Mary moved to go to the bedroom* sounds a bit awkward.
*Mary headed to the bedroom* sounds stronger. Similarly, using *tiptoed, sauntered, ambled, or stomped* would make it easier to visualise the way Mary is travelling to the bedroom.
Lastly, think of the parts of a story that you tend to skim over to get to the exciting bits. You want to avoid those skimmed over bits and have your book full of exciting bits. Use your words wisely. Be concise and your manuscript will flow better.
January 20th, is our First Meeting for 2013 and it commences at 11 a.m. Coffee and chat from 10 a.m.
We have a Mini workshop on Writing Suspense by Cheryl and Lia and after lunch Charlie will present a workshop on Writing Dialogue For Stage and Screen.
We will also be setting goals for 2013 and reflecting on 2012.
Hope to see you all there. Newbies need to contact our Coordinator Louise Reynolds
At the recent CT Youth Forum a participant asked Neil Gaiman what he thought about the advice she’d been given that there were enough directors in the world so she should do something different.
Neil Gaiman’s answer (excuse the transcribing, any errors are mine): Saying that we have enough artists is like saying we have enough scientists… Nobody gets to be you, except you. Nobody has your point of view, except you. Nobody gets to bring to the world the things that you get to bring to the world—uniquely—get to bring to the world, except you. So saying that there are enough writers out there, enough directors out there, enough people with points of view, well, yeah, there are, but none of them are you. None of those people are going to make the art that you’re going to make, none of them will change people and change the world in the way that you could change it. So, if you believe somebody that says, ‘no, no, we’ve got enough of those’, then all it means is you’re giving up your chance to change the world in only the way that you can change it. —Neil Gaiman, 1 December 2012.
You can view the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Vpl8JoIiY
Firstly, comparing writers and scientists? Go Neil!
Science is important to humanity. Art is important to humanity. Writers are important to humanity.
But his comments resonated with me and what is happening in my writing and personal life on a deeper level.
At the moment I am working through the process of having my 15 year old daughter tested and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (currently being changed to Autism Spectrum Disorder).
More on Asperger’s Syndrome here: http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/
As a parent, one of the assessment forms I had to complete was about her idiosyncrasies and her outlook on life. I found this confronting. For one, because of the critical way I had to view my child. The other, because although these quirks and way she has of looking at the world prevent her from fully relating to her peers, at the same time they are a part of who she is—they are what makes her unique. At the moment, though, they set her apart in a way that makes life tougher.
We want to work with the traits that prevent her experiencing life fully and reaching her full potential, without losing the essence of who she is—without the thought to ‘fix’ her.
My 8 year old son, on the other hand, is fully in blend mode—he wants what his peers have, he wants to fit in, he wants to belong. He hasn’t yet reached the stage where he wants to stand out from the crowd. His uniqueness is still under development.
Or at least, his courage and maturity to let his uniqueness shine is under development.
Which is an interesting thought.
We want our children to be individuals and be unique but we also want them to relate to their peers, to be part of friendship groups, to not stick out so badly that they are distanced from other people and experiences. After all, part of being human and enjoying life is in the connections we make with others and the world around us.
Our teen years are fraught with the struggle to find our identities. We want to be an individual, to not be one of the masses. At the same time, we want to blend and not be an outsider. As an adult we have developed that balance and maturity in our identity and self-awareness and our place in the world. That we stand out in the right way.
And I found myself thinking about how this relates to writing.
Our stories have to fit the genre we are writing to and the expectations of that genre. They have to belong. Yet they also have to stand out in their uniqueness—I am the same as you, but I am inherently different and special.
It is our individual life experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly, that shape who we are—our psyche, our views on the world around us, our responses to events. Our unique lens through which we view the world impacts on what stories we write, the way we draw characters, the events we throw at them and the way we have them act and react.
There is this strange parallel to my daughter’s visits to her psychologist and in critiquing. Both are diagnosing tools and both are valuable in identifying strengths and weaknesses we are sometimes too close to see. But they are aides to further knowledge and understanding, not roadmaps. There is no ‘one fit solution’, and it would be easier if that weren’t true.
I want my story to be understood, for people to get
it. So, naturally, I want to work on those aspects that deter the reader from experiencing it fully. The danger lies in too much editing. Remove too much originality and the story loses its heart and leaves us with a story that is generic and bland. Or creates undue stress to make it fit to someone else’s perception of what it should be. Only you know what works for you.
It takes courage and a sense of fearlessness to be true to yourself and celebrate what makes you, you. The same is true for the stories you have to share.
It is through the little quirks we each have, our different perspectives on life and the world around us, created from our unique life experiences, that allow us to take a generic plot and create something valuable and unique and gift it to the world.
In art and life and parenthood we have the power to change someone’s life.
Which is a powerful thought.
Just remember to use your powers for good J
Sunday December 9th at 11 a.m we will have our usual meeting, and set our goals for 2013, followed by the Christmas Party.
Hope to see all members there and remember your Kris Kringle and plate to share.
Some of our members in the library courtyard.