A True Vacation From Writing Is Actually Hell

Life consists of writing or thinking about writing.jpgWhenever I finish a book, I feel like I’m bled dry. That’s it. I’m no longer a creative person. It’s gone away.

And I’m terrified of that possibility.

I spend a couple of weeks living my life without a project and this strange emptiness surrounds me. I become restless and irritable. I pray to the writing gods to give me something I can use and sometimes I can feel ideas trying to reach me but can’t quite catch them.

Perhaps each of those near collisions help to break down my wall, until finally, something clicks into place. And as soon as it hits, I know it’s my new book. Although just a fledgling, I can always tell when it’s the one. And that’s when my creative energy ignites.

The idea grows by the day – the characters coming to life bit by bit as I go about my daily routine. In those moments when everything else is still – when I’m out walking, or stuck at traffic lights, sometimes waiting for the kettle to boil or that surreal space in time just before I fall asleep – the idea is with me and I finally feel like I’ve found myself again.

It’s time for a new beginning.

I’m A Writer, And It’s Time To Soldier On

743999b762023e24ec8c8912992be61eYears ago I saw a documentary on SAS training. During the interviews one soldier said when you feel like your body has given absolutely everything it has, you’ve actually only used 30% of its capabilities. That concept has stuck with me, reminding me that most battles are lost within the mind not the body and whenever I feel like I’m ready to give up, I quietly tell myself, I have another 70% to go.

This idea applies to so many things in life but when it comes to writing a novel, you really have to reach within yourself, pull out everything you have to give, and then some.

People often ask about the challenges an author faces. They’re curious about the daily hurdles, the hunt for inspiration and the motivation to continue working on the same project for years. It is hard but sometimes those three words aren’t enough to explain the enormity of the task. So I wanted to give you a snap shot. To show you the true magnitude of how deep we need to dig as authors to make it through some of those last obstacles.

I’m 2 years into my current writing project, The Ninth Hunter. And the truth is, this is the hardest book I’ve ever written. But it’s not the first time I’ve said those words and it certainly won’t be the last. Which is a good thing. It means I’m pushing myself, I’m learning and I’m getting better at this job every day. But momentum is everything in this craft and this is officially the longest time I’ve spent on one novel. Why? Mostly because of challenging and adapting life circumstances that couldn’t be avoided. All those hiccups dragged me away from the book and made it harder to keep my head in the game. And when you’re working slowly, your perspective warps and it’s easy to lose consistency with your characters and plot.

Despite the hardships, I powered through. Over two years, I submitted 24 chapters of this book to my writers group and received detailed critiques from lots of talented people. I went through their suggestions fortnightly and updated my novel every step of the way. I finally completely the draft. I read the book from start to finish and rewrote my female character. TWICE. I sent the book out to 6 beta readers. I evaluated their feedback and edited the book once more. Then I began my last edit. The final step, the search for spelling and grammar mistakes. The sense of completion drew near, and I was more than ready to let this book go. It had been a long journey, but I’d given everything I had.

Then I received final notes from a seventh beta reader and a couple of significant flaws were brought to my attention. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a crushing moment for me. Not because the feedback was harsh—it wasn’t. The review was honest and constructive but experiencing that shift from visible finish line to realising the marathon wasn’t over was a difficult moment.

At first, disappointment took over but within a few minutes I realised how grateful I was to have a friend tell me what was wrong with my book before I published it and got bad reviews. And I had no doubt in my mind where I would go from there. I didn’t work for 2 years only to ignore a problem and release work that could have been better. If I didn’t fix the flaws, all the time I’d already invested in this book would be wasted.

So today, I’m back at the writing desk. I thought I’d reached my limit but now the challenge has kicked in and I know I have another 70% to spare. Ultimately, this is what I love about writing. I love how it replicates life, throwing curve balls and forcing you to push yourself right to the edge. And to the seventh beta reader, if you’re reading this, you already know how grateful I am for your help. It’s too soon to say exactly how long it will take me to patch up the holes, but there’s no doubt this book will be better because of it. Thank you!

Music For A Cause

These days everyone wants to be a part of some kind of charity, we donate over the phone, via the internet, by entering raffles in shopping centres and dropping coins in tins as we walk past collectors. There are so many worthy causes and it’s great to give to those in need but a lot of the time it’s so impersonal and we don’t know where half the money goes.

If you sponsor a child with World Vision and pay $50 (AU) a month you’d like to think all that money goes directly to the cause, it bothers me that so much is spent on sending brochures and update packages to the donator. It’s great to hear of the progress in the third world country and to know how your money is helping to make changes but there is no reason why it should come on coloured card with stickers and photos. It just goes to show that even when we’re donating we expect to be given something in return and if we don’t they’ll give it to us anyway, somehow making what should be a selfless act into a transaction.

This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to a cancer benefit that did it right, it was put together by a local organisation, JS Music Studios, to help raise funds for a member of their community who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately the treatment he needs is not covered by medicare or his health fund, and so a group of musicians and close friends organised a benefit to help out.

Tickets were $30, food was provided, games and raffles were arranged while eighteen musicians made up seven acts, took to the stage and brought the atmosphere alive. It was an amazing thing for these people to do not only for the man diagnosed with cancer, who was there to greet people and participate in the evening, but also for all those invited.  There was an amazing sense of celebration, everyone was having a great time and enjoying the live music. There was a very approachable dance floor and the crowd included people from all ages and walks of life. Once the scheduled bands had completed their sets people were encouraged to be involved in an open jam session. Some of the more talented musicians taking to the loudest instruments while people in the audience helped with percussion.

It’s pretty touching to see so many people come together and help someone they care about, all of the money donated went directly to the cancer treatment and in return the people involved were able to spend some quality time amongst talented and passionate musicians. Congratulations to everyone who participated.

Literature vs Traffic

There are a significant number of people in my life that never read books, I’ve often heard them say: why would I read the book when I could watch the movie? I won’t lie, I want to bitch slap them … but I don’t because it’s not the best way to make someone see the value in something.

I love watching movies and there is certainly a place for them, they too are a valuable art form, but I think the pleasure of reading is getting left behind in our rapidly changing world and there are far too many mind-numbing ways for people to entertain themselves.

The thing about reading is that it helps your mind to grow, it actually has to create its own images to go with the words but the great thing about it is that you don’t even notice it happening. It engages your imagination, someone else has given you the story line but you’ve made the movie yourself.  The characters will look exactly right; the way they talk, move and behave will be according to your specifications. As the scenes are running into one and other you’re trying to guess what will happen next, imagining what’s happening in the lives of the characters not involved in that chapter and relating their experiences to your own. While you are completely distracted by all these things you are learning about language and that gives you the tools to communicate with other people and express both feelings and ideas. The importance of language is a whole other subject— we wouldn’t be where we are today without the use of words and if it’s that important to our history and our future we need to ensure its survival.

That’s why I love this art project by Luzinterruptus—a Spanish design group—called Literature vs Traffic. They are known for illuminated installations in public places such as New York, Madrid, Berlin and now Melbourne, Australia. The idea behind the concept: “We want literature to seize the streets and become the conqueror of public spaces, freely offering to those who walk by a space free of traffic which for a few hours of the night will succumb to the modest power of the written word.”

Federation Square has been paved with glowing books, a space that is usually crowded with pollution and noise has been converted into a place of peacefulness and relaxation. The books were donated by the Salvation Army, all of them previously owned and loved, people are encouraged to walk around the display, read the books, take them home or even write in them. It’s a celebration of books and hopefully a reminder that words are what connect us to the world around us—all you have to do is read.

Wherever there’s a shadow there’s a light.

When I tell people about my books the most frequently asked question is: where did you get the idea? Usually it’s in a social environment and it’s inappropriate to launch into an inspirational description, but what better medium to use than a blog. My paranormal/fantasy series is about a woman who discovers her shadow can transport her to a parallel universe; it’s a terrifying place where mysterious creatures roam and danger challenges her will to survive. She’s searching for a way to protect herself but she soon discovers she has no control over the transfer and gradually the phenomenon starts to destroy her life.

So where did it all begin?

For me the idea for a book often begins with a subject, obviously there are shadows everywhere you go and I started to wonder how it would affect your life if you were afraid of them. There is a sentence in the book that says ‘You will be surprised how aware of shadows you’ll become’, and I have to say that was exactly what happened. There are certain times of day and particular lighting positions that create stronger shadows but the only time you can ever truly be without a shadow is in complete darkness. But what kind of life would that be? And what if you couldn’t tell anyone why you were so afraid of them?

There is definitely a psychological thriller vibe in the first book and it was interesting to take the journey with my character as she struggled to come to terms with what was happening to her, but my favourite genre is fantasy and that’s what I love to write. I figure the true life horror stories of insanity, death and destruction are all around me, why would I want to write about them? Instead I prefer to imagine scenarios in which the tragedies of everyday life are born out of something more mysterious. So what if her delusions were actually real?

The Shadowlands may be a parallel universe but it is nothing like the world we live in so while the concept allowed me to explore the psychological challenges the setting brought the fantasy element to life. There is no limit when it comes to fantasy and so from that point it was just a matter of coming up with creatures that would scare the shit out of me if I ever came across them!

It is the beginning of a story that is the hard part, once I start writing ideas come in regular waves and I get to live a small part of my character’s life every day. You will never find me without a notebook in my handbag because the finer details of the story come from the world around me.

Inspiration is everywhere.

Take Inspiration From Children

Cover of "Room: A Novel"

Cover of Room: A Novel

This week I’ve been reading a book called Room by Emma Donoghue. It is a very highly recommended book and now that I’ve read it I know why! It is about a boy who is locked in a room with his mother, he is five years old and he has never seen outside of those four walls. The story is written from the boy’s perspective and it offers a short insight into the mind of a child. To begin with it was hard to get used to the child-like train of thought but eventually I realised it was stirring pleasant memories, just simple things like the excitement of turning one year older, the bizarre inner dialogue that comes from playing with toys and the hilarious fear of descending steps on your feet rather than your butt.

In the mind of a child the world we live in looks completely different, it’s a place where everything is amazing and new things are happening all the time—suddenly it dawned on me that there is no better place to take inspiration from. Sometimes the world shouldn’t be viewed in a completely sensible fashion, if you love something it shouldn’t matter if that love is not conventional, the characters on TV and in books can be real if you want them to be and it’s okay to have blinding faith in something if you choose to. When you find something to be excited about you should make absolutely no effort to hide it and whenever there’s an opportunity—believe in the impossible!