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Feedback, glorious feedback

 

Photo from Girl with computer emerging technologies social media by Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Girl with computer emerging technologies social media by Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

Today is a big day for me. Today, for the first time, I read the first feedback I have received for my completed novel draft.

Okay, I admit it, I received said feedback weeks ago. However, what with the Christmas rush, holidays, kids running around my feet and a very real fear of what the document said, I put off reading it. It was from someone whose point of view matters to me and who is in the novel’s target audience. I was terrified they would say they hated it.

Today, though, I forced myself. Found the email. Opened the document. (Okay, I’d opened it before now, and given it a quick glance. But that was it.) And read the whole thing through, word by word. And do you know what? They didn’t hate it.

Sure, they picked out a few things that need working on. Some, I already knew about (or suspected). Some I hadn’t realised were weak spots. But they also pointed out a few things they really did like, and which they thought worked well. That, my friends, was amazing to read. Yes I’ve had reviews before, but this is the first novel I’ve ever thought of trying to get published, so it felt more important.

Naturally, all this pressure was self-inflicted. We are all our own worst critics and we are convinced that every error we see will be magnified tenfold by others. The truth, though, is that this person who is in my target audience liked my story. Said they would read it again. Said the characters were real and vivid and engaging. And that the story flowed and – generally – worked. And that, my friends, is a huge load off my shoulders.

I still have some other betas who have not yet got back to me, and I’m okay with that. The Christmas period is one of the busiest for pretty much everyone and it can be hard to find time to spare to critique someone’s novel. This first one, though, is like manna from heaven. It means the novel isn’t crap, and I haven’t been wasting my time for the past couple of years. Sure, there are a few tweaks that need to be made, but overall it shows promise and potential. And that, I think, is the best Christmas present I could have received.

 

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A NaNo-ing I will go

nanowrimo.org

nanowrimo.org

It has only recently occurred to me that November will soon be upon us again, and that means NaNoWriMo is on its way.

I have had mixed success with NaNo. I’ve completed it twice and failed dismally (at Camp NaNo) once, and I generally avoid it unless I have something pressing that I want to get out. This year, due to my ignoring most things writerly, I had completely forgotten about it until I saw it referred to on a website that I look out for very different reasons. NaNo? Already? I checked my calendar and it is indeed only a few days away.

My first reaction was that I’d ignore it this year: I’ve finished my novel and the short story I wanted to write, and was thinking of taking a break. But then I thought about Novel #2, which has been festering in my mind for over a year now. I’ve got about 10K words written for it, but I’ve done exactly nothing with it for longer than I care to think about. I have, however, started dreaming about its characters again, which is a sign I should probably get back into it. So, with NaNo coming along, I have decided to do the obvious.

Yep, I’m signing up again. The whole kit and caboodle. Fifty thousand words in a month.

I have no idea if I’ll be able to do it. I don’t know if I have 50K words of this story in me at the moment. But I figure it’s worth a try. And if I do, the more I write then the more I’m likely to want to write, as delving into that world is likely to give me more ideas, more tangents, and more scope than I’m thinking about now. In other words, writing is cumulatively addictive, and there is no better way to get new ideas for a story than to immerse yourself in it.

Am I stupid? No. Over-reaching? Quite possibly. But hey, the fun is in the attempt, and who knows? I might actually do it. You never know until you try.

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Getting there … kind of

Matej-writing

Yeah, yeah, I know. I said I’d be back blogging once a week, and that was three weeks ago. But my excuse is that it was school holidays and I was busy. I could perhaps have timed my comeback better, but so be it.

Anyway, I’m here today with my random update of how things are going. School holidays were MAD, but in a good way. I’m kind of glad I’m back at work this week so I can have a rest! We did a huge number of things and had a really good time doing them, but it’s so exhausting. But not to worry. The madness is now over and I can concentrate on other things.

So, what other things, I hear you ask? Good question. I’ve given my novel to a few beta readers already, with some more waiting in the wings until I can give them a hard copy. (I have to print it out at work so I’m doing it 10 pages at a time. It’s taking a while.) I’m giving them until Christmas to get back to me so hopefully by the end of the year I have some very constructive advice as to what I need to do to improve things.  (My offer from last time still stands, by the way. If you want to see my romance novel as a beta reader, let me know.) I’m also preparing to write a short story (10K maybe?) in a completely different genre, in order to enter a short story competition my local writers’ centre has going. It’s going to be a kind of dystopian thing, and it’s based on a rather strange dream I had a couple of weeks back, so we’ll see how that turns out. After all, there’s only one way to find out if it’s going to be any good, and that’s to get started on it.

Other than that, I may have mentioned a while back that I’ve been writing a collaborative action/adventure/fantasy piece with some writer friends, so that’s a lot of fun. I’ve also done about 10K of my next novel, and I’ve been thinking more and more about that story lately so we’ll see how that goes when I actually pick it up again. I’m in no hurry with that – I find it good to break from my normal genre entirely for a while sometimes, so it might be a couple of months till #2 gets going again. I figure that so long as it DOES get going again, it’s okay. Some things you just can’t rush.

So yeah, that’s me for now. I’m hoping to post a book review next week so it may be a little while before you get any more incoherent rambles from me. ;) Either way, I hope that your writing / other creative project is going just as well as mine is.

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O Blogger, Where Art Thou?

Yes, I know. It’s been several months since I posted, and then it was a book review. You’ve heard nothing from me in simply ages. Why? Well, I don’t really know. There are a number of reasons that come to mind, so I’m going to share them with you. Put your hand up if you can relate to any of them.

  1. Lack of material/time. I was finding that blogging twice a week was draining my mind of ideas and cutting into my writing time. I work almost full time and the pressure of coming up with material for two days each week, as well as trying to keep up with other blogs, comments on my blog, and the rest of it was leaving me with next to nothing for my creative writing.
  2. Competing priorities. Update my blog or spend time with my kids? They won’t remember having to muck around the house waiting for me to do my computer stuff, but they will remember me taking them to the zoo. Or the pool. Whatever.
  3. An overall sense of cutting out what was less important. This is an extension of #2. I blogged earlier in the year about cleaning out my cupboards at the same time as I was cleaning up my manuscript, and that attitude still stands. Things that were less important were jettisoned in favour of those items higher up the list. And maintaining my profile as a budding author, while important, felt less so than putting my life in order, spending time with kids (as above), and just generally getting myself in a position that I was happy with. You only get one shot at life so why waste it doing things you don’t want to do?

I know I could have just cut down on the blog frequency, but like a lot of people I suffer from procrastination, and there was also a very real fear that if I started it up again then I might drop back into old habits, which was what was draining me in the first place. And I was drained. I didn’t write a thing for two months, and nor did I do any editing. Nothing at all. My brain just needed a break from all that, and I obliged.

So, what’s changed now? Well, my novel is now at the point where I am happy to send it out to my beta readers for their feedback. I could tinker and fiddle till the cows come home but I don’t think that by myself I’m going to get it much better than it is now. It’s time for new eyes and new perspectives on it. So I’m sending it out for comment, and putting it down till Christmas at the earliest. Then in the new year I can take everyone’s ideas on board to improve it even further.

As such, I’m ready to get back into the world of writers. I won’t be blogging as frequently – once a week will do me, on Mondays like now, with the occasional interview or book review thrown in instead of commentary. It’s a scenario designed to keep me involved, yet help take the pressure off, and to give me more time to devote to novel #2, or the kids, or anything else that seems important at the time. One less post per week will help with my whole-of-life de-clutter that I’ve been undertaking for most of this year.

So yeah, that’s me. Sorry for the long blackout, but fear not, all is good. Oh, and if anyone reading this would like to have a look at my novel in a beta capacity, leave a comment or send me an email at Emily[dot]wheeler02[at]yahoo[dot]com. I’d love to hear from you.

 

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Purging

English: Yard sale on Green Street in .

English: Yard sale on Green Street in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I quite enjoy a good purge. Cleaning out the cupboards and donating ninety per cent of their contents to a local charity because you just don’t need it is cathartic, exhilerating and frees up vital storage space.

I’ve been doing this a bit at home lately. Only a little at a time, sure, but the church down the street, which has large garage sales every couple of months, is certainly reaping the benefits of my efforts. I’m also selling a few more valuable bits and pieces, in the hope that the spare cash they provide will help pay for an interstate trip for the whole family to attend a wedding later in the year. I’ve made a couple of hundred dollars so far and am hoping to both free up cupboard space and cash flow even more in coming weeks.

That’s all very nice, I hear you say, but what does it have to do with the writing life? Well, I say, plenty. Purging is very much a state of mind. It’s that part of the brain that hoarders can’t seem to access, and many of us only access sporadically. But we’re all guilty. Who among us hasn’t kept something because it was nice, or it might come in handy later on, only to come across it again two years later and wonder why on earth we have it? But, when the purging spirit takes hold, you can rid yourself of a lot. And the same is true in writing.

Purging is only good, really, when you’re in the editing stage. Ridding yourself of the unnecessary when you’re still trying to get the book written can be time consuming and take away some of the creative urge. Doing it when you’re editing, though, is what the whole thing is about. Don’t need it? Cut it. Doesn’t progress the plot? Cut it. Character not adding anything to the story? Cut him/her. I’ve got rid of about 15,000 words, two characters and a whole subplot so far, simply because they weren’t adding value to the manuscript. I’ve got some more purging to do, but this ruthlessness on multiple fronts is feeling good. Cleaner cupboards, cleaner prose and cleaner schedule. It’s a win-win situation.

Of course, not everyone finds it easy to be this ruthless. And this is why I recommend doing the purging on many levels at once. When you’re already in the mindset to clean up that space under the bed and just get rid of things you’re not using, why not get out the manuscript and have a hack at that as well? You’re already thinking in that way. Try to make the most of it!

So that’s me at the moment. Going through what makes up my life and just cutting out things I don’t need any more. It applies to a lot of things and, the way I’m going right now, I should be cleansed and clear in no time. (Sounds like an ad for a face-cleaning cream … maybe I should think about re-wording. Oh, heck. Why not just cut the whole sentence?) (See what I mean?) And it’s my recommendation to anyone who is having trouble with their editing. Don’t just edit your manuscript. Edit your whole life. You might be amazed what you can achieve.

 

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Looking for exclamations(!)

English: A black exclamation mark Magyar: Egy ...

English: A black exclamation mark Magyar: Egy fekete felkiáltójel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Ah, the humble exclamation mark. So much debate about such a little thing. Or is it?

 

For the uninitiated, exclamation marks are, apparently, to be used sparingly at all times. Elmore Leonard once famously opined that “[y]ou are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” F Scott Fitzgerald once told a student that “an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke”. More modern rules include the directive that you should use only one in any one e-mail, for example. In other words, exclamation marks are a bad habit of the novice writer, which must be broken at all costs.

 

Naturally, there are exceptions. I recently re-read the Harry Potter series, in which exclamation marks are sprinkled with gay abandon. In fact, even a novice writer such as myself noticed the excess of exclaiming, which perhaps says that there may have been a couple too many. A lot of sentences are, in fact, stronger and more meaningful with just a full stop (period) rather than an exclamation mark.

 

Is the exclamation mark rule quite so cut-and-dried, though? Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian argues that they can make the written word friendlier, especially in things like e-mails which can feel a little sterile otherwise. (It depends, of course, on the content of the e-mail, but “Thanks!” usually sounds friendlier and more enthusiastic in its gratitude than “Thanks.” does. Don’t you agree?)

 

But what about in fiction? I admit, using it too much is off-putting, and using it in narrative rather than dialogue  is just plain annoying. But then again, in dialogue the rules change – apparently up to six per 100,000 words is considered acceptable. A quick scan of my novel (thank you, find function) had somewhat more than that, so clearly I need to do some work on this aspect of my writing, but sometimes I wonder how much weight that old rule still has.

 

I’m not alone in my appreciation of exclaiming. After all, people do exclaim and that should be recognised. But even I (along with like-minded thinkers) understand that there needs to be a limit. I’m just not sure that six per 100,000 words (in dialogue only) is it.

 

 

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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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I would be writing, but …

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

First of all, I’d just like to apologise for not posting earlier in the day, like I usually do. The fact is that I was having so much fun editing my novel (yes, I know, weird) that I just couldn’t bring myself to take a break and blog. But hey, I’m here now, right?

 

Today I’m going to talk about things that stop you from writing. Some would call it excuses, but to be nice I’m going to call it priorities. You know what I mean – the decision to read on the bus on the way to work rather than jotting scenes into a notebook, for example, or the decision to leave the pen and paper at home when you’re at the kids’ sporting events. Some people might see this as time wasted because you’re not writing, but maybe you’ve just made the decision that paying attention to what your children are doing is more important. It’s just priorities, and they are different for all of us.

 

Me, I’ve been spending time with the kids and, well, editing like there’s no tomorrow. Just today I deleted about 1000 superfluous adverbs, and I must say that my prose is looking a lot neater as a result. But I’m not even really talking about that sort of thing. Specifically, I’m thinking about that old fallback – television.

 

You see, last week two of my favourite programs started up again – Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. I love them, and I’m not afraid to admit that I will forego any number of things to stay up to date with them. Sure, I wait till the kids have gone to bed before turning them on – my children are a little young for even the good Doctor as yet – but I try not to wait more than a couple of days after release before I watch them. This is my escapism at the moment, and I’m protecting it fiercely.

 

I don’t feel guilty in the slightest. It’s been pointed out before that absorbing someone else’s creativity can be just as useful as your own in inspiring you, so I figure that’s as good an excuse as any. And hey, in the meantime I can check out how they are telling their stories, to get ideas for my own.

 

There. That’s my confession. Now it’s up to you: what won’t you miss to further your writing? And how do you justify it? Life is, after all, about our priorities.

 

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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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The Friday blog-hop! (part 2)

Blog Machine

Blog Machine (Photo credit: digitalrob70)

 

Today I’m doing my second Friday blog-hop, in an attempt to give some love back to my favourite bloggers. The first time I did this was last November, so I figured it was well and truly time to give it another shot. Remember, this list is NOT exhaustive, and is in no particular order. I just think that you should ALL go and read these blogs RIGHT NOW. ;)

Okay, here goes:

  • Knitting with Pencils, by Tracey Baptiste. Tracey just has a way with words that makes them flow off the page and make me want to read more. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read her novel yet, but I really really want to because if reading her blog makes me feel like I’m walking on air, imagine what a whole book would do? :)
  • The Write Fox, by Sarah L Fox. Sarah is someone I can really relate to, and it feels like her experiences often mirror my own. She doesn’t have nearly as many followers as she deserves and I would love it if some of you lovely readers would go check her blog out. It’s definitely worth it.
  • Write21, by Justin O’Leary. Again, here is someone who deserves a heck of a lot more followers than he currently has. His blog is an incredible resource for writers and should be bookmarked by everyone who needs a bit of guidance occasionally. And let’s face it, isn’t that all of us? :)
  • Can You all Hear me in the Back?, by Darlene Craviotto. Darlene is primarily a screenwriter rather than a novelist, but since when should that be a problem? We’re all using our creativity to put words on paper and then try to get them out there. Anyway, this is a really intelligent and thought-provoking blog that should be on everyone’s to-read list.
  • Devoted Eclectic, by Elizabeth Lhuede. Elizabeth is the driving force behind the Australian Women’s Writers challenge (which reminds me, I’d better sign up for this year’s – and update this blog to reflect that) so her blog is often used to review books as part of that challenge. That said, her reviews are always worth checking out, and her other posts are thought-provoking and stick in your mind for a long time afterwards.

So, that’s my list for this round of blog-hopping. I hope that I have inspired you to go and check out some (or all) of these blogs if you haven’t already – and if you don’t see your name yet, it’s not because I’ve forgotten you. Just keep an eye out for the next blog-hop and you might see yourself then! :)

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