24 June 2014

Follow Your Passions

During a writing class I attended years ago, the tutor asked us why we wrote. There were various answers, most taking the high road of feeling the need to write, having something to say or wanting to entertain with our writing. The tutor smiled and said it was perfectly acceptable to admit we wanted to make money.

At that time I was in the naïve stage of the writing business, and still wondering whether an 'ordinary' person like me could ever aspire to calling themselves a writer.

Fast forward to now. There have been huge changes in the publishing business, and I think for writers they are good changes, giving us more of a say in what we do and how we choose to accomplish it. However, while there may be more people making money from their writing, I doubt many have been able to give up the day job.

If you are a writer, why do you write? 

There is nothing wrong in wanting to make money from writing, but I do believe if money is your goal, you’re in the wrong business. It’s easier to make money in almost any other way. The payment per hour of hard slog is negligible, and the lottery probably offers better odds.

I’ve never been under any illusions about becoming rich through writing. If I'm ever able to make enough money to pay the bills, I will be thrilled, but money is a secondary goal. Much higher up the list are improving my skills, becoming a better writer and entertaining people.

Maya Angelou said, ‘You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.’

If you don't love writing (or anything), purely for the thing itself, if you don't have a passion for it, you won't be able to put in the work that makes you excel.

This is easily seen with children. As they grow you can see characteristics and their likes and passions develop. The correlation between things they love doing and the growth of skills is obvious. Somehow that connection becomes fuzzy as we get older, and are bogged down with stuff we ‘have to do’.

Pursue your passions, and it shouldn’t seem like work!

15 June 2014


Occasionally in a text or email from my daughter, she’ll add a #Perfectionist. It’s an in-joke between us, as I sometimes moan about by perfectionist tendencies.

I’m obviously well aware of this trait, and sometimes flaw, in my personality. I’m not a perfectionist with everything, far from it. I can live with dusty surfaces and general untidiness (to a point!). When we’re decorating, I’m definitely a ‘close enough is good enough’ worker, who manages to get plenty of paint on surrounding surfaces and myself. However, when it comes to my creative writing, it’s never good enough!

Perfection is a double-edged sword. If something is important to me, I absolutely believe in making it as good as I can, but some things just aren’t worth worrying about that much. For me, house-decorating, cleaning and a whole pile of other things definitely fall into that category. Perfection is also an impossible standard. Whether it’s trying to look as good as a model or actress, or be as fit as a professional athlete, we’ll probably never measure up, certainly not in our own eyes.

However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work at being the best we can, at things that are important to us. The hard part is knowing when we’ve done all we can, at this moment. Those last three words are important. I look at some of my early short stories and writing – the things that no one else has ever seen - and cringe when I read them. The flip side is that I’m improving.

This thing with perfection can defeat us if we take our search too far. I know I reach a point where I have to tell myself that something is as good as I can make it. Now. It’s been critiqued, edited and polished to the best of my abilities, and within that search for perfection, there is a certain pride that I’ve done my best. We have to know when we’ve reached the limit of what we can do now, and send it out into the world.

If we don’t, then we’ll never learn to be pleased with where we are now, and look at how to move beyond it.

Equally, we know when we could make something better, but we can't be bothered because we're fed up with it. It's a different feeling, and if we leave something there and don't improve it, we're selling ourselves short.

Some time ago I read the book 11/22/63 by Stephen King. In speaking about the book, he said he first had the idea as a very young writer, but knew he didn’t have the skills to pull it off at that point, so he practiced his craft and honed his skills until he felt he could write the book and do it justice.

Somewhere there is a point we have to find, where we can let go and be proud of what we've achieved, knowing there is still more of the hill to climb.

24 May 2014

Choosing Your Attitude

Yesterday I witnessed a most unusual incident, actually it was more than that, it was an extraordinary incident.

I was the third car at a junction, waiting to move onto a main road. It reasonably busy, as most people were on their way to work. My attention was on the two cars in front of me, but from what happened I guess there was a slight gap in the oncoming traffic, and the driver of the second car assumed the driver in front would go. You’ve guessed it, the first driver didn’t go, so the second car smashed into it.

I can hear you asking, so what’s unusual or extraordinary about that. In itself nothing, it’s what happened next that made it extraordinary. Both drivers got out of their cars. The female driver of the second car apologised, and was so obviously upset at causing the accident that the other driver, also female, gave her a hug.

I admit to a bit of gender bias here, but as I drove away after the incident, I was so impressed with the driver of the first car. The last thing anyone wants, or needs, on their way to work is to be involved in an accident. The damage wasn’t horrendous, but both cars will need to visit a garage. It wasn't an intentional act, but unfortunately our fast–paced lives seem to predispose us to anger. We react as if the other person did it intentionally, forgetting about the times we may have been in a similar situation and only narrowly missed causing an accident, and I certainly include myself in that.

If I wore a hat, I’d take it off to the lady yesterday morning. She turned what could have been an acrimonious encounter, into one that was resolved in a far more pleasant way. It certainly made me more aware (once again), of the importance (for our own well-being), of choosing our attitude rather than letting it be chosen by other people or situations.

On a lighter note: 

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.

19 May 2014

Getting out in the world

Writing is a solitary occupation, whether it’s your full-time job or a hobby that takes over your evenings and weekends.

That’s why I think it’s important to get together with other people, but especially other writers. They understand when you talk about the voices in your head (no, not that sort, the other voices!), the problems you’re having with plot, and they understand the lift of a great review, without thinking you’re boasting.

The past week has been a good one in respect of time with other similarly-minded people. Mid-week was our writers group meeting when we critique twenty pages of a WIP from two members of the group. These meetings are good for so many reasons: feedback, motivation, and the camaraderie and trust we’ve built up over the past four or so years.

Over the weekend I attended several sessions at the Auckland Writers Festival and met up with some writer friends. The sessions were extremely educational and inspiring. This year I attended more non-fiction sessions than fiction; hence the educational comment, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the fiction sessions and especially one with Camilla Lackberg, the ‘Scandinavian Crime Queen'.

Writing is a solitary occupation, but if we don’t get out and meet other people where will we get those ideas and snippets of conversation to use as springboards of inspiration. Meeting with other writers reminds us we're not the only ones who suffer with plot problems/unruly characters/procrastination/lack of confidence/bad reviews/not enough reviews (tick all that apply!!).

Happy Monday and happy writing.

20 April 2014


A few days ago I needed to call into our local shopping mall while I had the little people with me. It wasn’t especially busy, and the floors along the main walkway were nice and shiny, so within minutes the little people were ice skaters, doing loops and leaps, then a ballerina pirouetting. After that, they were lost in a forest on a snowy, slippery day (allowing them to skate again!).

There were shoppers around, but not enough to mean they were getting in anyone’s way. For the little people, nothing existed other than the story in their imagination.

I’m always fascinated by the way children can skate and dance and sing, at almost any time and anywhere, without embarrassment, or even being aware of other people.

I’m sure if I had the nerve to ‘skate’ along the mall, adding a few pirouettes and leaps, I’d receive more than a few odd looks. But wouldn’t life be a lot more fun if we could let our inner child soar more often.

11 April 2014

The Power of Habit

We moved house recently, not a totally unknown occurrence for us as we have nomadic tendencies, but we’d lived in the house for almost six years, which is pretty much a record for us.

The new place is only about 5 km and a couple of bays further up the coast, so I know the general area, and still use most of the same facilities, shopping etc. Because of this, there have been one or two occasions when I’ve got into the car and switched into autopilot mode, only to find myself taking a route back to the old house. Habits are powerful things!

Autopilot mode is useful and we use it in most aspects of our life. When we first learn to do something, like driving, we have to go through each individual movement, possibly even muttering instructions to ourselves as we do. However, once we’ve learned the sequence of movements and practiced them, dozens or possibly hundreds of times, the knowledge moves into a different area of our brain, and we don't think through each individual component or movement.

Habits of themselves aren’t good or bad, they are a part of our learning and development. When you get dressed tomorrow, look at what foot you put into your pants or socks first, and then the following day use the opposite foot first. It’s hard to break the habit because it’s something we do without thinking, but if we had to think through every movement or task we do, we’d be overwhelmed.

The writing work ethic is an interesting one. Some writers wait for the muse to attack, while others write every day.

My day job is non-fiction writing, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that waiting for the muse to attack doesn’t work. It may seem like a very ‘writerly’ thing to say, but in practise it means we’re not going to finish. The only way to finish a book is to write.

It’s certainly not the easiest thing in the world, especially when the sun is shining, but the bottom line is: writers write.

I speak from the experience of both sides. I’ve had periods when I’ve made myself sit down every day and write, and periods that, for various reasons, I haven’t been able to, or not felt like writing.

What I do know, is that when you sit down to write on a regular basis, magic happens. 

Now to practice the art of habit and follow the advice of Mary Heaton Vorse.
The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

30 March 2014

What's in a Name (again)

We’ve enjoyed glorious autumn weather this month, and that’s meant regular visits to the local beaches. I think I prefer spring and autumn weather as it’s still wonderfully warm, but without the humid element. One of my favourite beaches also has local stores one road back from the beach, which is very useful if you need to do the grocery shopping.

Last weekend, as I wandered along the street, a woman posed for a photo outside a clothes shop. It turned out that her name is Jean Jones, the same as the clothing store, hence the photo. Her husband added that his name is David Jones (the same name as a large department store in Australia). He joked that between them they had retail sewn up!

When starting a new piece of work, especially a novel, I find it important to get the right names for the characters. With some characters, the name comes very early in the process, and doesn't change. Other characters haven't been so fortunate, and go through several name changes before I find the right one for them.

I'm happy with the character's names in my current work in progress. However, I’ve been thinking about the next book, and toying with the idea of using a famous name. It’s made me wonder about the impact of having a well-known name, such as a character from a book. Imagine a shy female called Scarlett O’Hara, or a reticent male called James Bond. Using another slant, what would it be like having the name of a celebrity; perhaps a famous actor or a sports person? Would you be mistaken for them, get preferential treatment, or perhaps find yourself in trouble?

There are plenty of exciting possibilities.