Writing Is A Journey. A Long One.

It’s my two year blogaversary and I’ve come one hell of a long way! I can see it in my books and I can see it in my blogs. So here’s to ever learning …

challenge-520x245If you look anywhere for tips on writing, ‘Learning to Accept Criticism’ is always listed in the top ten. It’s important for writers to understand the role of rejection, because there’s no way to avoid it. If you send your work to publishers, it’s going to be knocked back, if you let the public read it, there will be bad reviews. It is the nature of art, there is no perfect way to do it.

But handling the criticism doesn’t come naturally to writers, we’re often sensitive, thoughtful creatures who need to be handled with care. Everyone is different but I believe new writers in general are not ready to hear it. I wasn’t either. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In order to make it through the thousands of words it takes to finish your manuscript, you need to believe you were born with a natural talent.

You’ve heard about writers being rejected countless times, you know how rare it is for someone to write a best seller first time round, but somewhere deep down, you think you could be one of them. That’s what gets you through. And when people are brave enough to tell you the truth about your book, you justify it in your own mind. They’re not my target audience, they don’t usually read, they aren’t familiar with the genre. Anything to convince yourself their feedback isn’t relevant, or they just didn’t see what you were trying to do.

It’s something we all have to go through. The tip isn’t, ‘Accept Criticism’, it’s ‘LEARN to Accept Criticism’. It takes time, and how ever long that may, be will vary from writer to writer. For a whole bunch of different reasons.

For me, I was afraid the criticism would stop me in my tracks. I didn’t want to hear it because I know I can take things to heart and I was worried the harsh truth would knock me right off my perch. I wrote four books and self published them, I set them free into the world. But the truth was I wasn’t ready to hear the bad news. Which is perfectly okay, the only way to get there is to experience it.

I took that terrifying first step, I revealed myself and all my flaws to the public.

And that’s the point in every writer’s life when they realise they’re not naturally blessed with the skills. They’re blessed with the inspiration and determination—the skills have to be learnt.

That realisation can take years. Only once you have poured your heart and soul into a story and moved on to write something new, can you really look back and see it for what it is. Time and distance shows you that your work is far from perfect. You did your very best, but you’ve learnt enough to understand what’s wrong with it.

And eventually, hearing someone point out your weaknesses is no longer so hard to hear. You know exactly what they’re talking about—you can see it yourself. You look at the standard of your work now, and see how far you’ve come. It’s still not perfect, but if someone points out the flaws, you think,  I’ve come so far in the past year, give it one more year and I’ll be even better at this.

It’s a journey. A long one.

I’ve been writing seriously for eight years now, and I can finally say I’m ready. I know my writing isn’t perfect, I mean really know, not just saying the words for the sake of it. The difference now, is that hearing the truth won’t stop me. I’ve realised I’m not defined by my work, but by my ability to learnt from it. I’m not afraid of publishers knocking me back, I won’t bother reading between the lines when someone says my work is good, completely lacking conviction. I can see it for what it is, and it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve graduated. I’m ready to call myself a real writer.

 

For The Love Of Art

downloadWhat’s the difference between a successful artist and an unsuccessful artist?

Sometimes it’s not always about talent. There are some great artists out there who are completely unknown. So what’s the formula, and why does it work for some and not others?

Of course talent plays a big part, if you can’t sing in key then you’re not going to be offered a record deal. But in saying that, some of the most popular songs in history have also been incredibly basic. While there may be guitarists out there who can play a more complicated arrangement, perhaps it isn’t as pleasing to the ear. Maybe it just isn’t what people want to hear. Or it could simply be the fashion—what worked five years ago, won’t work anymore.

The same applies to writing. I’ve read fancy literary books before, I know the writing style is impeccable and the sentence structure is exactly how the universities teach. But sometimes the story is boring. So what’s the point in all those perfect sentences if I don’t care about the characters or plot? It isn’t enough to keep me reading the book.

Then, there’s the likes of Twilight. It’s talked about as being one of the most appallingly written books in history. But people bought it and they loved it, in fact, even people who don’t read, read it! So why is it okay for Stephanie Meyer to write terribly but most other authors won’t get away with it?

Is there a formula, or is it simply a secret ingredient?

It has to be both. Aside from the occasional one hit wonder, most successful artists reached their fame by working damn hard for it. There are also a hell of a lot of people out there who put in the same amount of effort and no matter how many years they slug away they’ll never make it. That’s where the secret lies. For some people it’s pure luck. It’s about being in the right place at the right time, perhaps even knowing the right people.

There’s only one thing we can know for sure. You can’t expect success to come to you. You have to work for it, and no matter how many years pass and how many rejections are thrown your way, you have to keep going. You need to learn, to grow and sometimes you need to adapt. That’s the difference between an artist who makes it and one who doesn’t.

I’ve heard stories of people who treat their craft like a business. Those who assess the market and produce something they know they can sell. I guess that’s where the formula comes into it. But I think in order to be a true artist you have to really love what you do. Without that passion, I don’t understand how you can sustain success. There has to be a connection between who you are and what you create. If your product happens to be what people want, that’s great. If not, changing it could mean sacrificing part of your soul. It means your art is no longer for yourself, it’s for someone else. It’s on their terms. For me, I think that has to be a deal breaker.

Hard work won’t reap the rewards for everyone, but if your art is a part of who you are—it won’t matter. That passion is your fuel, even if it costs you money or no one ever sees it, it’s the thing that keeps your heart beating. And it’s better to dream big and give it everything you have, than to realise you never made it because you gave up too soon.

The great thing about art, is that you can never really fail. 

 

Stranger than Fiction

 

1525482_588942477844429_1972120768_nI recently watched a movie called Stranger than Fiction. It’s about a man who can hear a voice narrating his life, as though he’s a character in a book. Seeing this idea in action made me realise how familiar the concept was. I live my life just like that, because I’m a writer, and we narrate on instinct. Our lives are always followed by a mysterious voice-over, because the characters in our stories are shaped by our day to day actions. They live with us, and the things they experience are extracts of our real lives.

That’s not to say every moment of every day is lived as a novel. Inside a writer’s mind, sometimes it is quiet, but the story can begin with the most simple catalyst. It could be lying in bed, shopping for groceries, walking the dog or driving the car. It might seem like a menial task, but somewhere inside the author’s imagination, there is a character doing that exact thing. Only their situation might not be as simple as ours.

A car ride might not be a trip home from work—it’s a killer fleeing the scene of a crime, a frightened girl on the way to an orphanage, or the last vehicle with a low fuel tank in the zombie apocalypse. The narrator kicks in, turning the mundane into something magical. The trees arch over the car, the storm clouds turn black with menace. Wind thrashes rain against the windscreen as the wipers creak. And suddenly this simple life becomes a beautiful book scene.

The narrator lays the groundwork in our minds, and sometimes in the car, middle of peak-hour traffic, you fill in the characters’ dialogue (yes I do this, and pretend I’m on a hands-free phone call). The narrator helps us pull pieces of the real world into our stories so our characters have more dimension. And sometimes it’s hard to break away from that imaginary place to face the real world once more. But this world we live in, is an amazing place for a writer, we’re never alone and the narrator can fill us with wonder at any turn. The whole thing might sound a little nuts, but I know all the writers out there will be nodding their heads. It’s just something we do.

Set your narrator free.

 

The Writers’ Ritual

I'm writing blog picture

Strange creatures, writers. We live half our lives in imaginary worlds, investing our emotions in characters, and devoting long hours to their stories. We work in isolation, sometimes we’re eccentric, occasionally aggressive and always passionate about what we do.

That’s why we have strange little rituals—habits we’ve developed over time—a list of things we require in order to make the magic happen. Force a writer to break a ritual and you will face their wrath!

There’s a reason for it. Writing is hard, it requires a great amount of mental energy to get into the ‘zone’ and stay there. Most rituals are focused around the development and maintenance of this ‘zone’. That’s why sleeping until 11am is a ritual for me. I’m not kidding. It’s really important. If I wake up earlier on a set writing day, I’m too tired to be inspired. And while I may spend the first couple of hours lazing around, I need that time to reach a state of reflection. It’s the warm up, the stretches before the marathon.

Eventually I settle down to write, and the next two hours are the worst. I’m still forcing away random thoughts that pop into my head, repeatedly checking facebook, and casually reading over the last chapter I wrote. For me, this is where the ritual plays the biggest part.

I need to be in a quiet place, it’s seems dramatic but sometimes even hearing footsteps as someone walks past is enough to break my focus. It’s tempting to open the door and scream at them, but I don’t because it’s rude and I’m a rational person—still, it’s frustrating.

Instead, I use my ipod to drown out the sound of voices in the distance. The music has to be the perfect pace, preferably dark, almost depressing. For me violins are a great muse. I can’t explain it, but I love them. TV on the other hand, forget about it. That will take me right back to square one.

It’s also important to have supplies at hand; drinks and snacks, remote controls for anything I might want to turn on or off, and a bed for the dog to sleep by my feet.

Once my surroundings are exactly how I need them, I position my body in the right place. Don’t ask me why, for some reason I write better when I’m lying down. Sure, I can do it sitting if I have to, but head on a pillow and laptop resting against my knees, seems to work the best.

Two hours later, and I’m finally there—the zone. Four o’clock right through to midnight is my prime time. That’s when everything comes together and I’m really glad I slept enough to last until that time of night.

These are things I’ve been doing subconsciously for years and have never given a second thought. Until recently, I always had plenty of writing time, and the ritual was a by-product rather than first step. I used to see posts from other authors talking about how difficult writing was, but I never saw it that way.

These days my life is pretty fast-paced and writing time is always running low. Now when someone asks me if it’s hard to maintain focus, my answer is—absolutely!

Not because I lack inspiration or motivation, but because life is full of distractions, and the less time I spend writing, the harder it is to find the zone. But the love is as strong as ever, and hardship only makes the achievement more satisfying. You just don’t want to be the person who opens my door at 4pm.

In the words of a writing friend, ‘we’re like serial killers, we need rituals.’

My Secret Weapon

download (3)Well there’s no denying it, writing a novel is hard work. I spent so long editing the Shadow Series that to some degree I forgot what it was like to actually write a novel, after all it has been a few years since I finished the last one!

There’s a lot of hard work, even when you have an outline for the story, things change. Characters get in the way, you realise something’s missing and you need to change directions or suddenly you discover a major plot flaw. To be honest it’s one of my favourite things about writing a book, I almost feel as though each little speed bump is steering the fate of the novel to a place it was always meant to end up. I’ve heard so many authors say it, and it’s absolutely true—you are just a vessel, the characters tell their own story. And the challenges make the accomplishment worth so much more!

In saying that, it does take determination to work through the pitfalls. There’s nothing better than sitting down with your laptop and letting the words pour out, but it isn’t always like that. There are times when you just sit and stare out the window wondering how you’re going to continue. The key is to never give up, even when the writing’s bad and the story sucks you just keep going, rewriting until every little piece fits together.

Here’s where my secret weapon comes into it.

People often ask how I find the motivation to write novels, for me the answer is quite simple—once I start, it’s harder for me to stop than it is to continue. I have an inability to leave any project unfinished, I’m not sure if it’s extreme motivation or just plain OCD. But I’m not complaining. Once the first chapter of a book is written, I’m following it right to the end. There are a lot of authors who have a few stories on the go, they work on different ideas and write new material while they are editing something old. This is pretty useful to distance yourself from a story but I just can’t do it. When I’m working on something I have to give it everything and there’s no space for anything else in my head. Without this little quirk in my personality I don’t know if I’d be a writer, it’s my driving force; the thing that keeps me going no matter what obstacles get in my way.

Who could wish for more right?

Well everything must have balance and this little obsession carries over to the rest of my life. No matter what I start I can’t leave it undone! Even if it’s a huge time waster. My examples might break a few hearts but I have to say it … Game of Thrones, I know everyone loves the TV series but I don’t. I hate it in fact, the characters are awful, I can’t relate to them, I don’t like the setting, the list goes on, but I had to watch the entire first series even though I knew I hated it after just a few episodes.

And a few years ago I subscribed to a movie magazine. I found myself reading every single article word for word, even the ones I wasn’t interested in. It was so time consuming, and I was barely absorbing the information but I couldn’t stop. It took great effort for me to acknowledge there just wasn’t time in my life for this magazine once a month.

Even when I’m reading a book, this little quirk looms over me. If I hate what I’m reading I have to finish it. It’s ridiculous! Sometimes my reading slows to a page a night but I can’t move on until it’s finished. Recently I attempted Anne Rice’s Violin, I made it halfway and decided this obsessive follow through had to stop, I hate the book! But even as I write this blog it sits on my shelf taunting me. All I have to do is resist the urge to pick it back up, eventually I’ll have to forget about it right?

What can I say it’s a blessing and a curse, my secret weapon. But reading things I despise and watching hours of bad TV shows is a small price to pay! OCD in a writer … maybe not such a bad thing.

 

Life After The Shadow Series

keep calm and write somethingJust over a month ago I released the four books in my series, a lot of people asked me what was next and my answer was always, “I’ll just keep writing.” People wanted to know if I would take a holiday, after years of writing and editing didn’t I want some time to relax? The truth is I don’t feel relaxed unless I’m writing, in fact I’m lost without it.

 

For the first three weeks after the book release much of my time went into promotional work and record keeping but as I got the hang of it all I found myself with spare time again. Part of me struggled with the idea of letting go of The Shadow Series, the thought of working with new characters did freak me out a bit, I felt like I was abandoning relationships with my friends—even if they were imaginary. I realised it might take me longer to adjust than I initially anticipated. And it scared me to think how long it could be before I was ready to work on something new.

 

I tried not to focus on it too much, but there was this underlying fear; what if the Shadow Series was all I had in me? What if I couldn’t move on? I’d also sent out a lot of review requests to book bloggers and I felt like I needed to be working on something new before the reviews came back. I opened my mind to new ideas, I started recording dreams and taking notes every time a potential plots came to me. I had plenty of inspirations and a few really cool pieces to fit into a book but individually they weren’t strong enough to work on their own.

 

It didn’t take long for my spare time to turn into immense boredom, there is a quote about writing which explains this perfectly, “Writers don’t take vacations, they are either writing or thinking about writing.” And that is exactly the reason I felt so bored without a project to work on. I can handle not writing if I can at least think about writing. I need those characters alive in my head all the time. I have a pretty active social life, with great friends and family there’s plenty of things I can do to fill my time but it’s the hours in between that kill me.  What do people think about when they’re waiting at the traffic lights, exercising, waiting for a friend or trying to fall asleep?

 

My life feels aimless without a story to focus on so after a few weeks this boredom started to get to me. I decided the time was right. I didn’t have a fully formed plot but I had some cool ideas, I decided I would find a way to fit them all together.

 

I’ve been reading a lot of ghost stories lately, I loved being scared and feeling as though the story really got under my skin. I wanted to spend more time in that dark world and thought the only way to become more involved is to write it instead of just reading it. I decided that would be the premise for my new story. The Shadow Series is written in first person from the point of view of a female, I wanted to do the complete opposite in my new book, so the main character is male and it’s written in third person. The other elements are a combination of dreams, documentaries and nonfiction books I’ve read.

 

I started writing it on the 6th of June, but progress was slow. It took me a full week to finish the first chapter. It was just so strange working with a new character, after knowing my old characters so well this one felt too superficial. I pushed on but I was distracted. Partly because I was going to be submitting this chapter to my new writing group for critiquing and I was nervous about it. It was a work in progress but the quality of writing from the other members was so high I felt intimidated, I kept thinking, although it was a draft it had to be a damn good draft!

 

I went to the writer’s group and received my critique. All the anticipation was completely unwarranted. Everyone in the group is really supportive of each other, they gave amazing advice and after spending 3 hours in their company I felt my passion coming to life again. It wasn’t just receiving comments on my own work that inspired me but being involved in their stories as well. Seeing how some scenes affected all of us in the same way and realising the power in those words. I’ve received a lot of feedback on my writing from beta readers but the advice from writer to writer is quite different. It opened my eyes to new concepts and gave me more faith in letting the reader create the scene themselves. I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

 

So I went home and continued working on my ghost story, it took a little while to find my rhythm but by the end of the week I started to feel really excited about writing again. The character has more depth in my mind, the plot is almost completely mapped out and I have something to think about when I’m waiting at the traffic lights and trying to fall asleep. Everything is as it should be—life after The Shadow Series does go on!

 

 

 

Pop-Culture Makes Me Sick

The-Room-Close-up

I have this strange obsession with going against the mainstream, basically if something becomes really popular I will declare that I hate it and refuse to take part in any enthusiasm surrounding it. I’m not sure what it is, perhaps some in-built rebellion to exist as my own entity rather than following the masses. Humans are predictable but I like to think there are a few things that make me unique, I don’t just jump on bandwagons and say I like things because everyone else does.

Unfortunately this does mean I miss out on a few things. For example, for a while everyone was Seinfeld crazy, I said I didn’t like it even though I’d never watched it, then I had to wait a good ten years for everyone to forget about it before I could give it a try. The lame thing is: it’s now my favourite TV show!  I have a whole list of similar scenarios, where I end up falling in love with the very thing I passionately hated. The alternative is secretly enjoying popular culture and hiding my filthy habit away from the world—Vampire Diaries *cough*. But the one that absolutely kills me is when I discover something amazing that most people don’t know about then all of a sudden it hits the commercial sellers list and—bam—everyone’s  into it! Then I turn bitter against everyone who didn’t take the time to discover it for themselves and waited for it to be spoon fed to them. Those who know me will be nodding their heads right now …

Now that you know my personal attitude towards pop-culture I would like to introduce something that delights me. I can’t claim to have discovered this on my own for someone told me about this movie and took me along for the ride, but it’s a symbol of everything I stand for. The movie is called The Room which is an independent film: financed, written, directed and produced by a man named Tommy Wiseau,  who had absolutely no experience working in film. When released it grossed a measly $1 800, and earned the title of the worst film ever made. Everything about this movie is terrible; the acting is ridiculous, the plot is virtually non-existent, the filming is all over the place and there are so many inconsistencies you can barely figure out who the characters are and why they’re in the movie.

Why on earth would you watch this movie? Because it’s so bad that it’s good.

It has developed a cult following, usually it’s shown late at night from Indie cinemas (in Perth Western Australia it can be seen at Luna Palace in Leederville),  people go there to laugh at the incredibly bad production and yell abuse while they throw plastic cutlery at the screen. I heard about this phenomenon many months ago and was busting with excitement at the thought of being allowed to go into a cinema and throw things, not to mention the fact that I could shout too. So I waited patiently for another screening and finally the time came when I got to experience it first-hand.

Before going to a screening of The Room you need to read the viewers guide.

http://www.avclub.com/articles/a-viewers-guide-to-the-room,25721/

Although it’s perfectly acceptable to make up your own insults there is actually a structure to follow. So I did my homework, I read and revised the guide, even had a practice viewing at home so I wouldn’t miss any of the cues. After arriving at Luna’s outdoor cinema on Sunday night I was thrilled to see a big crowd, the staff passed around buckets filled with plastic cutlery and encouraged patrons to get drunk and make as much noise as possible. Before the film began we were given a basic run through of the viewer’s guide and told it was time to let go of the rules drilled into us as children about being silent in movies. I have to say it was a very liberating experience and I found every minute of it hilarious. It was funny enough hearing people shout insults at the expected moments but it was even better when the slander was spontaneous. People were shaking fists of outrage, a couple even stood beneath the screen to make their point and all the while handfuls of plastic cutlery were flying through the air. Being hit in the head with knives and forks was a small price to pay.

So while it was an amazing experience it was also a perfect example of breaking convention, it feels good to get out there and do something that we’ve been taught we’re not allowed to do. And it all started from someone watching the film and thinking yes this is terrible, everyone hates it but you know what, I think it’s hilarious and we should throw spoons at it!

 

The Hemmingway Challenge

The Hemmingway Challenge

How many words does it take to write a story? Well someone bet Ernest Hemmingway he couldn’t write a complete story in six words, but he did.

‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’

It’s short and simple but heartbreaking and effective. Six words is all it took.

 

One of the most important pieces of advice for any writer, if you can write it with less words—do. It sounds simple but it actually takes a lot of practice. There are words we put into our sentences that often don’t need to be there. It makes for cleaner writing, there is less distraction for the reader and it means they can actually think for themselves.

One of the dangers writing a novel is the lack of restriction, you start off knowing you have all the words in the world, there’s no reason to keep your sentences concise because, let’s face it—the thicker your book the more impressive it is. Caught up in a creative moment it can be hard to write cleanly. I tend to use all the words I want and cut them out during editing, but if I could learn to write with less words, it would save me a lot of time in the long run.

To give you an idea of figures, I’ve just been editing 4 manuscripts with a total word count of 465 000, the story hasn’t changed at all but I managed to take out 39 000 completely useless words. Perhaps that’s the reason writers are encouraged to work on short stories first.

I’ve never been passionate about writing short stories and I haven’t read many either but I firmly believe it’s a great way to practice language. I recently read a book containing 23 short stories, initially I found it hard to get used to the style but towards the end I started to appreciate things the author didn’t say.  For the sake of self development I’ve decided to take the Hemmingway Challenge.

Here’s my six word story, it certainly isn’t Hemmingway but I know writers will relate.

—     Wrote it, read it, deleted it.

When I began researching for this blog I came across plenty of other authors taking the six word story challenge, here’s the link if you’re interested in reading a few more … and why not take the Hemmingway Challenge yourself?

www.sixwordstories.net

 

 

The Key To Creativity: Introversion vs Extraversion

I think there is a common misconception about extraverts and introverts, some people think extraverts are loud and outgoing while introverts are quiet and reserved. It’s true these are common manifestations of the two personality types but the true meaning … Continue reading