Tag Archives: writing

happy happy happy

I have been talking a bit about my new novel teacher – the strange creature who understands my genre. After tonight’s class she deserves yet another mention.

My teacher is Toni Jordan, a Melbourne-based writer whose first book, Addition, did extremely well here and overseas. Her second book was released last year. We studied Addition last year, and I didn’t love it. But Toni’s “I’m going to turn you all into professional writers” attitude I do love.

So tonight I workshopped again, and she asked me to see her after class. I walked up to her, she put her hands on the desk, looked me squarely in the eye and said, “What’s your plan for this book!?”

She went on to say that it was just right for the genre, “You get that this is really, really good, don’t you?” and just wanted to check that I knew what I had on my hands, and that I had a game plan for it.

I know this doesn’t mean I’m getting published, but the positive reinforcement is bloody brilliant. I’ve fought my way through the learning curve of last year, and I feel like I’m just re-emerging with the dedication and motivation that come from feeling like getting published – actually in real life – is a real possibility.

(If you’re curious about the piece that I was workshopping, it’s the first chapter of my novel, which you can find here.)

creative panic/headless-chook mode

you know that feeling, when you realise how many great ideas are banking up in your mind, and then you compare them with what you have physically produced and you start panicking?

An ms under revision, partly-written plotlines that will be entirely rewritten if I ever use them, ideas in scraps and bits.

I need one of them at least to be ready to go NOW. I have to email all the agents in the world NOW, but first I have to have something to send them. Something amazing and polished. Surely ONE of those ideas is strong enough, if I just sit down and write it?


Welcome to my brain. Here’s something I feel I’ve learnt as I’ve gotten older, and it doesn’t only apply to creative panic:

Acting on panic is not productive. If it’s 8 at night, and I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done all day, hurrying about getting a hundred words down here, an outline of a drawing down there is going to do nothing but make the unfinished feeling worse.

I’m getting better at thinking: Stop. Breathe. Do something that will actively make you feel good, like having a bath. Clear your space and your brain, and prepare for a productive day tomorrow.

gruesome mermaids

Me and Cat were talking recently about the stories we wrote as teens. I was consumed by a melodrama that has only matured somewhat.

As we were talking I remembered the feel and texture of one of my notebooks – a recycled-paper thing, with flowers on the cover. Shortly after I got my own room for the first time (can I be remembering that right? At 11/12?) I started sitting on my bed for hours at a time, writing. We’d just had all the carpets steamed, and writing was a good way to escape the smell.

The story I put in that notebook was this:

A girl was travelling on a ship from one continent to another (I’ve just remembered, it was a diary!). She and a raggedy ship-boy came to understand one another, if you know what I mean.

Then there was a terrible shipwreck! Shock! Horror!

Lucky for her, she was saved by a merperson colony on the seafloor. Then she had gills cut into her throat and became a productive member of society. She married a nice merman.

Then one day a dashing stranger turned up – a human! I can’t remember how long it took her to realise what I am sure is already clear to you… Twas the ship-boy, and he’d never given up on her.

He underwent an initiation ceremony, which I think involved fighting a shark and, of course, having gills cut, bloody and rough, straight into his lungs.

Move over Stephenie Meyer.

plotting for greatest impact; or, The Spiral

The plotting of the Lymond Chronicles is amazing. I wish there were a better word to express my admiration.

After long hours of deliberation, Cat has boiled the amazingness down to this: Dunnett’s many, subtly-planted plotlines don’t just meet/almost meet/collide the way ordinary mortals would write them. They move through the story and then, out of nowhere, they come together and spiral.

A sudden whirlpool to the ship of story. Think that scene near the end of The Little Mermaid.

One clue we have derived from this method is: plot for greatest impact. For example: my heroine saw my hero coldly seduce a married woman, back before they ever met. I was trying to figure out when to reveal what she had seen – and my method was rather wildly instinctive.

Then Cat said, “When would it create the greatest impact?”

Would that be just before he seduces her under false pretences? Just after? Just before she first sees him again in London, knowing who he is? In the presence of the woman she saw him seduce?

It makes so much sense, once you think about it, that this is a good way to go about plotting. But, as you know, I very often haven’t just thought about it.

OmmWriter: an amazing tool

This beautiful piece of software comes from a design studio in Barcelona called Herraiz Soto & Co. It’s not trying to replace whatever word-processor you use. It’s a creative space to write in, that blanks out everything else, leaving just you, the words, and some cooky new-age music (optional, thank the lord).

Here’s a screen-shot of the program with the parameters visible: a dotted line around your “page” and five simple options for type style, type size, background image, keyboard sound effects and music:

Here’s a screen shot when it’s just you and the words:

There are no formatting options, and the font is very limited. This is not a program for structuring or editing. But for that sinking-into-your-writing feeling there’s nothing like it.

Even if you expand your word-processor window to fill your computer screen, it’s still bounded by scroll bars and tool bars and page borders. This program clears it all away. You know that lovely silence you get in your head when your room and desk are tidy?

Download the free version here. It only operates on mac so far.

“your fingers are palpable”

special k said this to me today, holding my fingers in his.

“Even really good writers,” he said, “describe things you can’t feel as ‘palpable’. Why don’t they just write Holy shit, it’s tense in here!

It made me giggle a lot. It is silly how writers take on weird, archaic ways of expressing things that they would never use themselves out loud. Or in their heads. Or in an email.

One more piece of evidence that thinking is good.

thinking deep

I wrote yesterday that I think it’s worthwhile to explore difficult subjects as a writer. It made me think of a wonderful, inspiring post by Donald Maass, which reminds us to not just write compulsively, but to consciously risk ourselves in writing.

Here is his challenge:

The challenge: What is it that you—yes, you—least want to accept, refuse to feel, fear is true, find unbearable, feel angriest about, or avoid at any cost? What do you see around you that makes you sick? What in yourself makes you terrified?

Go further: What’s the truth that underlies all things? What principle guides human behavior? What’s the greatest insight you’ve even had about yourself? Or even just this: What do you know about anything that nobody else does?

Give any of the above to your protagonist and share the rest around with your other characters. Hold nothing back. Save nothing for future projects. To stir your readers you must first unsettle yourself—a lot.


on feedback

I’ve been getting quite a lot of feedback lately – some confidence-destroying, some very encouraging, some useful, some not really to the point.

It all affects me.

Which has made me think and get all existential. See, this is where thinking led me: It’s all just someone’s opinion, informed by their experience and tastes. We all know that. There is no golden standard of good writing, against which our paltry offerings will never measure up.

But it’s also very clear that my writing is equally biassed – just a bunch of things I made up, informed by my experience and tastes. There is no truth within my writing, but what I decide.

So the real trick with feedback, it seems to me, is this:

Use feedback as objects in the vast, treacherous ocean that is novel writing. Land and rest at those that uphold you. Recharge and shove off revitalised from those that encourage you. Rethink your strategy on those that make useful critique of your game plan.

Rise up and recover from those that pull you under without warning.

Because the thing is: feedback is only useful as far as it gets you where you’re going. So use it like that.

It’s naive to ignore useful feedback just because it’s not what you want to hear. It’s tragic to give up because you think feedback is anything other than a tool on your journey.

Be courageous, open and generous in the face of it. Is the conclusion I came to.

For a brilliant essay on this topic – including a scientific experiment using rats and hidden islands – go here.

banning the chuckle; waiting for checkmate

today is just a rant about a pet peeve of mine.

Every time a hero chuckles at a heroine, it makes me want to throw the book. It’s most often in the lead-up to a sex scene which makes it doubly patronising. Wouldn’t you hit a man who chuckled at you?

So I hereby call a ban on all male chuckling. Hell, all female chuckling too. Unless you particularly want a character to be smug, self-satisfied and patronising, of course.

End rant.

In other news, I am waiting for Cat to arrive for another writing day, and she is bringing Checkmate with her – long-awaited sixth and final book in the Lymond Chronicles.


(special k is not going to enjoy the next few days. Wife? What wife?)

I think I’ll make banana muffins while I wait.

whine it: re-vi-sion

me and special k are housesitting for some rich people in Elwood. It’s pretty fun. We even get all the tv channels here!

We had some people around for a tres civilized dinner last night (because we had enough seats and cutlery for once). The writerly portion of the party was catching up and a friend was saying that a) she’s more-or-less finished her first draft – rejoice! And b) she now has the different and difficult task of looking at that lump of writing and figuring out what the hell her novel is – and then revising and rewriting.

It was kinda great to be reminded that the revision process (the wilderness I have been trekking through for over a year now) is hard. And that progress, in the wilderness, feels like stumbling round in circles.