Wordslinging

Journal: In search of new

New year, new words… I hope. (Can it really be February already?)

I’m in that weird place I haven’t been very often in my creative writing career — between novels. And it shows, because I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

flowers-1911205_1280

The “completed” novel has been with readers for feedback for the past few months. Most of the comments are now in, and I have many good suggestions for improvement and clarification. So far, no one has suggested anything that demands a full rewrite (phew — I’ve already written three drafts). Most of the feedback aligns or complements each other, with few conflicting views. This is a good thing!

So, on the whole, I’m pretty happy. And I’m rather keen to get stuck in and fix it all up, make it prettier.

But I’m holding back on the final revision… for two reasons.

The first reason is that I have a tendency to work on the same thing over and over and over. I much prefer to revise than create anything new. For me, new is really really hard. It’s unknown and I feel out of control. There’s no guarantee of meeting my own expectations with a first draft, let alone anyone else’s.

Refining an existing story, on the other hand, is still hard, but ultimately more rewarding, because I can see things taking shape as I work towards achieving a certain vision.

But I recognise that the whole point of being an author is to write new things to satisfy the voracious appetite of readers (or so I hope) — so I need to get better (and faster) at writing new things, instead of getting fixated on revision and perfection.

The idea is thus to write a follow-up novel right away, so that it’s past even first draft form by the time I publish the first. This will be beneficial whether I am successful in obtaining a commercial publisher (who will be more confident in me as a debut author if a follow-up is on the way) or decide to indie-publish (where publishing frequency is one of the keys to success).

The second reason for holding back on revision is even more practical. I want to be able to foreshadow any elements I introduce in a follow-up novel, which will be related to the first. After all, I may create some amazing thing that needs to be at least present in the initial book. (In fact, I already have.)

The next book

Which brings me to the next book. You may recall I was going to tackle a direct sequel to the first book during NaNoWriMo last November. So why isn’t it finished already, dammit?

I wrote about 21.5K words during NaNoWriMo and then conked out. This is partly because NaNo pace is a very fast pace for me to work. It’s a big effort for me to churn out 1500-2000 words a day on a regular basis. I really really wish I was one of those authors who could churn out 10K words a day, but I’m just not. Alas.

Even if I have an idea of where the story is supposed to be going, I still need lots of rumination time between scenes to make sure it stays heading in the right direction. (I guess I don’t trust my subconscious enough to let it have free rein.)

But with my current daily cafe writing routine, 1500 words a day of rough draft isn’t impossible… There was in fact a second reason I conked out.

One of the goals I set myself during NaNo was to not worry too much about what I was writing. I wanted to see if I could give my right brain control and see what came out of it. I was completely prepared for a whole lot of junk with some nuggets of gold.

And this is essentially what I got (or so I thought). The problem was that, once I decided I didn’t like where the story was headed, I lost interest in it and my creative juices stopped flowing. I could see a few things I liked buried in a whole lot of drivel. So I stopped about two weeks into the challenge.

Another book entirely

After a few weeks break, I started thinking about a different character entirely. A new character. And I started to wonder whether the next book would be something other than a direct sequel. Definitely linked and keeping to the overall major themes, but coming at the “big picture” story from another angle.

As a result, I’ve spent the past couple of months ruminating on how to approach the follow-up book as part of a mosaic series. Whose story is it? What is the major conflict? What’s the best way to link it directly to the first book? How does it key in with the overarching series story? Which of my existing characters get to play? (Who doesn’t?)

So far all I know is that I want it to explore a particular corner of this world I’ve created. But I don’t actually have the discreet story yet. Gah!

And then last week I read over the 21.5K NaNo words to discover they’re not as bad or irrelevant as I thought. Maybe I was onto something after all?

So NOW I’m pondering how to mesh the original follow-up story with the new ideas I’ve been having… Yep. Circles. Round and round.

One of these days — hopefully soon — I will get my act together and start writing this accursed follow-up book. It had better be soon, because I really really REALLY miss my daily writing sessions.

Journal: Nail art and NaNo

I have always liked colour and fun. I wear bright colours. I have purple streaks in my hair. And now I have little flashes of colour on my fingernails as well.

The craze that seems to be sweeping through my social circles is Jamberry nail stickers.

Look:

Those are my fingernails!

I confess this post is merely an excuse to share the above photos — I’m enjoying the challenge of nail/hand photography (for social media) as much as running around with decorated fingernails. A good photo comes down as much to creative cropping as anything. But it’s also so much fun deciding what I’m going to ‘hold’… And natural light is a must.

The lowdown on Jamberry is this: They are vinyl stickers sold online and/or via individual consultants. I’ve found them pretty easy to put on and take off, and they stay on for up to two weeks. There are heaps of designs. However, I’m not doing a full sales spiel — check out DebK or Kirstyn if you are in Australia. (Both good friends of mine and highly recommended as consultants.)


In writing developments, I am in the last week of planning before NaNoWriMo starts. (This is where writers spend November trying to write an entire novel or 50K words.)

It’s been four years since I participated, and this year it comes at a good time for me. My plan is to spend the month churning out as much as I can of the next book in the fantasy series I’m writing. At best, I’ll have the beginnings of something good. At worst, I will have some words down that can be worked into something useful. Win win!

I’m really looking forward to NaNo actually, because I’m in need of some self-discipline, and this will provide some much-needed structure. I also have a five-day writing retreat in the middle of it, which is awesome!

The planning is coming along OK. I have a starting point at least. And I have a very rough idea of the overall arc. I need to decide whether to trust my subconscious and go with whatever NaNo produces, or whether I’m better to have more of an outline. Today I had something of an epiphany, which could affect some things…

I’ll let you know in a month how I go — plus more Jamberry!

Journal: shaking in my boots

I finally sent the novel I’ve been working on to some writing friends for feedback. Huzzah! Now I’m shaking in my snazzy red boots.

redboots

It’s amazing how my mind flipped after clicking ‘send’.

Before hitting ’send’, I was pretty happy with the general shape of the draft. I’ve been dying for someone to read it — to tell me what’s working and what’s not. I’ve been hungry for suggestions for improvement. I’m ready for and in need of external perspectives. Even so, I was confident the story was holding together. Not terrible. I read it through over the past couple of months (while I was procrastinating over the final scene) and parts of it even made me smile.

Immediately after hitting ‘send’, all my insecurities surged to the fore and now all I can see are the holes: the pedestrian narrative, the mundane dialogue, the trite story. I feel like my soul is laid bare ready to be flayed. Why would anyone waste time reading anything I wrote?

And did I mention I sent this to friends?

I really have forgotten how nerve-wracking it is putting your work in front of people. How exposed it makes you feel. The purpose of writing anything is to forge a connection with readers — but what if you fail? What if your work is completely crap and no one ever, anywhere in the entire universe, likes it? WHAT IF —

OK stop. This is stupid. It can’t possibly be as bad as all that… (fingers are crossed)

To maintain perspective, I keep telling myself the following:

  • Nothing is ever perfect. The whole point of asking people to read it is to identify the areas that need improvement. (It takes a village, right?)
  • Every reader is looking for something different. So, my book might not be Game of Thrones… but, guess what? I don’t even like GoT. It’s too dark and violent and filled with unlikeable characters for my taste. Some readers might want that. Others might prefer a gentle fantasy with moral dilemmas, a bit of romance and a happy ending.
  • Not everyone can win the Booker. It’s easy to read an amazing book and self-flagellate because there is no way in hell I could ever write like that. Even though this does happen often enough, the truth is that many authors do not inspire such envy in me… While I certainly don’t aspire to be mediocre, I can’t help but notice that a great number of published authors are. (I guess my point here, in a roundabout way, is that story is more important for most readers than writing craft.)

Bottom line: Once I’ve taken feedback on board, made this book the best it can be, (figured out the best way forward from a publishing perspective…), I just need to find my readers. I aspire to be regarded as a good writer. But, more importantly, I ultimately want to connect with that sub-group of readers who like what I like.

(Having said that, if this is how nervous I am when friends are reading it, how much worse will it be if/when strangers get their hands on it?)

Meanwhile, my thoughts are now turning to the next book in the series (this is, after all, fantasy, folks!). My intention is to spend October planning, ready to tackle a draft (or part thereof) of a sequel during NaNoWriMo in November. I think it’ll do me good to write something new for a while. First drafts are so damn hard.

Journal: The quest for temperance and other things

I bet you’re all wondering how I’m going with getting stuff done? I mean, it’s been over a month since my last post (sorry), so obviously I’ve been far too busy kicking goals. Right?

Er, no. Not really…

Well, actually, yes, I have kicked at least one goal.

I have, for instance, revised almost half my novel in progress over the past three months. It was the ‘easy’ half, alas. Beginnings are so much easier than middles and ends. But it was satisfying to inject some of my Mongolian experiences into the early scenes involving horses.

Yep, the writing is going OK. It’s other parts of my life that still need a bit more focus. A bit more temperance.

I’ve already confessed my reading addiction. I tried to put limits on it over the past two months, but not entirely successfully. So now I’m taking more radical action. (Oh God, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I could still edit this out of the post…) My plan is to go kindle-free for the rest of April.

That’s right. April is kindle-free month. (I think I might go throw up now.)

Let me hasten to add that I am allowed to read, however. I have a gazillion paperbacks on my to-be-read pile. I’m hoping to make a little headway with these instead. Just not quite as much headway…

I’ve decided to give up a couple of other things in April too. The first is sugar. (Yeah, everyone is trying to give up sugar. The new poison.) The other is wine — or at least, limiting my intake to Friday – Sunday only.

So far, the sugar thing isn’t going so well. It’s really hard to give up my evening chocolate fix. But I’m trying to reduce the quantity.

It’s day 3 on the wine front, and so far I’ve passed. (Arrrgh! Give me wine NOW!) I’ve found that a glass of red at about 4pm (i.e. now) is a great accompaniment to the last work remnants of the day — one of the benefits of working from home. But, judging from the number of empty wine bottles I’ve been accumulating… Too. Much. Wine.

My motivation for reducing wine consumption is threefold: 1) I’m having trouble keeping up with stocks, 2) I’m suspicious of its possible/probable role in my expanding waistline, 3) Consuming wine in the late afternoon is a psychological barrier for me working out on my elliptical trainer…

(Oooooh, and just now, right this second, I received an email from my wine company telling me my ‘wines are on the way’. Ironic much?)

Additionally, the kindle ban will hopefully improve my sleeping patterns, which may or may not also be contributing to the waistline thing (because apparently sleeping patterns play a role in weight loss/gain). Plus, it would be really awesome if I could get up earlier and do the elliptical thing in the morning instead.

(Then, maybe, the wine habit could be re-initiated?)

I’m a little reluctant to post this… Mainly because it feels like I’m revealing a bit too much about my terrible habits. And (let’s face it) who among you really cares? But hopefully a public declaration will help keep me in line.


In other writing-related happenings, I spent Easter at the 2016 Australian National Science Fiction Convention (Contact 2016) in Brisbane. It was a delightfully intimate convention at Hotel Jen, with some interesting programming and I was able to catch up with many friends as well as meet new people.

I particularly enjoyed listening to fantasy authors talk about their researching experiences (Real Fantasy); discussions about female heroism and what makes a hero (Female Heroism: the either/or argument); a panel of bi/pan-sexual women talking about Queer SF; and the challenge of keeping characters sympathetic to the reader when you make them do bad things (Kill or be killed – The role of hard choices in writing compelling narrative).

I also attended the Aurealis Awards, which are Australia’s premier jury-voted literary awards for speculative fiction. It was awesome to see my good friend and writing buddy, Deborah Kalin, win two awards (Best Young Adult Short Story and Best Horror Novella) for her novella ‘The Miseducation of Mara Lys’ out of her collection Cherry Crow Children. (See this post from a year ago with some thoughts from Deb about the collection.) Yay!


Finally, on a more whimsical note, I have adopted a couple of new mobile office ‘tools’ this year. My Crumpler ‘green bag’ is being rested, and I’m using a new Crumpler bag, which is designed to look more like a handbag. Aside from the fact it doesn’t have as many internal pockets (in particular pen slots, which I am missing greatly), my new bag is proving ideal for carting my laptop around — or not.

To protect my laptop, I went looking for a funky laptop sleeve and found this awesome website called Society6, which sells a host of very affordable stuff featuring the work of independent artists. I liked their stuff so much, I bought two laptop sleeves.

This saves me from changing bags all the time for those (admittedly rare) occasions when I’m not lugging my laptop around. This new bag is just a bit smarter and more practical for everyday use — although I really do miss the pen slots!

Journal ~ Festivities, finishing and The Force Awakens

Festivities

Almost 20 years ago, I made a Christmas Advent calendar. I spent hours on the decoration, which is created from cut-up pieces of coloured paper, and it came out better than I ever imagined. Behind each door is a compartment for little daily surprises in the lead-up to Christmas.

Advent calendar - handmade by me

Advent calendar – handmade by me

For the past decade or so, I’ve been filling it up with gifts and chocolates each December for my various nieces and nephews — first one family and then the other. But this year, one of my sisters decided she would fill it for me as my Christmas present.

I can’t express how lovely it has been to open one of those little doors each day and receive a gift. There have been plenty of chocolates (ferrero rocher), but also rolls of washi tape, cute stationery items, a tin of puzzle cards, Christmas decorations, bookmarks, a magnet decorated by my nephew, silicone egg poachers, and a TARDIS tin with peppermints! Then, on Christmas day, a gorgeous pendant on a chain.

It’s felt like Christmas all month.


Finishing

On the writing front, I’ve had a very productive month. Since declaring my intention a month ago to finish the second draft of my novel by Christmas, I actually managed to achieve this goal!

It’s not ‘finished’, of course. I now have to go over it and fix quite a few things. For one, there are aspects of my Mongolian research to be worked in. For another, I invented quite a few aspects of my ‘magic system’ in the final chapters, so now I have to go and retrofit this throughout the entire thing – gah!

But, on the whole, I’m pretty happy with the overall shape, so at this point in time I’m planning an edit and not a rewrite. (Famous last words.)


The Force Awakens

Like a large number of other people, I recently caught a screening of Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens. And I liked it a lot.

It’s immensely fun, and very reminiscent of the originals, right down to several plot points. I very much enjoyed Harrison Ford’s reprisal of Han Solo — probably the highlight for me. It’s also refreshing to have a resourceful female character as main protagonist, but I think they could have taken equality and diversity a lot further than they did.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In my view, the fact the story builds on the platform established by the originals (as opposed to filling in backstory as did episodes 1-3) automatically gives it an advantage. In many ways, it’s a rehash of the same story, told in the same light-hearted abandon — and this is probably why it works for everyone who was so disappointed with eps 1-3. But it’s not really taking things anywhere new (yet). I hope the next movie does go somewhere a bit more unexpected…

Journal ~ update on words, song, Mockingjay

I’m in the middle of a nice little creative phase at present. The dayjob work levels went from one extreme to the other, and the latter half of November has presented lots of lovely time for me to catch my breath.

And lots of lovely time to work on finishing the second draft of this novel. It’s been slow going for the past several months, due to travel, work and plot tangles, but I really feel I’ve come out the other side. The end is in sight! I’d be so happy if I finished before Christmas. (That gives me, er, exactly one month…)


There’s also been a lot of singing in the past six weeks, with two concerts and involvement in several songs. It’s been wonderful to work with several different groups of people, some new and others familiar.

One of the songs River Wide River Deep was an original composition by Jack Tenan. He recorded the whole thing and has posted on Soundcloud…

That’s Jack singing lead vocals and playing all the instruments, with myself and my friend Christina singing backing vocals. I think it came out pretty well!


When I haven’t been singing (or rehearsing), most of my spare time has been spent reading. But I did manage to get out for some entertainment.

Tea Party smallFirst, I made it to a concert by The Tea Party a couple of weeks ago. Twenty years after its release, the band performed its seminal album The Edges of Twilight end to end. This album is one of my all time favourites and it was awesome to hear the whole thing live.

And then a couple of nights ago I made it to the cinema for the first time in ages to see The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2. The movie is really well done, and, from what I can remember, very close to the novel. The special effects were amazing.

My main complaint is related to the story/novel, rather than the movie itself…. i.e. most of the stuff that happens (Katniss and her warband trying to get through the Capital to assassinate President Snow — with a very high body count) is ultimately pointless. Well, OK, maybe not pointless… they ended up being a distraction for Snow, allowing the rebels to have their own victory. But I find it unsatisfying that a large part of the resolution of the trilogy is not due to any agency of Katniss’s. She’s essentially a pawn (as she is for most of Mockingjay). And, OK, yes she does take matters into her own hands right at the end, but that smacks of revenge, rather than a desire for greater good. (And, indeed, much of her motivation to kill Snow also lies in revenge.) Bottom line, I don’t really find Katniss heroic.

Is Mockingjay actually commenting on that? Is it exploring how the so-called “heroes” who people get behind, who give people hope, are often far from heroic? Because Mockingjay makes no bones of the fact that Katniss is a propaganda pawn for the rebels. I suppose I wanted her in the end to escape from that role. I wanted her decision to act for herself and go after Snow to mean something for the people she represents. But it really doesn’t.

OK, rambling. Thoughts?

Let’s bring back the interrobang

interrobangEver since I discovered the existence, some years ago, of the punctuation mark known as the interrobang, I’ve been intensely captivated.

It’s basically a hybrid question and exclamation mark. I think it would be very useful for writing dialogue; but, after being invented in the 1960s, it has (alas) fallen out of favour. More info here.

Nonetheless, I did once sneak an interrobang into a manuscript to see whether anyone noticed… (Nope!)

Anyway, I was just now out to dinner and came across the following stuck to a wall:

interrobang festival

Waaaah!

The Wheeler Centre is a reputable Melbourne writers centre. This event appears to be a bunch of panelists dealing with philosophical questions. Not that I care much. I just love the fact it’s bringing back the interrobang!

Example sentence using interrobang: “How the F%^K do you type an interrobang‽

(Answer: On a Mac, find it in the punctuation section of the “characters” menu (control-command-spacebar) and make it a favourite. On a PC, key in ALT 8253.)

Journal ~ Spitting out sand

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Three and half weeks. The longer it went on, the more apathetic I became. Did anyone notice, I wonder?

Instead, I have been reading. It’s much easier than writing blog posts at the end of a brain-intensive working day, don’t you know? As is my wont, I got a little feverish about it all… compulsive one-clicking and jabbing at the page-turn button on my kindle. It can be a bit like drowning in quicksand, and I just keep going down down down. (help me! give me another book!)

Anyway, I resolved (I hope) a plot issue with my novel-in-progress on Friday, and almost immediately I managed to claw my way to the surface again, spit out the sand, brush the grains out of my eyes, and take a breath. Ta daaa!

I still have a heavy workload at the moment, but at least the novel is going again.


I need to rediscover my blogging mojo too.

In fact, I’ve decided to mine my early blog (Forge & Brew) for inspiration. There’s some good stuff on there that I can reinterpret and update over here. My original thought was to appropriate the travel posts (Spain and France) from five years ago, but having just skimmed through some of the blog, I now realise there’s also a bunch of book reviews, thoughts about inspiration and creativity, and lots about writing… Stay tuned!

So today I’m just checking in to break the drought.

There’s been some fab things happening over the past little while — the writing retreat end-August was great (even if I was somewhat distracted by dayjob stuff), and I’ve been doing a LOT of singing (including a workshop with Brian Martin), partly in preparation for the SoulSong singing retreat this coming weekend. There has also been D&D of course, to the point it’s a bit of a danger this will become a D&D blog (kidding!).

I’m currently working on my next Mongolia post. With luck, it’s not too far away…

Journal ~ Update on words, Spring, bad habits

Words…

Despite my indecision a month ago, I’ve managed to get back into a good creative routine. The second half of July was work-frenzied as predicted, but August has been a delight. Lots of cafe writing sessions and I’ve started the run to the end of this novel.

So I feel as though I’m getting somewhere. Although I do have a few plotting dilemmas I need to sort out. There’s nothing quite like writing yourself into a difficult spot. I’m all for characters doing the thing that’s logical for them, but it doesn’t help if that makes the story dull or the problem impossible (or too easy) to solve. I’m going to have to disrupt a few things, think laterally, to make it work good.

Luckily for me, this coming weekend I’m heading to a writing retreat for four days. Me and a carload of food and wine and chocolate… And writing tools of course. Just the environment needed for creative inspiration. (And people to toss ideas around with.) Bring it on.


Spring…

Spring is heading our way and I never ever get tired of discovering this…

l love cutting away all the dead traps and foliage from my carnivorous plants to reveal the new shoots coming through — and, in the case of the Nepenthes plants — quite large new pitchers.

We enjoyed a sunny and mild weekend just past, and it was pleasant to spend a little time outside tending to my plants. The next task for this year will be re-potting, which I’ll tackle in another couple of months.


Bad habits…

At a farmers’ market the other week I bought a 2kg box of chocolate-coated licorice. I am on strict rationing, but it’s sooo yummy!

2kg is a lot of licorice.

Also, back in May I reported I was going to (ironically) wean myself off reading. I did pretty well in June (I read just 4 books), but since getting back from Mongolia it’s been all downhill.

This past Saturday night I might have forgotten to sleep.

That is all.

Journal ~ In limbo as a last bastion of childhood falls

It’s already over a week since I returned home from my Mongolian adventure. I still have many posts to write about that, but this isn’t going to be one of them. Just to prove I’m not a one-trick pony. (ha!)

I have other things on my mind.

Last bastion of childhood

The house I grew up in (from age 5) was demolished this week. My parents are developing the site, and various delays have meant this was a long time coming… but still I’m finding it rather emotional.

In June, just before my parents moved out of the house for the final time, we had a family farewell event that involved drawing on walls (gasp!) and getting stuck in with a hammer (waah!). My nieces and nephews had a ball.

By the end of this week, it will all be gone.

Although we’re all excited about the impending new townhouses, I personally can’t help but feel sad at what is undoubtedly the end of an era. I lived in that house for over 25 years. It has been the hub of our family for all that time.

Uncountable family celebrations — Christmases, birthdays, graduations. Cooking disasters. Backyard sport. Tantrums. Laughter.

Once, as I stood in the now-flattened jarrah kitchen, a defiant teenager, my mum threw a tub of cornflower on my head. Frustration quickly grew into laughter.

(Better stop. I need tissues.)

Anyway, I just wanted to mark the occasion.


In limbo

Another preoccupation has been my disrupted creative routine.

Routine is a funny thing. I was in a fabulous rhythm for most of the months leading up to the expedition. My creative endeavours were rollicking along nicely and I felt as though I was kicking goals.

But now I find myself in a weird kind of limbo. As I sit here eying a frenzied three-month period of client work, I’m wondering whether I should make the effort to re-establish daily weekday cafe writing sessions. They will either keep me sane in the face of a massive workload… or push me over the edge.

Of course, I’ve returned from what was at least half an experiential research trip bursting with ideas for cultural textures I want to apply to my current work in progress. As well as generally inspired by life and the great beyond to forge ahead and create.

So how much do I allow myself to be swept up in creative endeavours in the next few months? The fact I have a writing retreat scheduled for later in August is providing the ultimate temptation.