24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

09 December 2012

You Only Live Twice

It’s Bond, James Bond season again. I have an album of the songs from the movies, and when I listened recently this song jumped out at me.

You only live twice
Or so it seems
One life for yourself
And one for your dreams

As writers, we can definitely identify with this. We live parallel lives in our waking dreams (at least I know I do!). As you live out your real life, at the same time your imagination is carrying on a fantasy... creating another universe, which can seem just as real – sometimes more so. If you have more than one story on the go at once, or even just multiple POV characters, it can seem like three or more lives!

It’s funny when you think about it – as you go about your business, no-one knows the rich worlds you are dwelling in in your mind, the characters you love as if they weren’t just figments of your imagination. It's a delicious secret, and though it may seem mad to others, perhaps this second life is what keeps us sane!

How much of your thought-life is in your real life, versus your second, writer's life?

23 October 2012

Procrastination Station

Image courtesy of Matt Banks / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I finished the first draft of my WIP back at the end of June. I anticipated a week or two off to let it rest. During those weeks my personal life fell apart and things got off track. Over the past month or so I have wanted to get back to the story. But for some reason, I just couldn't make myself do it. I have been busy with other things in real life, but even once I had a little time, reading blogs or even critiquing others' work seemed more attractive... safer.

It's strange that the activity that gives me the most pleasure is also the one I can be the most reluctant to undertake. How could that be?

Perhaps it was just too daunting to consider all the work I will need to do. I know several structural decisions need to be made and carried out, and there is still a lot of historical research to be done. Then there's all the little details at a sentence and even a word level, with so much to remember as I move through each page. Maybe I worry that I will ruin the novel if I make bad decisions about plot or character. And maybe I'm just lazy and don't want to give my leisure time over to more work.

I eased myself into the process by reading through the spreadsheet I made detailing each scene, chapter and act (with word count, POV and plot for each). I was much relieved to find my excitement rising as I fell in love with the story all over again, even before reading the actual words of the novel itself.

Confidence bolstered, I began to edit chapter one. And that's when I remembered: I love to do this. Once I started, I lost all sense of time and my surroundings. I started to make bold decisions and to cut alternative phrases and re-write paragraphs based on developments I wrote later in the story and recent research. I also spent quite a while trying to decide between two similar words, and in researching some little details - but we must allow ourselves to obsess every now and then, right? At least I am back on the horse.

Have you ever found it hard to get back into a WIP? Why, and how did you get your groove back?

02 October 2012

Pondering Pen Names

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It’s a bit spooky: over the past week or so I’ve been considering taking up a pen name for my identity as a writer. Then all of a sudden, there’s a flurry of articles about pen names:
I was originally going to publish using my real name, but because of a recent change in my personal circumstances, and the fact that it’s hard to spell, I am 99% sure I will create a pseudonym that will remain constant throughout my career. I will keep my first name.

The idea is actually somewhat exciting. It makes my status as a writer seem more official somehow. I am not in a hurry to adopt a name, even though one has popped into my head. I even googled it to make sure there are no potential competitors. I want to study up on potential cool names before I decide, and even then I don’t think I will both to adopt it until the day when I (hopefully!) get some interest from agents. It will take some effort to make the change - not only the blog, but things like my Twitter and even my email address.

For now I will only be writing in one genre, but I do have ideas for stories in other (albeit related) genres. Previous wisdom was to have different pseudonyms for each “brand”, but I agree with Rachelle’s article that this would get unwieldy. I think modern readers are smart enough to figure out when their favourite author is trying something new, don’t you?

Do you write with a pseudonym? Do you prefer authors to stick to their brand?

24 September 2012

Idea Murphy’s Law

I had an idea for a blog post the other day. I came up with a few sentences teasing it out, and I think I even had a title. I think it was when I was cleaning (myself or the house; I can’t remember). I thought there was no way I would forget it – that as soon as I next sat down to my computer it would flow out of me organically.

That was a couple of weeks ago. The idea didn’t come back.

This happens all the time with story ideas (both for my current WIP and new works). There’s the usual places like the shower or the commute, but sometimes it’s just impossible or downright rude to take note of random flashes of inspiration – say when you are having lunch with a friend, during a meeting at work, or in the middle of a painful beauty therapy session. The most torturous one for me is right before I drop off to sleep. What to do? I find myself repeating the idea over and over again in my head, but I have a terrible track record at remembering them later.

It seems like Murphy’s Law for new ideas. The more interesting the idea, the more inconvenient the time or place in which it drops into your head.

What is the most inconvenient time an idea has come to you? Did you manage to take note of it and/or remember it later?

09 September 2012

Spring Beauty

Just thought I'd pop in briefly to share a couple of photos I took in the garden today of some spring bulbs (tulips and fresias). It's so heartening to see these beauties popping up out of the ground as soon as the coldest part of the year is past. Spring seems to be the season of hope, does it not?

21 August 2012

Imagination Overload

As a writer, I of course have a very active imagination. I am constantly thinking up scenarios for all kinds of characters. There seems to be a never-ending supply of romance, angst and happy-ever-afters in my head.

A side effect of this could be potentially dangerous, and I'm sure it must be common to all writers. I am also very good at imagining various different possible future scenarios for my own life, most of which are overwhelmingly positive. As I push myself to get to the next stage in my WIP I see myself penning a best-seller and walking the red carpet at the Oscars. Outlandish dreams can motivate us, but we have to make sure we aren't disappointed when reality falls short of our yearnings.

At the moment as I journey through a dark season, ridiculously trite fantasies seem to be a coping mechanism for me. I am  just another character, playing out scenes that won't ever happen. I need to be careful not to put hope in the fantasies I create for myself. But I can also use my imagination as a safe haven to get me through the tough times.

What sort of fantasies have you imagined for your own life? Do you get carried away or are you always realistic?

04 August 2012

Turning Pain into Art

Without going into details, this is the worst time of my life. I am broken.

I haven't been doing much of anything, struggling to keep to my daily routines. Writing-related activities have fallen off my radar along with everything else. Even the last post on this blog had been scheduled earlier.

In the midst of the pain, there is a conciliatory thought. Now I know what this feels like, perhaps one day I can muster the strength to use some of it in my writing. My future works may been somehow enriched by this. Despair did muster my creativity into action briefly the other day, as I wrote a poem for the first time in years, pouring out my anguish as I tapped away on my phone on the train. Perhaps the depth of this emotion and confusion will unlock some deeper artistic need.

And during the coming days, hopefully I can pull myself back into life enough to work on my second draft. It's really the only thing in my life I can put hope in right now.

Have you expressed your personal pain in your fiction? Has art been cathartic for you?

19 July 2012

Weighty Waiting

We all know there's a lot of waiting involved with the writing process. Waiting for feedback, waiting for submission responses, and if you're lucky, waiting for publication...

But I think the hardest type of waiting is the type you're in complete control of. When we're waiting to hear back from others or for a fixed date, it's out of our hands. But when we are deciding whether our beloved WIP is ready to go out into the world, it's far more complicated. How many editorial passes should we do before querying? How many critiques are enough? How long should we let the novel rest before tackling revisions. Just how long is enough to spend before we launch our work into the world?

When we're in control of the process, it's so tempting to push our work out before it's ready. We're just so desperate to share it, to get some sort of feedback - whether that be from betas, agents, or the book-buying public. We feel as if we've worked on this WIP forever, and the temptation to share it can be overwhelming. It's like you're having a baby, but you decide how long the pregnancy will be. How much development is enough?

I don't have any answers, but I just wanted to share. In hindsight it's easy to see when we did launch something too soon. But when you're in the thick of it, your vision is far from 20/20.

How do you know when it's ready to give birth to your work?

13 July 2012

Wading Through the Mire of Craft Information

Writers these days are so lucky to have the internet as a resource. Apart from the community it provides and the ability to submit quickly and cost-effectively, there is a huge amount of information about how to write. For any aspect of the craft, and from authors of all genres, you can find information to help you learn and grow as a writer.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming. There are so many great blogs out there, and soon you can feel queasy at just the sight of all the unread posts. You feel pressure to read it all, just in case you might miss some golden nugget which will help you make a great leap. But if you spend all your time reading about how to write, you might never get any actual writing done! (never mind all the other distractions online)

So how to prioritise which articles to read? I'm learning that I have to focus on where I'm at. Here's the secret: there is generally something being written about the topic you need, at the moment that you need it. If you need to learn about story structure at that point in time, don't waste your time reading (perfectly valid) articles on character development. When you need to round out your characters, there will be other articles at that time. If telling (not showing) is your problem, don't spend all your time reading about how to craft a compelling beginning. Just mark everything else as "read", or favourite some posts for later if need be, but make sure you are learning what you most need at that moment, and then go back to your writing.

For example, at the moment I'm about to plunge into my second draft, and then I'll be engaging critique partners (and seeking more). And wouldn't you know it, there have been articles popping up about editing checklists and the second draft specifically, as well as lots of links to critiquing websites. It's gold. And for now I need to focus on those things, and only skim the articles about things like query letters or writing sequels.

So focus your learning, and be assured everything else will still be there when you are ready for it.

11 July 2012

Random Interlude with the Cookie Monster

This is totally random, but it made me smile. I love Sesame Street parodies.

07 July 2012

Your Unique Contribution

Recently there was a death in my wider world. And apart from the grief and loss of those around, the main effect was to make me consider my own mortality.

If I knew I was going to die, what would I do? What are the things I would regret not experiencing? Because I love to see the world, of course many places jump to mind. But not seeing those places wouldn’t change who I was. Even though life would be the richer for seeing amazing sights, I’ve seen many of them on TV, and it costs more than I have right now to experience them. What really matters, in terms of what I can personally contribute to the world?

It’s sort of a bucket list, but it’s deeper than that. If I was dying, what would I actually regret not trying to do? Something that only I can contribute to the world?

Have kids? Well, maybe.

But I know it’s been my dream ever since I wrote stories as a five year old to see my name in print. To have a novel published, and to have readers be touched by it, to have it make them laugh, cry and escape for a few hours.

That’s my biggest dream. My unique contribution.

So, back to work.

30 June 2012

Draft One: Done!

I have typed “The End” (and then found a lovely lyrical font for those words), and I’m calling myself done. I don’t think I have any more story to think up!

I suppose I might be cheating a bit in saying the first draft is complete, because I know there are words yet to be written. In the process of completing the story I have discovered more about it and my characters, and I have made notes on extra bits and pieces I need to do to make it richer. There are also scenes I know I’ll need to re-work, whether that’s filling them out, deleting text (such as unnecessary backstory), or both. But what I have done is, I hope, complete the story from beginning to end. That is, I know what happens, and the order of all the scenes. I am at a commercial word count (circa 80,000 words).

The only thing I feel a bit nervous about as far as story structure goes, is that the first act is probably too long, and the last act is probably too short. But I’ll need readers to let me know if it’s noticeable. And I’m not ready for readers yet – I still have a lot of work to do.

So how long has it taken me to pound out this draft? Well in purely calendar terms, I began planning to write the draft in October, not doing any proper writing until November (for NaNoWriMo). I’ll admit I did a few cheeky scene notes in advance, purely so I wouldn’t forget key phrases or ideas. I got to 40,000 words at the end of the month, and then to 60,000 before we went on our big trip at the end of February – over Christmas and the rest of summer quite a bit of my time was spent planning for said trip, and I also went through a period of being stumped. Then I’ve plugged away slowly but surely since April, and here we are.

Where are you at with your current WIP? How long does it take you to complete a draft?

24 June 2012

Scene Synergy

I'm still in the process of finalising my first draft: working through my scenes, putting them in order and adding or removing bits and pieces. I've been a bit stuck this week on the second half of act 2 - when the action really ramps up and all the different character arcs collide. It's been a challenge sorting out the order of these important scenes to ensure each one leads on to the other, and each character isn't left without anything to do for too long. I also need to make sure they are communicating with each other in a timely fashion, and that the consequences of their actions, both together (I mean the hero and heroine) and separately make chronological sense.

You'd think this would all flow rather organically, but alas, it hasn't. My scene notecards were helpful to a point, but now I've put a spreadsheet together which details the scenes in each chapter, including word count, point of view and synopsis. It's only when I break down all the bits and pieces I've written into chapters that the pictures is clear enough to me. I can then see that my hero has too much screen time at once, for example, or that it doesn't make sense for the antagonist to react in a particular way until later in the story. Then I just have to literally jot down different scene orders to see how to make it work.

I'm happy to say I think I've figured it out today, but it's taken quite a lot of moving things around, and splitting up a couple of scenes to delay some consequences. Now I need to make sure it actually flows when I read it - I'm sure there is plenty of further tweaking to be done! I hope beta readers will be able to tell me if it works.

It seems strange that a writer wouldn't know the order of her own scenes - does this happen to you? What's your method for sorting it all out?

16 June 2012

Pun Intended

This year the population of geese at one of our local ponds has grown exponentially. Here is the pond in question:

There are now too many geese. They have run out of food, are making a huge mess, and and hold up traffic as their huge gaggle crosses the main road in and out of the suburb. The council has decided to move them to a local farm. You can watch the local news story about the problems with "the gang".

We discussed this as we drove past the pond this morning. My husband pondered the potential difficulty in rounding them up. "It will be a WILD GOOSE CHASE," he quipped.

That did make me giggle.

07 June 2012

I'm Just Upside Down

In a digital world, the distinctions between the northern and southern hemispheres are brought into focus. Back when I was growing up, I'd never been overseas, and I could happily watch television series three years old without worrying about spoilers. Having British grandparents I learned some Northern cultural traditions (like tartan and reels), but I never really had to pay attention to the seasonal timings of life on the other side of the world.

It was only when I began to write stories set in England that I had to shift my mindset, particularly around the seasons, and also having to think about plants and animals that don't exist in my part of the world. It's a constant effort to remember whether it will be hot or cold, and it was a surprise to learn that the Season was actually in late spring rather than winter.

It was only when I was in Europe this year, ending a few weeks before Easter, that the penny dropped regarding the significance of the timing of some festivals in the northern hemisphere. It's autumn for Easter here. Seeing early spring in Europe, I finally connected new life = spring = Easter. Previously having eggs for Easter didn't make any sense, but too yummy to question. Now it makes sense to me, with the whole spring/new life thing.

It also occurred to me that Christmas breaks up the cold season nicely in the north. For us it's the beginning of the summer holidays (meaning time off, although I always try to work as much as possible in order to have a holiday when the kids are back at school in late January/February). We have a few other public holidays over the coming months, and we just had Queen's birthday... and now we have no more free days until Labour Day at the end of October. That means the whole winter without any national time off or festivals of any kind.... nothing to look forward to. If you can afford to, you either indulge in snow sports or a holiday to the sun in Australia or the Pacific Islands. Otherwise you just hunker down and wait for the cold to pass. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, how ironic) is common.

Anyway, I just thought I would share some observations about living down under. And who's to say we are upside down... maybe the earth is the other way around!

The title of this blog was inspired by this song... enjoy!

30 May 2012

Confessions of a Slow Reader

This post is adapted from a comment I posted at Jordan McCollum's blog.

Okay, confession time: I am a snail reader. As in, I seem to crawl slowly through books. I didn’t realise I was a slow reader until I read blogs touting 50-100 or more per year, or I heard people rave about a book, saying they finished it in one sitting. I could never do that. It’s a combination of a lack of time (writing takes priority in my free time) and the actual speed that I read at. When I was a child I was faster than everyone else, but now it seems everyone else has sped up! I do make sure I read every word, and it makes me wonder if everyone else does.

I read on the train during my daily commute: a chapter or two per journey, and then I try to sneak in another few chapters during the weekend. So it takes me about two weeks to read a book, and I generally have around three on loan from the library (with a couple more on reserve). I suppose that’s around 10 hours of solid reading time to finish a book, but I do tend to let my mind drift occasionally (a lot of times to my own WIP!).

I’ll admit I haven’t read an “unputdownable” book in a long time. Even though I’m reading in my genre, I don’t really love most of the books that much. I’m still trying to find more authors I click with. So sometimes reading that chapter on the train is a chore, and I find myself rolling my eyes frequently with parts of the writing that annoy me.

If I was to challenge myself to read a number of books in a year, it’d be about 20! Sad, right?

How many hours of solid time does it take you to read a typical 350-400 page paperback? Am I the only snail reader around here?

23 May 2012

Into the Home Stretch

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I think I have finally reached that point in my first draft. The part of my process where I think I have emptied my brain of all the major stuff that will be in the book (in terms of structure and plot – themes and further development of the content will continue to be refined). As I don’t write in order (even though I’ve tried very hard to), what I have is a whole lot of scenes, paragraphs and dialogue snippets that now needed to be weaved together to make some sort of cohesive draft. This process always takes me a lot longer than I anticipate, and I end up adding a lot more words than I expected. That’s why I’m not worried that I only have 70,200 words when I want to end up closer to 80. Last time I went through this process I added nearly 20,000 words, although I feel as if this draft is more complete than that one was – I have tried very hard to ensure I have all the parts of the hero’s journey/3-act structure covered off.

For me it’s very much like a jigsaw puzzle, except some of the pieces are blank at the start of the process. As I figure out the plot and develop the characters with random bursts of insight, more pieces are revealed. Now I’m at the point where I can see what the picture in the puzzle is, but I need to fill in the gaps between the major pieces. It’s a trying process as I work to think of settings for dialogue and action, or flesh out scenes where I’ve made notes on what will happen… but I haven’t made it happen. I also need to make sure it flows for the reader, rather than jumping through time, and that my POV alternates regularly and with a reasonably equal share between my two MCs. And I’m sure I’ll discover numerous other tasks as I move through from beginning to end for the first time.

At the moment I’m reading over the notes I’ve made, most during October when I was preparing for NaNoWriMo. There were so many things I hoped to accomplish, and some of them I have. There are many more ideas I may not be able to incorporate… and some things I just can’t figure out how to make work. However I feel it’s valuable to go back and see what my original seeds of inspiration were, to be in the right frame of mind when I do this pass. A little frustrating that my word count hasn’t grown while I’ve been doing this, but I’m nearly ready to get my writer’s shovel and dig in. Let’s go!

What’s your process for creating a first draft?

17 May 2012

Give Your Muse Some Head-Space

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We are quite often too hard on ourselves with what we try to accomplish in our writing time. The pressure we put on producing work right away may even be counter-productive. When you think about it, it seems crazy to expect to be able to sit down at your computer and pump out hundreds of words instantly, when seconds earlier your brain has been held hostage with family, bills, dishes or The Bachelorette. If there’s a magical button you can push which will cause the creativity to flow right away, I’m yet to find it. If you stopped writing mid-scene and you have latent inspiration to tap into, then great. But once the first burst of inspiration is over (for me, around 30,000 words into it), we need to be intentional with allowing the muse time to give us the next steps.

You're serious about your writing, right? Well, then take it seriously. Don’t write in front of the television, or with one eye on Twitter. This craft demands both your creativity and technical skills, and it deserves your full attention. In my case, it needs my full attention, or it simple won’t get done.

My muse is a jealous beast. It wants every cell of my brainpower, so I need to spend time emptying my mind of distractions. The rewards are insights, plot problems solved, and magical phrases or dialogue (mostly while I’m about to fall asleep, of course).

The other night I did what I usually do – I took care of the essentials (eating, chores, talking to humans etc) and the not-so-essential (emails, social media) with the definitely-not-essential (television) running in the background. When I finally turned my attention to writing, I knew I had problems to solve. While it may seem counter-intuitive, I shut my computer. Instead, I read over all of my scene cards a few times, thinking of specific problems with each pass (my heroine’s character arc, the romantic development, the antagonist’s role). Already my mind started to churn. Then I flopped onto the couch, feeling the wheels slowly gain momentum. A new scene popped into my head, which will advance all three of the problems. I typed up a few notes, and then a few more as more snippets and solutions fell into my head.

And then I did the ultimate muse-loving activity: I had a shower. I don’t know what it is about standing in a stream of hot water and lathering up – but it sure does get my mind humming. It’s a race to finish up in there, get dried and get to the computer before I forgot everything I need to type up. In this instance I had five separate ideas come to me, all marvellous of course. When I actually type up the scenes, dialogue or a character's internal musings they never seem to be as brilliant as when I was in the cubicle – why is that? But at least I have something to work on later. And anything is better than a blank page, right?

My muse delivered 1,000 words over the following 48 hours, which isn’t that prolific I’ll admit… but I’m at the business end of this first draft, and many of those words need to be expanded into proper scenes. I actually feel as if I have most of the puzzle pieces in place. I’m sure more pieces will come out of the woodwork as I progress through second and third drafts, but for now I’m starting to feel as if I have a complete story, and it’s something I can only owe to giving the muse the undivided attention it craves.

I think the thing is to tell your muse what it needs to uncover or deliver. If we go for a walk or start folding the washing with just a general idea to dream about our book, we may end up with greatness… or we may just end up fantasising about our hero for half an hour without discovering more about what makes him tick or, more importantly, the things he needs to accomplish and how he should interact with the other characters. Before you purposefully give your muse your 100% attention, give it instructions.

Think about specific parts of your story that aren’t working, or a specific character who needs a backstory (or any story!). Or, think about your plot structure as a whole and ask your muse to fill in the gaps or figure out how to make the climax more intense. Perhaps you should do some research, and then ponder on how a certain fact can become a plot twist. You get the idea. Be specific with what you need, and let your subconscious do the work. More often than not, your imagination will be enough of a resource to give you the answers you need. Just relax, have a goal in mind, and give your muse free rein. It might not come right away, perhaps not during that session, but the next time you give your muse the lion-share of your brain cells, it might surprise you with the answer.

How do you encourage your muse to show up? Do you have problems refraining from multi-tasking?

07 May 2012

Inside the Male Mind

As I surveyed my scene note cards over the weekend, it occured to me, and not for the first time, that my hero has more scenes than my heroine. His arc is well-defined, his history, motivations and conflicts crystal clear in my mind. While I have developed a heroine who I hope is delightful, interesting and worthy of his affections, I have realised she doesn't have much of an arc. Sure she is changed by the end of the novel, both through her relationship with the hero and in her own right. But there aren't many scenes to illustrate why she changes (except in order to fight for the hero and her own destiny). I need to mull on her development some more.

The fact that I am writing the hero's story more naturally is somewhat of a surprise. As a woman, I would have thought I would identify with the heroine more, and struggle to get under the hero's skin. Perhaps it's because I find nothing more romantic than a tortured hero who cannot have the lady he wants. I have fallen in love with this guy, and while I like this girl, I'm not going to spend hours happily daydreaming about her. I should, but I don't automatically because she's not the one causing me to swoon.

My hero started life in a sequel to my first completed novel. He began quietly enough, but he soon demanded to be part of a different story. He just wouldn't leave me alone. I wrote the very beginning of chapter one from his point of view a couple of years before I sat down to actually write the novel.

I'm not saying I'm completely confident in my abilities to write the male point of view, but I'll let my readers be the judge of that :-)

So I need to develop my heroine more, and writing further scenes for her should both fill out gaps in my first act and supply most of the 10,000 words I need to complete my first draft. I already have two scenes in mind to write, both in the last act (illustrating her transformation). I still need to work more on her parts in the beginning and middle. Here's hoping I can make her shine!

Do you find it easier (or more fun!) to write from the male or female point of view? Which side do you enjoy reading more?

28 April 2012

But What About The Writing?

If you're anything like me, you've studied up on the craft, in particular on how to avoid all those little habits and mistakes which reveal an amateur. The literary internet is awash with articles on what to look for when you're revising, with everything from repeated words to those pesky adverbs. It's enough to make you think your manuscript will never be good enough to send out. All of those potential mistakes seem so important, the implication being that you'll never get published if you don't catch them all.

I'm writing historical romance (at the moment!) and I'm continuing to explore new authors. Right now I'm reading another best-selling author, and I've noticed a somewhat frustrating trend. Even though I'm reading it for enjoyment, my now-critical writer's eye is picking up so many craft problems I find it almost impossible to lose myself in the tale. There are plot holes, historical inconsistencies, repeated phrases, telling not showing, an abundance of adverbs and a profusion of "that"s. It's not the first time this has happened - in fact pretty much any book I read these days seems to disappoint me on some level.

I know this issue is not restricted to this genre. There are many high-profile (and mega-selling) books that have been well-criticised for their lack of craft. Yet the stories, or the characters perhaps, have taken route in the collective imagination.

It makes me wonder: how on earth do they get published, again and again? And why didn't their editors catch all of these supposed mistakes? (and definitely real mistakes, when it comes to historical accuracy or completely implausible plot tangents) It seems to fly in the face of all the advice we read so frequently. I work so hard to fix all the stuff, and yet these authors don't seem to have to worry about it. Problems with craft must not be apparent to the average reader.

So it's all about the story then, right? And that's the bit which sets us apart as writers: our unique interpretation of a plot idea. Of course, this is the bit that I personally find the most challenging. Even when I'm really excited about an idea, there's no guarantee I'll be able to execute it to its full potential. Teasing out an idea to a novel-length story is a hard, there's no doubt about it. And it seems pertinent to remember that this very challenge is what we should devote our energies to. Of course we should make sure our manuscript is as clean as possible, but ensure you spend enough time making sure your plot will your hook readers. Agents and publishers seem to accept work with less than perfect execution, as long as it has something special that will draw readers in. Can you summarise your plot in a few sentences and make it irresistable? If not, you might want to go back to the drawing board before you spend weeks on fine-tuning a story no-one will get excited about.

The story is what your readers will fall in love with.

Can you read without picking up on all the mistakes? Do you get frustrated when you spot craft problems? What are your favourite books which excel in both story and craft?

17 April 2012

Deadlines: It’s a Love/Hate Relationship

Ah, deadlines.... a necessary evil. Stuff must get done, and some stuff must be done by a certain time.

On the one hand, deadlines bring pressure, stress and the risk of sloppy work. On the other hand, some things just wouldn't get done without them. Without any deadlines, procrastination would rule.

I find I generally procrastinate the most about two types of things:
  • Really easy stuff
    It’s the “I can do that later” kind of stuff that won’t take long but seems like it’s never important enough to do right now.
  • Really hard stuff
    The tasks I just don’t want to think about. They stick around and haunt me, and it would really be easier if I just got them out the way. I just don’t want to.
So I spend a lot of time doing the middle-of-the-road stuff. It's only when I get closer to a deadline that I'll make myself tackle those things.

At work I generally have two sets of deadlines - by lunchtime and by the end of the day. But recently I've had IT working on my computer, and I had to give it up by at certain times on short notice. Usually I keep all my works in progress open so that I know what I have to work on (I hardly ever shut the thing down). But having to get rid of everything made me do a couple of things:
  • I had to document my to-do list very clearly, without relying on just having stuff open (and stressing me out)
  • It made me finish all the current little things, as well as a couple of big ones - and that felt really good.
So I was thinking, how can I apply a similar deadline to other parts of my life, in order to get that buzz of productivity? I'm not sure how yet - I'm not going to banish my personal computer... my willpower isn't that good. But there might be ways to encourage more focus, instead of trying to do three things at once or putting off the hard stuff.

With my writing, I don't think I've met a single deadline I've set for myself. I do beat myself up about it from time to time. But the deadlines are really just a means to an end - a way to push myself forward. The ironic thing is, success in writing means actual deadlines, and that's scary!

Well this was a somewhat disjointed post, but tell me: do you love or loathe deadlines? How do you make yourself get things done?

While I was drafting this post, this one popped up in my Twitter feed and it’s well worth a read.

07 April 2012

European Holiday Snaps

Here are the promised photos from our recent European adventure. We took over 5,000 shots, so I've just pulled a few out to give you a taste.

Beginning with travelling down the Romantic Road...
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Landsberg am Lech

Neuschwanstein Castle
Zugspitze, the top of Germany

Then skiing in the Dolomites...

Selva di Val Gardena

Alpe di Siusi

Then touring through Italy.

Bellagio, Lake Como

Varenna, Lake Como

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan


Views from the Via dell'Amore, Cinque Terre

Replica of The David at Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence 

Up the top of the Duomo, Florence

Views over Tuscany from San Gimignano

Duomo, Siena

Amalfi Coast

Marina Grande, Capri
(our wedding anniversary)

The Faraglioni of Capri

Grotto, Capri

The Colosseum

St Peter's Basilica ,Rome
(note the light hitting the cross in the centre)

The Dome of St Peters

The Vatican

And then we flew home! Hope you liked the photos :-)

02 April 2012

Back to Reality

Well, we've been back from our holiday for a week and I thought I should really update the blog. I'm only just back into my regular sleep pattern, and taking stock of what a wonderful time we had. We saw so many beautiful, amazing places and things. And now... back to normal life.

Incidentally that subject line puts this song in my head:

It was sort of a reverse culture-shock as we were driven home to our suburb of single-level houses and little gardens - just so different from the European cities and landscapes we'd come from. It's also a little strange seeing all the leaves turning red here, when we'd been immersed in new bright green growth and cherry blossoms. It's been a relief to catch up on sleep after the long journey, not having to worry about where each meal is coming from, or how much money we have left (NZ is basically a cashless society - I can't remember the last time I had actual money in my wallet).

I do feel invigorated... high on the fantastic experiences and memories. I hope the feeling lasts a long time. I can however feel the stress of (work) life creeping in to erode my satisfaction.

I'm excited to get back to writing, inspired to pen some articles as well as carry on with the final push on my novel's first draft. Early one morning at a ski resort the muse randomly showed up and I wrote 971 words before breakfast.

I have chosen some photos to post here, but I think that will be a long entry in itself, so I'll do that in a few days.

During our stopover at Heathrow we bought a few cheap CDs duty free. One of them was a collection of "essential" Doris Day tracks. Here are a couple of my favourites so far - the first is about being happy with the simple things, and the second encourages us not to put off living our dreams. It's my intention to keep both of these philosophies top of mind.

26 February 2012

Off into the Sunset

In a few short hours, my husband and I will be boarding a plane which, after nearly 30 hours of exhausting travel, will deliver us into a winter wonderland in Europe. This holiday is the result of nearly 9 months of intensive planning, so suffice to say I'm very excited! Even just having 4 weeks off work is spectacular... the last time I had more than 2 weeks holiday was my last trip to Europe, 11 years ago. Time for a decent break!

So the blog will be somewhat dormat while I'm gone. I thought about scheduling posts in advance, but... I didn't. There might be a few cobwebs around when I get back.
The frantic planning has also meant writing has taken a back seat, pretty much since my last post about it. I now have just over 62,000 words, and I'm looking forward to the final push (towards about 80) when I return. I think I could write 5,000 words based on outlined scenes and ideas, and then I need some more inspiration to see me through to the end (metaphorically speaking - I wrote the actual end a long time ago). As some of my lovely commenters said, the time away will probably do me good.

Time to finish packing... Arrivederci!

14 February 2012

Mark All As Read

I love catching up on my favourite blogs and news articles, usually with Google Reader. Whether I'm reading about someone's writing journey, craft tips, or a whole lot of stuff unrelated to writing, I like catching up on the world outside my own.

Confession time: I'm a little bit obsessive about reading every single post, even by people I don't know anything about (but their blog sounded interesting). As I read I like to see the "unread" number decrease until their blog name is completely cleared away. Sometimes I don't get time to keep up to date... well let's be honest, nearly every day I have a back-log. I keep finding interesting blogs to subscribe to. And sometimes, if it really gets too much, it need to "mark all as read".

But I really don't want to. I want to at least see the subject line of each and every post. I think I might be missing out on something great if I don't at least look. Perhaps I'll want to comment, or I might learn something new, or I might laugh.

Is it just me?

At the end of the month (the 26th, to be precise), I'm going on holiday for 4 weeks. There is no way I'll be able to catch up, so I will have to mark unread items as read. The very thought of it makes me uncomfortable, but it's inevitable. And I know once you click that button, it's an incredibly cleansing feeling. As if I've just taken a little weight off my shoulders. I don't have to read everything, even if I like to.

It'll be the same for all the actual mail that piles up while we're away... I need to prioritise what I'll read and throw out the crap. There's no point in putting magazines on my coffee table that I know I'll never read. And I've been progressively unsubscribing from email newsletters that I usually delete without much thought.

It makes me think of other things in life that we hold on to for no good reason. Perhaps we horde certain objects, which we think have sentimental or educational value but are just cluttering up our lives. What about the clothes you'll never fit again, that could have a useful purpose for someone who's actually that size and can't afford to buy them? Do you ever buy way too much healthy or perishable food with the best of intentions, but it ends up expiring before you eat it? Maybe we hold onto relationships with people who poison our thoughts, holding us back, because we'd rather be negative in a party than be alone. Or we hold a grudge because the person hasn't made it up to us yet, and they have no idea of the power they are holding over us. Even our dreams for the future can hold us captive if they're seriously not achievable. We have to let go of them, focussing on something more realistic rather than sacrificing our present lives by being miserable.

I think from time to time we need to admit we've fallen behind, and we've allowed things to get on top of us. Sometimes we just need to "mark all as read" (or even stop receiving/buying so much stuff in the first place) to clear out our lives. We'll feel so might lighter and in control. The opportunities lost will be gained in other future avenues. We just need to let go.

Have you ever reached a point where you had to cut something out of your life? Are you addicting to reading everything like me?

07 February 2012


The last time I wrote about my WIP, I was stuck in the quagmire of writer's block. I just couldn't see where to go next: how to add complexity and higher stakes. It was a frustrating, scary place to be.

Now, I'm pleased to report I have pushed through, but not in the way I expected. I thought my quirky minor characters would fuel the sub-plots I needed to add layers to my main characters' journeys. I thought and thought and got nowhere.
The key is the villain
Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Then, I was reading this article about mirroring your plot points, and a lightbulb went off. The section entitled "the bad guys close in" could be taken as a metaphor, but it got me thinking. I have some shady characters, and there is one in particular that causes trouble. His main action had impacted on a minor character (albeit a quite important one), and this action then ricocheted into the main characters' worlds. But then I thought - what if? What if this guy is actually a proper villain, who seeks to disrupt my hero's path whenever possible, and to use my heroine as an unwilling accomplice? What could he do, what would be the worst he could do, to destroy my hero's hopes?

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The answer popped into my head, and then I was off, adding quite a few scenes to the second half of the novel, as well as a few pointers to lay the foundation in the first half. It sounds quite simple, to increase the antagonist's role, but I had thought that the book would be almost solely driven by the characters' internal journeys, with the external happenings just driving home their development. Instead, I can push them into increasingly desperate situations using intentional evil.

Plus, it's fun to write a villain... and doubly fun to see him get his just deserts.

So now, my novel has blossomed from 46,000 words to just over 60,000 words. I still have about 20,000 to go, but it feels good to be 3/4 of the way through. I know it still needs plot development, with tidbits that are yet to drop into my brain. But I feel like I will get there; no longer lost in the "what if I never finish" doldrums.

Here's what my structure looks like now (see the first version here). I've increased from 43 to 75 scenes. Act 3 is still looking a little bereft, but some of those scenes will be long.

My scenes, 3/4 way through
Have you experienced such a breakthrough, and how did you achieve it? Perhaps by studying the craft as I did?

01 February 2012

It's My Bloggiversary!

Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My blog is one year old. And what a year it's been. As well as quite a bit happening in my personal and work life (most of which I have not shared), I feel as if I have grown immensely as a writer.

When I started off of course no-one was reading my posts, but as I reached out to others I've started to form some rewarding writer friendships. It's lovely to get comments on my thoughts; to know that others share the same struggles and triumphs. A recent highlight for me is having actual authors comments on my posts.

I started the blog when I'd finished a draft. Since then that MS was edited, critiqued, edited again, queried, submitted and now put out to pasture. Along the way I've continued to study the craft and I've had some real "a-ha" moments. Now as I work to complete the next draft of a very different book, I'm more confident in my abilities and even more excited about the future ahead.

Thanks everyone for reading :-)


29 January 2012

Fancy Becoming a Professional Hermit?

I'm reading a delightful book at the moment, "In the Garden with Jane Austen" by Kim Wilson. Not only is it beautiful and fascinating in its own right, the book is giving me little tidbits I can use in my writing.

I came across something today which I had to share. In a chapter about mansions and manor house gardens, there is a section entitled "Temples, Gothic Seats, Grottoes and Hermitages". The author discusses how certain garden features were supposed to conjure particular emotions according to the romantic tendencies of the eighteenth century.

Hermitages are discussed last, and I have to admit I have never heard of this as a garden feature before. To quote from the book:
The Bennets in Pride and Prejudice have a hermitage in their wilderness walk. Mrs Bennet wants to show if off to the visit Lady Catherine de Bourgh: 'Go, my dear', she cries, 'and show her ladyship about the different walks. I think she will be pleased with the hermitage.' A hermitage, meant to resemble the hut of a religious recluse and to inspire melancholy associations, ought properly to be located in a secluded wooded area, so the Bennets hermitage is sited correctly, though perhaps too close to the house for the best taste.

Estate owners occasionally advertised for hermits to fill their hermitages. Employers asked such men to let their hair and fingernails grow, wear simple clothing, live in the hermitage and interact with any passing visitors in the character of the religious ascetic. Some contracts promised large payments at the end of specified terms, because it was so hard to keep a good hermit. Eventually, the notion of hiring a hermit was considered so ridiculous that a play called The London Hermit lampooned it, and indeed it's hard to imagine even Mrs Bennet going so far.
That's right everyone, it's hard to keep a good hermit. Can you believe that was actually a profession? You could pretend to be like a monk, living a solitary religious life in the garden - but you were just faking it! I'm trying to imagine what kind of performance a hermit would give for the privileged few strolling in these gardens. Perhaps this novel might shed some light.

27 January 2012

Sharing the Love

Thanks to Jen for passing the Kreativ Blogger Award on to me this week :-)

Apparently I need to pass the award onto 6 bloggers, and tell you ten things about myself. Ten! I don't think I can think of ten interesting things to say. Well, here goes...

Never again
1. I am the youngest of two daughters, my mother is the youngest of two daughters... and my grandmother is the youngest of two daughters.

2. I didn't venture overseas until I was twenty, and it was a full-on 100 day backpacking adventure through UK/Europe with my best friend.

3. I prefer potatoes over meat.
Totally crystals

4. Once I had a long-standing argument discussion with a friend over whether the sparkles in the ocean were more like diamonds or crystals.

5. I have naturally curly hair - that is, hair with random waves all over the place and a permanent halo of frizz. I've worn it straight for the last five years and it's been a revelation. Such freedom in being able to run your hands through your hair without them getting stuck!

6. I have owned two female ginger cats (most gingers are toms). They are/were very special girls.

7. I like spotting and identifying transporty stuff - like planes and cruise ships, and I love reading maps.

8. My grandparents were all Scottish, so I grew up with bagpipes and tartan in my blood.
Yum yum

9. I cook a mean spaghetti carbonara (no, it shouldn't be swimming in cream).

10. I like being in high places - like on mountains, up towers and look-out points... anywhere with a view. Maybe being vertically challenged has something to do with it. I hate the feeling of falling though.

And now for your bonus semi-interesting fact...

11. I believe I just may be the only person in the world with my (first and last) name.

I've also sort of been remiss in not passing on the Liebster award I got ages ago, because at the time I didn't have enough blogging friends to pass it on to. Thanks again to Loree for giving it to me, and congrats again for recently landing an agent!

Now to share the love for the Kreativ Blogger award...

1. Anne Gallagher
2. Glynis Smy
3. Lynda R.Young
4. Sierra Gardner
5. Jen Daiker
6. Susan Bergen

You all rock :-)