Sep 252012

eReadersAm I the only one for whom the proverbial lightbulb takes several small clicks of the switch before it glows brightly enough to get my attention? Last year I read and reviewed Noah Lukeman’s free ebook, How to Write a Great Query Letter. In it, Lukeman berates authors who spend years working on their manuscripts only to pound out sub-par query letters in one sitting. His opinion is that writers should spend as much time on the query letter as they do on writing the book. Click one of the light switch: Why does one have to waste so much precious writing time “crafting” a god-damn query letter? Oh, yes, I get that it is supposedly a work of art that showcases the writer’s talent, abilities, and intelligence. But, really? I’m getting a bit jaded in my thirties. I’d rather write another book that could, hopefully, be read by many eager readers, than “showcase” my writing talent in a letter to one person who may not even exist*.
Continue reading »

Sep 132012

Zhang Huan Three Legged Buddha

Zhang Huan – Three Legged Buddha, photograph by Ryan D. Cole

A decade ago I would never have believed the publishing industry could change so quickly. I mean, this is the industry where the majority of houses still insist on paper submissions, printed in double-spaced Courier on only one side of the page. It’s a dinosaur, surviving only because of the prestige of a traditional publishing contract and the hunger of authors that feeds it.

Four years ago I started the first book in a trilogy, choosing this format because I had three protagonists and liked the concept of one entire book per viewpoint. Continue reading »

Sep 042012

Photograph by g_kat26

Photograph by g_kat26

A week or so ago I had one of those sparks of inspiration that usually stop me short as I backtrack in amazement to work out how my brain cobbled together something that seems so, well, inspired. I was tidying up (yes, housework), putting some books back on a shelf, when I noticed that the author of one of the books had the same name as a character from my work-in-progress. I thought nothing of it at the time, but about half an hour later I found myself mulling over what I remembered of a Wikipedia entry I’d read a year ago, that had a connection to a plot strand involving this same character. Suddenly the phrase “everything’s connected” popped into my head, and an element of the Wikipedia entry that I hadn’t considered important before wound up being the thread that tied an entire dangling subplot back into the main plot. I was so blown away I just had to sit there for a moment with my mouth open.

I’ve had others like that. An advertisement for a Hannah Montana concert led to me reminiscing about my own childhood aspirations and the games I’d invented around Alice in Wonderland (we had a wonderful embankment in our garden that made for a perfect tumble-down-the-rabbit-hole sequence). Within a day I had an entire novel outlined involving crossing over to another world.

My not-so-pleasant experience at a hotel in Torquay led to an idea for a comedy a la Fawlty Towers, but set in a family residence. My characters had other ideas when they started killing each other. That book was a mess and I eventually “frogged” it (a knitting term I love, meaning to rip all the stitches out and reclaim the yarn to start again from scratch). But I was drawn to the premise of a dysfunctional family with layers and layers of secrets, and the moment I saw a photograph of a manor house that just had to belong to this family, the pieces clicked together and I started writing.

My most bizarre inspiration was from a dream. I’ve written about this one before. The dream involved a pygmy hippo, but in the book the hippo is simply a dog. Despite it’s psychedelic beginnings, this story is my most “normal”, with no elements of fantasy or magical realism.

I’m being deliberately cryptic, I know. None of these books are published yet because I have editor’s block. And a distinct lack of time these days. I’m working on both those issues.

What about you? What inspires your stories? Do you sit down to deliberately craft ideas, or do you wait for flashes of inspiration and grab for the nearest shopping receipt or sheet of loo paper to write them down?

Aug 252012

Open Book Gateway

Open Book Gateway, Photograph by Jacky Oh Yeah

The long awaited update post. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in December – another easy homebirth, but another silent reflux baby. She hasn’t yet fully outgrown the reflux, but she started crawling at six months and is now pulling herself up to stand at eight months. Her brother hasn’t coped very well with the addition of a constantly crying baby to his life, and turning three didn’t help, either. We have had to take several steps back and re-group often. But now that the doldrums of winter are finally beginning to shift into spring, we are all feeling a little bit lighter-hearted.

A month after my baby was born, my mother died. It wasn’t unexpected; she had been seriously ill and partially disabled since 2007. But when someone is given a prognosis of 18 months or so remaining of their life, but fights for another four years, it comes as a bit of a shock when they succumb after all those extra years. One becomes used to the seeming invincibility of that person, however frail they may be. I had a very troubled relationship with my mother, and last year she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, which answered a lot of questions, and which was a huge relief to her because she said she felt she was finally understood. I will cover more detail in other posts, but I stood up to her last year and provoked a change in our relationship, received an apology from her for her abusive behaviour throughout my childhood, and we reconciled in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I was (we were) lucky to end that chapter with no regrets. I’m just a little sad that I didn’t get to test that new relationship, to have conversations with her that I never would have dared have before. And I feel sad that circumstances meant she never got to meet her grandchildren in person.

I did successfully complete the first draft of my novel before my daughter was born. 156 days in a row of writing every single day. That’s five months. 111 days in a row of hitting a target greater than 270 words. My daily average across the six months was 317 words per day (so I tripled my starting goal). I feel very happy with what I achieved, and especially with the knowledge that I can repeat that process and succeed again any time I choose.

You would think, therefore, that I would be in the process of editing that novel, but, true to form, I’ve taken on something else. I’m in the middle of a major editing job on another author’s novel. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, though, and my client is a pleasure to work with.

So. Come up for air. Breathe. Dive.

Sep 092011

Typewriter Keys

Typewriter Keys,
Photograph by Welcome to Alville

A while ago I wrote about setting myself the ridiculously tiny goal of 100 words a day on my WIP, with the view that an extremely achievable daily goal leads to a momentum of success. I’m not exactly sure what went wrong: I suspect it was a combination of a two-year break between setting the book down and picking it up again; of not having an established voice for the second protagonist yet attempting to continue the story in her voice anyway; not having a deadline and goal to work towards that I could see being ticked off daily; and not recording my progress.

Discovering I was pregnant again led initially to a panic over how much I had to do before the end of the year, especially since I’d just pre-launched my Storyteller project. Then came the shedding of all work that was not owed to people who’d already paid me or was otherwise essential for some reason. And finally the realisation that what I wanted most of all was permission to shelve the “trilogy-into-standalone” headache and achieve something completely new before the baby is born.

Sixty-five days ago I worked out how many days I had available to me and calculated how many words I would have to write per day in order to complete a first draft of around forty thousand words. It came out at a seemingly do-able 270 words per day – but only if I wrote every single day until the end of November. Weekends usually prove tricky, as do various days during the week due to activities or other reasons. I realised I would have to make a small amount of writing a priority early on in the day, rather than count on my toddler’s nap time after lunch, when I usually felt keen for a nap myself.

I started with 100 words, with the “rule” of no Internet or email until I’d hit that target. On a few occasions that meant only turning on Firefox at 10PM. Soon I was reaching my bigger target of 270+ words at least a few days in a row. Right now my stats are: 65 days in a row of writing at least 100 words on my WIP; 290 words average across all 65 days; 20 days in a row of hitting my bigger target. I’m two-thirds of the way to the apparent habit-forming 90-day mark. It already feels like a habit. The nicest part of it was when I gave myself permission to make this work important enough that it trumped almost everything else. It makes morning thinking very easy: not “should I do X higher-paying work first or Y work that I am really behind on”, but straight to the same novel every single day, with a slight frisson of guilt over the reckless luxuriousness of it. It feels a bit illicit, like I shouldn’t be enjoying it this much.

The other side-effect is that Internet fora, blog commenting, Facebook, email newsletters, and Internet marketing videos have all gradually lessened their appeal and addictiveness. Previously I would risk morning sickness because I simply had to check email/ Facebook/ Forum responses, etc, before anything else, including breakfast. I developed that habit because it was easier to sit and read or watch something while breastfeeding than to write (although pecking out a blog comment or forum response with one hand became second nature). Now I enjoy breakfast with my toddler first, while watching the birds in the garden, and then I sit down to write – and my child’s now old enough to (sometimes grudgingly) accept that I’m doing something that’s important to me and he will get milk after I’ve written my minimum hundred words. It’s not a big ask of him, but it makes me feel like I’m more than “just a mum”. I feel in control again.