Saturday, October 30, 2010

Letting it Flow

Most writers, after they have been writing for a while, get to know their own style.  Some writers edit as they go so by the time they are finished they have an almost perfect manuscript.  To me, these kind of writers belong in the same category as women who can just go into any clothing boutique, grab something off the rack and whoompa! they look like it was tailor made for them - in other words they blow my mind (and okay make me as jealous as hell)!  I wish I could shop like that, but even more so I wish I could write like that.

Then there are the writers who write a few chapters and then go back and tweak and twist here and there and then continue - going backwards and forwards and then they too end up with a nicely polished first draft.  These are the writers who grab things off the rack, add a belt and you've got instant smokin' outfit.

And then there are the writers who write like something possessed, the words gushing from them like a veritable fountain of verbosity and when they are finished, they go back and are more than likely surprised by some of the things they read.  You can often hear them murmur "Hey that's pretty good," or "Did I write that?" (which can either be a good thing or a bad thing), or "What the (insert expletive of choice)!!!!"

This is me.  I'm the kinda girl who has given up on doing anything more than window shopping in certain shops because I just know that nothing in there is going to fit like it's supposed to and I'm only going to come out empty handed with a insatiable craving for hot chips and chocolate  fudge ice cream.

I've described my writing process before as me watching a movie of my story in my head and I just write down whatever I 'see' happening.  I know writing is a craft and over the years I've learned sooooo much so I know that after the great release has occurred and my first draft is down, I then have to go back and add details, layer in the five senses, remove the stuff that is just filler-talk and *inhales sharply*......edit.  See all that other stuff, that's not editing to me, that's just process. it's almost instinctive.  You read it and that little voice in your head goes "Ahhhh.  No".  Editing is what I call the new bits of knowledge I have gathered recently.  And that's where I'm coming unstuck at the moment.

My current WIP is a lovely story.  A gushy-romantic-feel-good story (all in a good gushy romantic feel good sort of way).  Think Notting Hill.  If you like Notting Hill that is.  If you don't like Notting Hill then think of some other movie you like.  It's that nice.  And I was having a really great time writing it.....until *cue dramatic music* I started reading some blogs about the most common mistakes that new writers make.  You know the ones they preface by saying: "It's always easy to pick a new writer because they:...." and then they go on to list all these hideous sins that new writers make.

I've dreamt about those lists.  Woken in a sweat promising some faceless agent that I won't ever do numbers 2, 4 and 9 ever again.  They've tormented me at night and even picturing Hugh Jackman in and out of a tuxedo can't get them out of my mind.  I find every time I type the words: 'had', 'was' or 'felt' I cringe and then spend precious writing minutes trying to think of how I could say it without using those words and by the time I create something reasonable, I've lost my flow.  Editing as I go just doesn't work for me.  I stumble and stutter and the result is stiff and cold.

So, great fan that I am of giving myself permission to do things, I've given myself permission to write what comes naturally and for me that includes using 'had' and 'was' and 'yelled' and 'mumbled' and 'felt'.  And telling too much.  And not showing enough.  And ....oh the list goes on.  Forgive me father for I have sinned; it's been three pages since my last confession.....

And my self - great wise woman that she is - has given me (not quite) papal dispensation to collect all those rules and guidelines and tips and tricks and lay them down very neatly in a beautiful box lined with tissue paper and tuck it away under my desk until AFTER I have finished my first draft.  Then I'll drag it out and apply them liberally to my manuscript - transforming it from large interesting looking rock to brilliantly faceted so-sparkly-you-can't-look-directly-at-it diamond.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in the fear of making mistakes that we cramp our own style.  We lose our flow.  We hobble ourselves and make writing a chore or worse still, a tool to chip away at our confidence as a writer.  How many times have I caught myself thinking: "I can't do this.  I keep writing all those things they say not to.  They'll label me as a newbie straight away."  I forget that no one is going to see my first draft except me, so I can make every mistake in the book and it's okay, as long as I have the knowledge to fix them before I submit. 

Writing is hard work.  Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  But you know what, I figure it's that 1%, that small part of art, not craft, that makes each book different.  That's voice.  That's style.  That's me.  And you can take courses, attend workshops, read 'How To' books until the cows come home, and you can learn all the craft stuff.  But that 1%, that's up to you, and for me: well, I just gotta let it flow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


First and foremost, I am not a psychologist, just a writer trying to understand the writing process and if I'm lucky, maybe make it a little easier. 

Perhaps later, I will post about character motivation but after having a very satisfying squizz around at other blogs, and the nearness of NaNoWriMo, I thought I might discuss what motivates writers.

The motivators for writers fall into the same two categories they do for characters: external and internal (or in psychology speak: extrinsic and intrinsic).  Let's talk about external motivators first.  External motivators are things like: money, fame, good opinions/reviews, seeing your name on the cover of a book etc.  People can also be external motivators.  Editors.  Agents.  Even critique partners can be external motivational forces.  All of these things can be extremely powerful motivators but as most agents will tell you, there are only a few writers who make the kind of money that J K Rowlings did from her Harry Potter books.  As for fame, well you either have to have that one in a million (or more) book that literally turns the literary world on its head or you have to consistently churn out high quality books over a period of time and build up a following.  Or your ex-boyfriend could be George Clooney (oh I wish) who is naturally happy to endorse your book in all his interviews.......hey a girl can dream can't she?

Here's where I talk about deadlines.  I'm an unpublished writer.  That means the only deadlines I have are the ones I set myself.  And if I miss them *shrugs shoulders* who cares, right?  But I have it on very good authority, that when you are published then someone else sets them for you and then there's no shrugging shoulders (no matter how cute you look).  No siree Bob!  Deadlines are the kind of external motivators that you either love or hate.  Some writers say they couldn't write without them (too easily distracted by lovely things like blogs or ebay or twitter or TV or Facebook); other writers feel like their deadline is a great looming boogeyman, ready to pounce and devour them alive, kicking and screaming and flailing and....well you get the picture.  So when someone says they thrive on stress or work well under pressure, it's probably a safe bet that they don't mind deadlines.  (I would like to add here that just because someone says they work well under pressure does not mean they produce quality work.  I once worked with someone who proudly declared she thrived on stress which was actually her way of saying: "I'm absurdly incompetent and I will cause you immense amounts of stress which I will find very enjoyable.")  So just be careful throwing those old chestnuts around (especially around me).

On the other hand we have internal (or intrinsic) motivators.  These are the things like: increasing your knowledge or skills, learning things, improving yourself, proving to yourself you can do something or do it better than you have before, doing something because it makes you happy. 

Now some very clever people (scientists of some sort or other) have done lots of research on what kind of motivator works best for creative folks like writers and apparently the answer is: internal.  External motivators like money only work when the kind of work you are doing isn't creative but once that part of your brain is involved, people want to feel like they've progressed in either knowledge or skill or that they are on their way to achieving a goal.

Personally I think most writers (note I said most, not all) operate from a base where they are motivated by a combination of external and internal things.  Honestly, who's not going to say they haven't dreamt of swanning around at some fantastically swish cocktail party and overhearing the following conversation:
Ogler 1: Oooh who's that gorgeous young thing?
Ogler 2: Omg!  Where have you been?  She's only the newest, hottest author in the world!
Ogler 1: Does she make more than J K Rowling?
Ogler 2: (winking) Much more!
Ogler 1: I must get her autograph.......

or is it just me who has that dream?  Whatever.  The point is, at least a little part of us wants the fame and the fortune and it can make for very nice day dreaming material........

George Clooney:  I have all your books.  I was wondering if I could whisk you away to my fabo little 6 storey shack on Lake Como and you can sign them all for me?


But I think it's the internal motivators that really keep us going and it's those that we need to examine when we lose focus or get a case of the blahs.  What motivates us to write?  By identifying that, we should be able to address our lack of motivation in a more meaningful way.  It could be that our internal motivators have changed or we have put too much stock in an external motivator. 

I'd happily confess that my motivators are roughly 80% internal and 20% external but that changes depending on my mood and what's happening in my life.  Let's just say that what started as an external motivator has become an almighty powerful internal motivator and on the days when I think "ah I can't be bothered" my internal motivator steps up and slaps me upside my head, stares me straight in the eye and says: You what?  (For some reason my internal motivator always talks with a Southern American drawl - strange but then that's me!)

And yes that 20% is mainly taken up by pathetic fantasies of gorgeous men so far out of my league they might as well be a constellation, absolutely falling over themselves trying to get my autograph.  I've spent many happy hours conjuring up what to write in the front of George's book.  And Tom Selleck's.  And Chris O'Donnell's......and sadly the list goes on. So, what about you?  Are you an externally or internally motivated writer?  And what do you do when your motivation goes AWOL?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Well Worth a Read Wednesday

A big thank you to Sally Clements for directing me to Alexandra Sokoloff's blog which you can find here.

NaNoWriMo is looming.  Anyone taking the plunge this year?  I'm thinking no because my current WIP is clunking along nicely and I'm enjoying all the research I'm doing along the way far too much to put it on hold and concentrate solely on the word count.  I may use JanNoWriMo to help with edits if I'm that far along (she says already knowing she won't be). 

But if you are contemplating the November writing marathon then you simply must visit Alexandra's blog.  She's doing all these amazing posts about preparation and they are nothing short of fabulous.  Lots of juicy-sink-your-teeth-into-OMG-this-is-sooooo-helpful kinda stuff. 

I think I have a girl-crush 8)

I don't know how other people write but I tend to visualise my story - and by that I mean I really see it.  Like a movie.  It's probably because of my theatre background (yes I am/was a frustrated actor) but that's the way I roll.  I get the whole thing - the actors, the settings, the score, the whole shabang.  I even took a unit of Scriptwriting in my Masters degree (as yet unfinished) because it's so much a part of my writing process.  So for me, Alexandra is a dream come true.

Now don't worry if you're not as...well let's just say cinematically focused as I am because Alexandra talks about writing novels as well.  She's a very talented woman (who's gushing?) and I'd be surprised if she didn't have a pearl of wisdom to offer every kind of writer.  Go on, prove me wrong.  I dare ya!

Monday, October 18, 2010

God Bless Generous Writers

And I mean that sincerely.  There are some people who, when they come into knowledge, clutch it tightly to their metaphorical chests, guarding it from prying eyes.  For unknown reasons they prescribe to the old adage that 'Knowledge is Power' but they miss the point.  Knowledge is power; it's a heady, thrilling, liberating feeling to learn something.  To know something is a wonderful thing and the more you know, the more wonderful it is.  But, and here's the part that of which the Knowledge Grinches are ignorant, it becomes even more wonderful when you share that knowledge with someone else.  When you share that knowledge with a multitude, then that feeling is magnified as well.

Which leads me back to the title of this post.  Anyone who has read my previous posts will know how highly I esteem my blog mentors - those writers (both published and unpublished) who have the generosity of spirit to share what they have learned in order to smooth the path for those of us that choose to tread this road as well. 

Shirley Jump has blessed us with part two of a post about Showing Not Telling and generally how to improve your writing so that it flows like honey on the page (as opposed to congealing like cooking fat as mine seems to insist on doing).  But by sharing her experience, Shirley is guiding and mentoring me, helping me grow as a writer and improve my craft.

So bless you Shirley (and all my other blog mentors) - the road ahead looks smoother already!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Well Worth a Read Wednesday

Apart from the narcissistic element of this blog (and let's face it - no one who writes a blog can claim NOT to be narcissistic) one of the things I wanted to do was help other apprentice writers.  Now I've got a pretty healthy ego but even I'm not so impressed by my own skills that I would think that I could do that on my own.  What I meant was by finding articles or essays or books or films or whatevers that may be able to help with those things that always seem to trip up a newbie.

So I thought a regular feature of my blog should be highlighting some of the amazing posts I've found while researching/procrastinating/hiding from my WIP.  My only gripe is that I always tend to find things AFTER I need them.  Take for instance the recent New Voices competition.  I thought my entry was okay - nothing spectacular (I'm not practised enough for spectacular just yet) but I had hoped that the eds might see a spark and ask to see more or something else.  They didn't.  And after reading Shirley Jump's article, I now know why.

I don't know many writers who, when they were starting out, didn't have a problem with the whole 'Show Don't Tell' concept.  It's not difficult to understand - pretty straight forward really - but it's really hard to do.  And by 'really hard' I mean the hair pulling out, swearing at inanimate objects, keyboard tossing kind of hard.  But fear not because the amazing Shirley Jump has come to our rescue (see there where 'I' just became 'we' - we're in this together now whether you like it or not)!

Shirley's article is fabulous not only because it explains HOW to Show Not Tell but best of all - it gives examples!!  I love examples.  And even better, she gives non-examples (for those of you unfamiliar with this term it means how not to do it - aka Elissa's NV entry).  So rush over and have a read and then print it out and pin it somewhere near your writing nook.

If only someone could invent a keyboard for writers that:
  • makes a loud Doom-doom noise every time I modify 'said' with an adverb; 
  • shrieks like a banshee every time I use the verb 'to be' or a form of it;
  • tsk-tsks every time I include the phrases 'looked' or 'felt'; and
  • says "oh no you didn't" if I forget and use anything other than 'said' for a dialogue tag.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Little Dazed and Somewhat Confused.....

I think that aptly describes how most people are feeling after reading the second List from the NV comp.  I will admit that I had my fingers crossed that the editors saw something in my writing - enough to warrant a "please can we see more", a "please can we see something different" or even "please can you fill in for a temp in the typing pool".  Alas my name failed to appear.  But what surprised me the most (and yes I probably should have learnt from the first List) was that names I was positive would be on the second list - weren't.  In fact I didn't recognise any of the names on the second list (not that I'm saying that I know that many people) but given the quality of some of the entries from people I do know, I have to say I was a little stunned.  And of course disappointed for them.

So my decision to take a break from M&B writing for a wee bit has been reinforced.  If I hadn't a newly started chapter for my Single Title to focus on and feel all excited about, I think the disappointment about the NV second List would have been much greater.

I am going to imagine there's a third List, entitled: Writers To Keep An Eye On and that my name is on the top (a lack of hubris?  Moi?  Never!) and that all my far more deserving and worthy blogfriends and mentors are right there too!

Ego sum a scriptor.  Ego mos persevero scribo.  Ego ero vulgo.
I am a writer.  I will continue to write.  I will be published.

Now I'm heading over to the Minxes blog for a pre-breakfast cocktail.  Hmmmm now what will I wear......?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Perfect Opening Line

It's every writer's dream isn't it?  To write that line that impels people to read on.  The one that hooks the reader so firmly that they forget where they are and what they were doing.  It's a tough job and plenty of writers have lamented over their opening line.  I'm kinda stuck there myself at the moment which is what prompted this post.

There were some great examples I read in the chapters submitted for the New Voices competition and I've been back through many of my favourite books, just focusing on that first sentence.  But none of them stand up to the opening lines entered in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest, where entrants are encouraged to write the worst opening line of a fictional novel.  You can read the results of this year's competition here but I thought I would include my personal fav - just to give you a laugh (or maybe not if your humour isn't a little twisted like mine)!

Winner: Purple Prose
The dark, drafty old house was lopsided and decrepit, leaning in on itself, the way an aging possum carrying a very heavy, overcooked drumstick in his mouth might list to one side if he were also favoring a torn Achilles tendon, assuming possums have them.
Scott Davis Jones
Valley Village, CA

There are certainly more that got me giggling.  I suppose they're a lesson in how NOT to write a great opening line.  The most depressing thing is that you have to be a really good writer to write something so awesomely bad.  Bad writers just write crap - not clever crap but the kind that make you wonder if the writer has the kind of friends who think it's funny to say things like: "Are you kidding me Hershel, that's got to be the best damn thing I've ever read!  Of course you should enter the competition" while trying not to laugh or maybe......just no friends at all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

And The Award Goes To......

Imagine my surprise when it went to me?  A lovely lady by the name of Madeleine Maddocks, who writes a blog called Scribble and Edit, left me a message to say that she was presenting me with an award with the quirky little name: One Lovely Blog Award.  I was taken aback to be sure because I've only been writing this blog for such a short time and as far as I knew only a few people have popped over to visit and Madeleine's name wasn't one I recognised.  Over the course of the morning, I've been thinking.  Now bear with me because the way my brain works (it does? I hear someone mutter) is a strange and wonderful thing.  I've been reading, following and posting on blogs for over twelve months now - blogs from all over the place and it's fantastic picking up little turns of phrase or sneaking peeks into people's writing, and personal, lives.  But for some reason, the idea that someone from the other side of the world (omg omg omg) has read my blog, really blew me away!

Anyway after coming to terms with the reality of my work (albeit mostly bathering about shoes and competitions and writing) being of interest to others, it suddenly struck me how amazing it must feel to have a book out there.  Now I'm REALLY (yes it does deserve all caps) pumped about writing!!!! (and yes it does deserve all those exclamation marks).

So getting back to the award.  Now (anal retentive that I am) I did a bit of research and I was able to trace it back to the lady who created the award back in 2008.  Her blog can be found at Works of Art by Sara.  As it has been passed on the rules have been changed slightly so I'm going to follow Sara's rules:
1.Add the logo to your blog
2. Link to the person from whom you received this award
3. Nominate 7 or more blogs
4. Leave a message on their blog, letting them know they have "One Lovely Blog"

I've done 1 and 2 so here's my seven or more nominations and my reasons for nominating them (not necessary according to the rules but I always like to add my two cents worth):

Maisey @ Maisey Yates
Maisey is an incredibly talented women who manages to combine motherhood to three gorgeous kids, a hunksband (her description, but let me tell you, it's very apt!) and dishing out spoonfuls of delicious wisdom on her own blog and over at the Seven Sassy Sisters blog while churning out amazing books at a truly dizzying pace.  What a woman!  And my guru. (and my hero but don't tell her I said that).

Lacey (of course) @ Lacey Devlin
Lacey is one of the sweetest bloggers you'll ever meet.  While we were all sweating over our NV entries, Lacey was busy making badges for us to display on our blogs and setting up a Wall of Fame for us.  And then she put in her entry and boy was it a doozy (that's another way of saying 'fabulous' in Australia).  So thanks Lacey, for all your efforts and for dedicating part of your blog to others - so unselfish and truly deserving of a Lovely Award!

Nicola @ Nicola Marsh 
Nicola blogs almost every day and for blog junkies like myself that makes her a dream come true.  But along with all her insightful tips and inspirational stories, Nic also gives a lot of herself: what's happening with her family, her health and her football team.  All of which goes to make her a very special, talented lady with a great deal to offer.

Jackie @ Jackie Ashenden
A sinfully sexy blue knitted octopus.  A Voice of Doom.  Crows of Doubt.  Dr Jax.  All these elements go to make up Jackie's blog - an intriguing, beautifully honest and generously offered blog that captures all of Jackie's highs and lows on her way to being published.  And take my word for it, we will all be sitting around smiling smugly to the irritation of our friends and saying "Oh I knew her BEFORE she was famous!" very soon.

Romy @ Romy Sommer
The South African beauty with an alter ego (gotta love that!) with a penchant for the 1920s and doesn't mind being called a Minx.  Romy's blog is a warm, comfortable place to have a chat and she is always promoting South African (I can't abbreviate it or people will think I'm talking about South Australia) writers.  Additionally Romy took the time (when she really didn't have to) to provide a newbie with some pointers on my NV entry.

Lorraine @ Lorraine Wilson
I've only just started reading Lorraine's blog and I'm hooked.  She has such an honest, fresh take on things and I really love her voice (did I just hear someone groan? must be a NV entrant).  But seriously Lorraine's blog is a great read and I have really enjoyed going through her archive and I've laughed and learnt stuff - winning combination in my book.

The Girlfriends @ The Girlfriends Book Club
The Girlfriends are relative new too (just like moi) but boy what they don't have in longevity, they sure have made up for in content.  It's a blog for women writers and they have guest bloggers posting something new very regularly and it's not fluff and nonsense stuff either - really meaty, get-your-teeth-into topics as well as providing some great things-I-have-learned-as-a-writer stories.  And I'm not just saying this (why would I?) but they do actually treat you like one of their girlfriends - definitely worth a lurk and then you'll be hooked.

Now all this talk of awards has me thinking (I know, I know - two lots of thinking in one day, I need to slow down before I do myself a damage) BUT I have encountered such wonderful, talented, generous people since I discovered blogging that I'm tempted to create an award myself.  I'll let that one simmer for a while and post about it soon. 

Off now to let my nominees know about their award!