Tag Archives: Sonia Orchard

writing out loud vs. honing your craft

The reason Ward’s advice to “write out loud” resonated so much with me is that after a year of studying writing I’m looking around wondering where the hell my voice went.

I’ve been studying Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT, and it is a mind-blowingly good course. My novel teacher is Sonia Orchard, and she knows her stuff. Her critiques are to the point and always pertinent.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that I have become a much better writer this year. I’ve learnt about the drama underlying a scene and the 80% of the story underlying the novel. I’ve learnt about detail and showing and about what can be ruthlessly edited out.

But it’s taken me the whole year to realise that all those things are important…to a second draft.

I was trying to re-write the first chapter of my novel, and I wasn’t feeling it. Then half-way through it dawned on me: I was writing a really good scene. And I was writing the things that agents and editors “look for” (they don’t, really – what they look for is passionate writing, whatever that looks like).

I wasn’t writing what I love. What makes me fizzle and spark inside and want to know more.

I had Sonia in my head saying Melodramatic! What does this mean? Would they really say that back then?

We all know that a first draft should be uninhibited. But I think Ward’s advice goes beyond that. She’s not just saying be uninhibited, she’s saying be so honest you find parts of your brain you never even knew you had.

Craft is important. Voice and passion are vital.

if there ain’t sparks, there ain’t sparks

When I was 22 I split up with my boyfriend of one-and-a-half years then spent eight months in indecision about it.

If indecision doesn’t sound so bad to you, you’ve probably never really been there. Move over purgatory.

Anyway, at about the seven month mark I met a girl and we fell in friendship-love on sight. She hadn’t bought into my dilemma, and one night when we were driving to eat pancakes she looked at me and said:

“Hey, if there ain’t sparks, there ain’t sparks.”

It was hands down the best piece of advice I got. It reminded me that love was meant to feel amazing and a little bit dangerous and like the world had caught on fire.

Today I decided to give up trying to write the novel I’ve been slogging away at for the last three months. I still love my protagonists, but I don’t get them somehow. There’s no joy, only the horrible gaping feeling every time I open a word document.

The novel follows on from my finished manuscript and would eventually form a series, so the reason I persisted so doggedly with it was that I thought: When I’m a published author I will have to be able to deliver on stories that I set up so strongly in previous novels.

I thought I should practice and build a set of skills to get past such monumental roadblocks as I’ve been facing.

Then I realised: As much as being publishable and a bankable writer is important, what the hell is the point if there’s no joy in what I’m writing? There’s no way that’ll sustain you through 100,000 words (and that’s a third draft).

If there ain’t sparks, there ain’t sparks.

When I broke up with that boyfriend I looked at him and thought – there’s nothing I don’t know about you. You are incapable of doing or saying anything that would surprise me.

My tutor Sonia Orchard talks about writing a novel to answer an unanswered question. You cannot know the answer before you begin, or the novel will lack, well, spark.

As I foolishly thought I knew that boyfriend inside out, I feel like I know exactly what this novel is. I’m just writing as though I’m recounting, not as though I’m exploring and asking and adventuring my way through the story.

So today I started on a new story that’s been building inside my head for months now, and you wouldn’t believe how curious I am to find out what happens next!

It reminds me of how it felt to meet my husband on my 23rd birthday, at the eight month mark, and think: Shit. I really didn’t just make up how it feels to fall in love.

And it makes me glad that even after four-and-a-half years I never, ever assume I know the man with the really odd sense of humour sitting across the table from me.

rejection is hard

So. I started this blog by recounting a certain mini-life/writing-breakdown I had. The instigator of said breakdown was a lovely, encouraging letter I got from Kristin Nelson saying she didn’t think my manuscript was right for their agency. My reactions were:

a) brilliant! I have a real life rejection letter, ergo I am a real life writer!!!; and

b) it’s quite disappointing I suppose, but they were very positive, and if I’m not for them, then they’re probably not for me either.

Then there was the reaction that worked on my subconscious like a deep, sucking tide, which was:

c) here lie the dark pits of abject despair (or: Oh dear, I’m never going to be published).

I have since dragged myself back up, and recognised that although it’s important to be positive about rejection, it’s also important to acknowledge disappointment.

So I’m back on the horse, working my way through words and structures and plot and characters. Then today I get back 2,000 words that my lovely tutor Sonia Orchard had marked up.

If you’ve ever had a piece marked up by a pro, you know how confronting that is. All the “I don’t know what you mean”, “the gap between his eyes, or her lips?” and “I’m completely confused about the seating arrangement”s.

It’s not that she was harsh or unfair – and that’s kinda the problem. It’s that most of what she said makes sense to me, and it’s so incredibly exhausting looking at this writing I’ve already spent hours on, knowing that it’s only just an outline really, considering all the rewriting I have to do.

(Look at that long, convoluted sentence! No wonder she accused me of overwriting!)

So. What I’m saying is this:

We all know writing and becoming a writer is really, really hard. But that is a completely different thing to it actually being hard – to this feeling right now that everything I’m working for just might be impossible. And maybe I should make my way to the closest bank branch and fill out an application form.

Like any act of faith, perseverance is most difficult right when it’s most necessary.