29 April 2011

Was - Editing

Last year I got together with a brilliant group of writers through the Creative Hub, and from their feedback and comments I’ve experienced some great ‘light bulb’ moments.  It’s amazing how you can know the theory of writing rules or guidelines, be able to see those rules broken or mangled in other writing, and yet be blind to them in your own work.
There have been times in the past twelve months when it’s felt like a blindfold being removed, and suddenly seeing things that had bypassed me before.
Here is a great post on the uses of ‘was’.  I’m totally in agreement with the advice to go with it in your first draft, get your story written, and treat ‘was’ as you do adverbs, fixing them up in subsequent drafts.

28 April 2011

Life, the Universe, and a TED Talk

I listened to this short TED talk yesterday - nothing about writing, but everything about life - and it resonated with me after my last posting.  Well worth the six minutes time investment. 

27 April 2011


I’ve been frantically busy with contract work (learning and development writing) with a big trip looming next week, and so my deadlines have been very real.  But at the same time I’ve been observing how I dealt with the stress. 
Basically by working.  Up at the crack of sometime when it was still dark.  My concentration was 100% (if not a bit more), and a total lack of procrastination.  If I could bottle that intensity to use at other times I’d have a dozen novels sitting on shelves now.
That got me thinking of how things and people influence us.  A lot of times influence is subtle, and we don’t even recognise it for what it is.  We like to think we are totally in charge of our thoughts and feelings.  Think about the following example.
It’s a beautiful spring morning, the sun is shining and you’re feeling great.  You’re in the car driving somewhere when a car pulls into the line of traffic right in front of you, and if that wasn't bad enough the driver then proceeds along the road about 15km slower than the speed limit, and you’re left watching the other cars disappear into the distance while having to follow this idiot.
Been there?  Had that happen to you?  If not that, then something similar.
How did you feel?  What were you shouting at the other driver?
It can really spoil your day – if you let it. 
And that’s the point.  Someone tells you they think your writing is rubbish.  Or you get, yet another, rejection.  It’s hard not to take these things personally. 
When I’m being objective it’s easy to tell myself that someone saying my writing is rubbish is not a constructive piece of criticism, so ignore it.  Or that a rejection isn’t personal. It just means I need to look at the submission, and see where I can improve it.  At the time it happens it’s all about how you feel.
We need a variety of influence and voices in our lives, and especially in our writing lives.  Constructive feedback is a valuable voice and we should be cultivating that, but we should tune out the petty voices that just try to tear down rather than offer concrete help or advice.
Develop the relationships that add value to your (writing) life.  Be that kind of person to others.
Okay sermon over now  :)

22 April 2011

What Surprises Your Character?

Today is Good Friday.  I grew up in the northern hemisphere where Easter is celebrated in Spring.  Here we are now starting to feel the freshness of autumn at either end of the day.  Spring in the northern hemisphere and Autumn here can be similar in terms of weather.  I suppose the biggest difference is the approach of winter rather than waving it goodbye.
For the first few years I lived in New Zealand Christmas was the biggest difference.  Christmas in the summer!  Weird didn’t even begin to describe how that first Christmas felt.  Barbeques and holidays at the beach - don't get me wrong I'm not complaining - but it was vastly different to snow, cold noses, and dark evenings.  It took me years to get used to it, and even now it still occasionally feels funny to be in summer clothes while shopping for presents, watching the shopping mall Santa’s sweltering in their white beards and red outfits, and listening to Christmas songs playing in the shops.
What would surprise your protagonist?  Not necessarily the large events that change their lives and start them on their character arc journey, but the smaller things that can round them out as a person, and add more depth to their character.

19 April 2011

The F Word

No that that one, this is a word people don’t like to talk about much.  Failure.  Or as a writer we possibly term it as the R word.  Rejection.
I came across this quote a few days ago.  I’m not sure who first said it, but in terms of writing it’s good advice.
‘Use every failure as an opportunity to reassess what you're doing and how you're doing it. Figure out how to do it better next time.’

15 April 2011

Am I Growing – Have I Got Any Taller?

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a fundraising event reading at a local library in Auckland.  The hardest part was finding something to read! 
We were given a time limit, which I think was 8-10 minutes.  I decided not to read something from Driftwood, because any extract that isn’t from the first few pages is confusing if the listeners don’t know the plot.  Maybe a good selling point but I didn’t feel it was fair. 
I then looked at my published short stories, but they are all rather dark, and while I’m quite happy for people to read them I didn’t want to be the cause of depression among the listeners.
So I turned to my mound of finished, but unpublished short stories.  Too long, too short, not quite right.  Amazing how time flies.
I eventually found a story called Eden, one of my first pieces of writing.  As I mentioned in the earlier post I culled more than half of this story a few years ago, but then only tweaked what remained. 
The core of the story is good, but the writing, while not awful, could be better.  The great thing is, as I was reading I saw where it can be changed and improved.
I often wonder if I’m growing as a writer (the answer depends on my mood!) but for that one moment I could give a definite yes!

11 April 2011

Non-fiction vs Fiction

I was asked recently if I found it difficult to switch between fiction and the non-fiction writing that is my ‘day’ job.
I didn’t even stop to think about it.  The answer is no, I don’t find it difficult.
After the conversation I thought about how I approach each.  Much of the non-fiction writing I do is training materials and technical manuals.  These can be for print or online.  They may be self-paced distance education, or tutor-led materials. 
Invariably the material is driven by a set of training objectives.  These might be Unit Standards, or for a corporate organisation more business driven.  Whatever their origin the learning objectives drive the subject content, and as such I write more tightly, always asking myself if the content is required by the objectives. 
Training materials need to be easily understood, and therefore plain English and short sentences are a must.  Also a necessity is a logical path through the material, and chunking of ideas, always building on new learning.
Occasionally I might find myself rethinking the logical path through the material, or the way I am chunking information, but generally speaking the editing changes for my non-fiction work are minor compared to the multiple drafts and edits in a novel manuscript.
I don’t find it difficult to switch between the two, but I think my creative writing side could learn a lot from the non-fiction side.

08 April 2011

Rewriting and Murder

When I read as a child (which I did most of the time), if I imagined anything about the writing aspect it was someone typing until they got to the words The End, and pulled the last sheet of paper out of a typewriter, which would then speedily turn into a book. 
As an adult that idea didn't change too much in that I imagined writers wrote their book only once, and that each word first appeared in their manuscript as is did in the book. 
Now I know better.
Real writers edit.  Well most of them.  I guess there are some who produce very few words each day but each are perfectly formed, and in the right order.
I think with each first draft I produce I'm getting better - I should hope so!  With the editing I've done on Driftwood, and now Lives Interrupted (along with numerous short stories and articles), I am improving on my craft, and in doing that making less mistakes in the initial draft.  Or maybe I'm just making new mistakes.
I initially sent Lives Interrupted to a UK publisher who had already published some of my short stories in their collections.  I got through the initial read of synopsis and opening chapters, and they asked for the full manuscript.  Oh joy.  It was eventually a thanks but this isn’t for us, but they did give me a paragraph on things they thought could be changed.
Lives Interrupted is told from multiple viewpoints, but I had niggling doubts about one of the plot lines.  The writing was good, but the plot line itself was weaker than the others.  The publishers confirmed my doubts and so I set about murdering a few darlings.
Getting rid of characters, plot lines, paragraphs, description, whatever it may be, is hard.  There is no other way to describe it, but if it makes the story stronger it needs to be done.  However I think it needs to be done judiciously, and I always cut rather than delete.  Those pieces then get put into another file.  The description, paragraph, character may work elsewhere. 
Sometimes it doesn’t work because it isn’t good enough, and then I delete it from the cuttings file.
As for my cut plot line.  At the moment I think the writing is good.  It just wasn’t long enough, or strong enough, to stand with the other plot strands, but I think with some changes it would make a great short story.  Recycle and reuse!

04 April 2011

What’s in a Name?

Quite a lot actually as I’m sure most creative fiction writers would agree.  I invest a lot of time and effort in choosing the right name for my characters.  It's a huge part of making them live.
For example one of the characters in Driftwood started out as a bit-player – there to play a small role in one of the sub-plots.  But as I continued with the story so he began to get in on more of the action, eventually becoming a possible love interest for Juliet.  As a bit-player I hadn't spent much time thinking about his name, and as he was Australian I called him Bruce.  Sorry if you don’t consider it an Australian name, and apologies to anyone called Bruce for what I’m about to say!
As Bruce began taking on a larger role I started having difficulties with the writing.  Reason being I just couldn’t consider a character called Bruce as a romantic proposition (I’ve already apologised!)  So he had to have a change of name and became Alex, and yes there are probably people out there going ‘oh no, not Alex, that’s not romantic.’
Which I guess leads to the question.  Have you read a book where the name of the main character really put you off?  Or a name seemed to be a bad fit for a character?

01 April 2011

What Can You Do In 80 days?

According to Jules Verne you can go around the world.  Today with air travel it takes a lot less time, though with the limited leg room in economy class it feels like 80 days.
How about writing a novel?
If you missed NaNoWriMo here’s your chance.  May – You Write Your Novel Challenge.
The challenge is to write 80,000 words in 80 days beginning on 1st May and ending on 19th July.  The idea is to write the first draft of an 80k novel.  First draft note, not a masterpiece, you're allowed to edit later!
If you wanted some motivation to get started on your idea, a kick up the pants, or just to know there are other writers out there slaving over a hot keyboard have a look at the blog.