Tag Archives: Writer Resources

A little here, a little there

Writing

You may have guessed that of late my writing itself hasn’t been at its peak. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that I’ve been working on three different projects, or that in my spare time I’m trying to do a number of other things (like find a venue for a child’s birthday party that doesn’t cost the earth – ugghhh!), but yes, it’s been sporadic at best and non-existent at worst. I suspect this is one reason I’ve been throwing myself in to editing so readily: because the writing thing just isn’t really happening for me at the moment so at least if I’m editing I can feel like I’m achieving something.

Of course, there are a million blog posts out there telling people how to get past writers block. Heck, I’ve written some myself. And I’m sure that if I really applied myself, I’d be able to get a lot more written … but therein lies the rub. If I really applied myself. The trouble is, getting around to applying myself just isn’t really happening.

This is risky behaviour for me. On the birth of my youngest child I gave up writing (and reading, for that matter) for  the best part of nine months. For anyone who knows me, this is nothing short of remarkable behaviour. Me, not read? It’s like asking the sun not to rise in the morning. But, I sense that it might be a very easy trap to fall back into. If I take too much of a break from writing – or reading – then goodness only knows how long it would take before the bug bites me again. Last time it was nine months …  who’s to say it wouldn’t be longer next time?

Yeah, yeah, I know. If I’m to call myself a writer then I have to write. Most people write because they can’t NOT write. Me, well I’ve proven that I can quite happily go without writing for several months. Does that make me less of a writer? I don’t think so, but it does make me pause to think.

In any case, I’m still editing. You know, that zeal that makes you want to get that manuscript just right, no matter how long that takes. Or maybe not just right, because it will probably never reach that peak, but at least good enough to send out into the world. And editing is a key part of writing, so in that sense I’m definitely a writer. And in the meantime, I do find myself jotting down ideas for my other two projects – character traits, things to remember, things to include in the plot arc. And that counts, right?

Yep, a little here and a little there. It all adds up. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

 

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On inhaling the work of others

Writers Week Entrance

Writers Week Entrance (Photo credit: mikecogh)

 

This week, I’m taking a break from the writing/editing cycle. Also from the whole work thing, thanks to some annual leave, but generally from my own writing and editing. Why? Because this week I am taking in a writers’ festival.

There aren’t a lot of writers’ festivals in my home town. Every March, though, we play host to a swathe of authors of different genres, all in town to just talk about writing. It’s one of my favourite weeks of the year, and as such I take the time off work and just go into town and imbibe others’ experiences. A number of them I’ve never heard of, but what does that matter? It’s a great way to find out about amazing stories and to discover a new favourite author.

As such, I refuse to feel guilty about ignoring my own works, just for this week – though it wouldn’t surprise me if I find myself writing anyway. Just being surrounded by successful writers and hearing their stories can be more than enough to inspire me to pick up a pen and jot a few sentences (or pages) down. And after all, isn’t that what an event like this is all about?

So, I’m off to take in some of Writers’ Week – and who knows? Maybe I’ll hear the tidbit of information that just sends me off on a writing or editing frenzy. Or maybe I’ll find a real gem in one of the speakers and spend a fortune in the book tent. Or maybe I’ll just have a lovely, lazy week hearing what some of the best writers going around have to say on the subject of their work. Either way, one thing is for sure: it won’t be a wasted week.

 

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Assorted writing tips #8 – Characterisation

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

 

I’ve written about writing exercises before, but this time I just wanted to talk about one that has really helped me.

Last week, I started a five-week (or really, five-fortnight, but you know what I mean) novel-writing course at my local writers’ centre. I’ve been a member there for a while but haven’t actually been to much – with the kids, most of the things they’ve had on have been either at a bad time or took too much out of the day (say, 10 till 5 on a Saturday, which is really hard for me to do). I figured I could manage two hours a fortnight, though, so off I went.

The first session was about characterisation. Characterisation is something that I find a lot of fun – getting to know one’s characters is always an enjoyable process, and I love seeing where they take me. Often it’s places I don’t expect, but that’s half the fun of it, don’t you think? Anyway, I’ve been given (and used) different character sheets over the years, but there is something about them that seems, I don’t know, sterile. Filling in a form about someone, while it can be very instructive, doesn’t really give me a feel for them. Thing was, I didn’t know of any other way so I persevered.

Then along came Thursday night, and Lucy Clark, the author who is running the course, made the comment that they don’t really work for her either. Hurrah! I knew I couldn’t be alone, but it was great to see someone who has been really successful facing the same battles. What she did, she explained, was write a biography of each character. This is a page or two – or three or four, depending on how small you write and how far you get into the character – written in the first person, telling the story of that person’s life. It’s not really structured, and it’s not intended to be edited (much), just a jumbled narrative of one thought after another. We did a sample in the class, given just a name and an occupation, and it’s amazing how much I could turn out. (In fact, I’m considering using the character I came up with in that session in a future novel.) This is free writing at its best - rambling, unfocused and full of tangents, yet extraordinarily useful when it comes to characterisation and character development.

I’ve used this since on the characters I’ve been writing for the past couple of years, and I have learnt so much more about them by doing this that I have in two years worth of scene creation. Sure, a lot of it I already knew, but I found myself delving so much further into them, especially some of the secondary and tertiary characters, that finishing this manuscript is going to be a breeze. Instead of wondering how someone is going to react to a certain situation, I feel now that I’m at the stage of just putting them in the scene and stage managing – and some of my best writing has been doing just that.

So, there it is. My tip of the day for really getting into your characters’ heads, especially if character sheets don’t really work for you. Of course, not everyone is the same so this might really not appeal to some people. For me, though, it’s been amazing.

 

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When going back to work means more, not less, writing time

 

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But for me, at least, that’s how it’s worked out. Going back to work has given me more writing time than I had when I was at home.

I returned to work on August 6, after a seventeen-month maternity leave. I work part time, four days a week, one of which is from home and three of which are in the office. And do you know what? I’ve written more in these past three weeks than I did in the three months before, I think.

Before you jump to conclusions, no I’m not writing when I should be working. However, what being back at work means is more time spent in front of a computer, without the interruptions that young children generally provide. What being back at work means, for me, is a good half an hour to an hour each day – in my lunch break - when I can just write, without interruptions.

Sure, I could have got that much time at home … but not uninterrupted. Even when the baby went to sleep, getting a solid hour’s writing time was almost unheard of, and there were other things to do that couldn’t be done when he was awake, like the vacuuming, or cleaning the bathroom, or whatever. (My youngest child is a climber. Leaving him alone for more than a few minutes means that you’ll find him on top of the dining room table, or something similar, when you return.) In short, there were always other things that had to be done in order to keep the house running smoothly. Besides, clearing off the table and getting the laptop out also took more time and frankly, that didn’t always sound appealing.

I recognise, of course, that there is an element of choice in all this. I could have chosen to have an un-vacuumed, un-cleaned house and used that time to write. I could have done all the cleaning on weekends, when my husband was around to keep an eye on the kids. (Don’t worry, he does his share of cleaning too. I’m just referring to my jobs.) I could have chosen to use that time to write. And it probably says something about me that I didn’t – maybe some people will think I’m less of a writer because I didn’t make that time every day. That’s okay. I’m comfortable with my decisions.

Now, though, the fire is back and the manuscript is definitely getting finished. I’ve written 5000 words a week over the past three weeks, upping my tally to 86K altogether. And it’s all because I’m already sitting at the computer, I’m already in that writing pose, and I have some time when I KNOW that no kids are going to need me. It’s heaven.

So yes, going back to work has, for me at least, meant more writing time. Now what about you? When have you found that something helped your writing when you expected it to hinder it? Because I’m sure I’m not alone here. Writing, it seems, has a way of sticking its head in and sorting things out when you least expect it.

 

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Guest post: Why Writers should Blog, by Holly Kench

Why Writers Should Blog

Image of me blogging was created by today’s guest poster, Holly Kench

When I first decided to start writing seriously, I desperately sought advice wherever I could get it. Everyone I spoke to made a lot of good suggestions: write every day, write what you’re passionate about, find your niche, create a writing routine, enjoy your writing, etc. Yet, there was one recommendation that I hadn’t expected and that kept popping up:

Write a blog.

A what? I would ask, scratching my technologically malnourished brain. At the time, the only blog I frequented was that of Ricky Gervais, and I remained unconvinced that ‘blog’ could actually be a real word.

However, it wasn’t long before I was following many MANY blogs and writing my own. I haven’t looked back since.

But just why is blogging such a positive endeavour for writers?

Let’s start with the basic reasons that blogging is beneficial for writers. The most essential of these would have to be in creating a home for yourself on the net. People need to be able to look you up online; just as you need a place to direct readers. In this increasingly virtual world (yes, it’s a cliché because it’s true), home is where the link is. For writers, this is your blog. It’s your online centre, and from your blog you can direct readers to your other social media (ie. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads), to other relevant sites, and, most importantly, to where they can read/purchase your work.

Your blog is so much more than a Yellow Pages entry, though. It’s also a place where you can advertise your writing skills and generate an audience. You can promote yourself as an author, as well as specifically promoting your available work. Even more exciting, you can write to an interactive audience. This is a luxury that the traditional world of books doesn’t have. By writing a blog you become part of a developing community in which readers can respond and contribute to texts directly. On a blog, writers and readers communicate, discuss and consider writing as part of an ongoing conversation. I find the possibilities of this terribly exciting.

In terms of your writing itself, blogging is also a wonderful exercise. Blogging gives you the opportunity to write without restraint. You can write for the joy of it, at those times when you know your brain will burst if you don’t get those words down, or when you really need to write out problems and explore questions about your primary writing. And you have a waiting audience ready to read and contribute to your thoughts. Of course, the topic of your blog affects this to a certain extent – though I don’t really let that bother me too much. While my blog mostly consists of humorous short stories, I’ve discovered that my readers are more than willing to read and comment on my concerns about fiction and pop culture, and, for that matter, anything else I feel like blogging about at the time.

There’s a freedom in blogging that you don’t always experience from other types of writing. You don’t have to prove anything to a publisher or agent when you’re blogging. All you have to do is write for you and your wonderful followers, who are just waiting to give you their two cents worth (and that’s worth so much more).

——————–

Thanks Holly! If you’d like to know more about this week’s guest blogger, she identifies herself as a Tasmanian (Australian) writer and feminist, with a classics degree and a fear of spiders.  She enjoys writing fantasy and humour for adults, as well as young adult and children’s fiction, and is currently writing her first novel, a young adult paranormal fantasy. Oh yeah, and she also likes writing stories about herself and drawing pictures of herself as a stuffed olive. To see more of her work, you can check out her website.

Holly as a stuffed olive :)

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The long and winding road

Winding road

Winding road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the weekend, I had an email from a writing buddy.  One of a number of people I met on another website under another name, she is part of a small group who have decided to hold their own writing contest. The idea is to write as many chapters as possible, in the month from 7 May to 7 June. No new projects, just WIPs, are eligible, as the idea is to get a move on with things we have already started. Each participant would offer some kind of prize to the winner, and encouragement of fellow competitors is mandatory. Would I, she asked, be interested?

Would I what! With the school holidays recently I’ve dropped back my writing output of late, though that was remedied a little by the rush of inspiration (and frantic scribbling) I had last week.  The only trouble was, I wasn’t sure I would be able to meet their criteria. The thing is, you see, that I don’t write in chapters.

Actually, I don’t write in order at all. Well, sure, for short stories (up to 7000 or so words) I do, but anything longer than that I’m all over the shop. I write scenes as they occur to me, then put them in order for the story I have vaguely in the back of my mind, and then fill in the blanks. Sure, this means that a lot of what I write eventually gets scrapped, as many scenes either turn out differently than I originally envisioned them, or end up not being included at all, but it’s the way my mind words. Key events first, filler later.

The result of this is that I usually have to write the whole novel, and then split it into chapters. There are some natural chapter breaks, of course, but if I want any consistency of chapter length then I occasionally have to move scenes around in order to get them at the end of the chapter. (And I like consistent chapter lengths. One of my foibles, I think.)

I know that I’m not alone in this – I’m told that Stephen King, no less, writes in much the same way – but I also know that there are a lot of writers who start at the beginning and go right through to the end. To me, this is a completely alien way of writing, but I can’t help but admire it. I know that some of these people are “pantsers”, who don’t know where their story will end up until they get there, but others have planned so meticulously that they can tell you exactly what will happen in any given chapter, and could even write it if you asked them to, even if they’re nowhere near that in the story as yet. The sheer weight of planning involved in that makes my head spin.

I’ve told myself that one day, I’ll try to write a story that way. I’ll fill notebooks not with actual scenes, but notes about scenes, what they’ll involve, with meticulous details about story order. I’m not sure that I’ll do a very good job at it, but I want to see what it’s like.

In the meantime, though, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. It’s worked for me so far, and it’s the way I feel most comfortable as a writer. And the writing competition my friend suggested? Well, I’ve come up with a compromise. I’ll nominate a set number of words per chapter – say 2500 – and I’ll write as many blocks of 2500 words as I can. It’s better than nothing, right?

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On being a “writer”

There are a lot of articles and quotes online about what it is to be a writer. There are those who say you can’t be an aspiring writer – you are either one or you are not. There are those who say you have to tell the world you are a writer, otherwise it is merely a hobby and not a serious pursuit. And there are those who claim they know all the ins and outs of what it is to write.

I am none of these, though I do see the logic in the aspiring writer thing. Maybe people should call themselves aspiring authors instead. After all, anyone can write, but to finish a book, to have it in print or online in Amazon – that’s something else. But this is by the by. I have looked at all these views, and sifted through them, and come to my own conclusion: you are a writer if you believe you are.

I’m going to take myself as an example, because who else do I know as well? :) I don’t tell many people that I write. Most of my friends have no idea, and I certainly haven’t broadcast it among those I know in real life. (Hence the low numbers on my Facebook page.) There is a reason for this, but I won’t go into that right now. Suffice to say that by the time my novel has gone through a couple of betas I want to have a look at it, I’ll start spreading the word. I have stories published online under another name that only my husband knows about, despite the fact that within their online communities they are quite popular. But, for me, that has been a very personal part of my life, a private outlet for telling stories that I had in me.

However, I do see myself as a writer. I am taking this current novel very seriously and I do intend to publish it when the time comes, whether traditionally or independently. (I prefer the idea of traditional publishing, but am very aware that it’s very hard to break into. But again, that’s another issue for another day.) The fact that very few of my inner circle know about it is irrelevant to my dedication to the project. I am just as serious about trying to get a bit of an online profile before the novel is finished, and am trying to get involved in some new communities to boost my name awareness. In short, even if I’m being furtive in real life, I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting people in the wider world to read my book.

Does my reluctance to talk about it to my real life friends make me any less of a writer? I think not. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about it and I don’t doubt they will support me, I just want to have the finished (albeit perhaps unedited) manuscript in my hand before I share this part of my life. According to some pundits, this means I’m not taking it seriously. To me, though, I’m taking the same steps. I’m just taking them in a different order from other people.

Image by Hector Gomez

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