Saturday, September 27, 2008


OK, so I'm back. My internet was down for most of the week, and since it came back on Friday I've been madly catching up on the backlog. I think I'm on top of it now.

But I was surprised at how cut off I felt without that hotline to Google. I wondered if I'd become too dependent on that connection to colleagues, friends and the vast reservoir of information available with a click of a button. I had to look for the phone book.

Good news: I actually don't think I have a dependency, I made my offline time productive and patched up a minimal connection to check email, but I can see how easy it would be to form one. It's made me aware of how easily the best tools can turn in your hand, and how deep they might cut.

So I'll make sure I use the old fashioned methods sometimes, just so I don't lose touch.

And to start, I'll track down that phonebook.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In the shadow of the King

Have you heard of Tabitha King? You might know she’s the wife of Stephen King, but do you know she’s also an author? No?

I won’t hold that against you, I found out by accident myself. I mean, I always knew she was a writer, I’d read in one of the biographies about her husband how the two met at college, and how ‘Tabby’ was a poet. And apparently ‘damn cute’, according to Stephen. But, as usual, I digress.

I discovered the first novel of hers I read by accident, but I hunted down the others with intent. I only came across it because someone stuck it on the shelf next to the Stephen King paperbacks, and I always check there. Just in case, you know, a book release might have snuck past me.

That first Tabitha King novel was The Book of Reuben and it was a revelation to me. From the first page I was falling into a parallel world, a black hole, a trance, whatever you like to call it when a story simply takes you away. Tabitha King writes engaging, lyrical prose with never a wasted word and she tells a great story. I haven’t read all of her books yet (I can be a bit of a squirrel; I like to know there’s some still waiting for me) but I have read a few, enough to know Reuben was no fluke.

Tabitha King doesn’t have a huge body of work. I wonder if it’s because she’s been busy with raising a family and being an author’s wife. I believe Lisey’s Story isn’t about Tabitha and Stephen King in the strictest sense, but it surely isn’t totally unconnected. Perhaps Tabitha King is just a writer who lays down words over a more leisurely turn of the seasons than other, more famous authors.

Has Tabitha lived in the shadow of the King? Maybe. If so, her talent is shade-loving, and has produced exquisite blooms.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why write?

Yesterday I mentioned that I write because I like it and that got me thinking about the reasons writers—supposedly—write. It’s apparently one of those ‘big’ questions that you ought to know the answer to.

I’ve come across a number of reasons given for writing, ranging from the urge to see something published to the desire to entertain people to the need to quiet the voices in one’s head. The first two sound to me like carefully prepared answers—probably by writers who came across the ‘you ought to know the answer’ idea.

This does seem to be a question levelled at unpublished writers, with the idea that you should examine why you write and if the reason isn’t profound, or you don’t have a clue, then you should give up. Like we don’t hear that already.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to write and always scribbled away in some form or another. I bet if you went back in time and asked my five year old self “Why do you write?” you’d get a deeply profound answer along the lines of “Because.” And yes I know that’s a word, not an answer, but have you tried telling any child that? I was no different, I’m sure.

As usual, I digress.

Returning to the third answer, I think that was probably an off-the-cuff honest response. Of course it could have been equally contrived and crafted to impress, except the only people who know about the voices are other writers, and they generally don’t care why anyone writes. They may be interested in how or where or when or even how often, but not why. They don’t care why they write, let alone anyone else.

Why do I write? Because. Because I can. Because it’s fun. Of course I want to be published and paid and of course I hope readers will enjoy the stories but those aren’t the reasons I do it. They aren’t why, they’re after the fact.

I write. Why not?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A matter of time

These days we have busy lives, jam-packed with work and family and leisure activities. It always seems hard to find the time to catch up with friends, to make that phone call or get together for lunch.

And then you add writing to the mix and blow all the circuits.

Writing has to be the most insanely time hungry activity ever dreamed up. It takes me so long to write a first draft, and that doesn't include all the time thinking, dreaming, brainstorming and outlining. And of course, a first draft is just a start. A very good start, much better than a blank page, but nowhere near the finished product.

It makes you wonder what people who don't write actually do with their time. They must have loads of the stuff.

It does sometimes seem crazy to invest all this time in such a bizarre pursuit.

But after asking myself the question many times over the years, at least I know why I write. I like it. It's fun. And that's good enough for me.

At least, for now.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Less than perfect

I've been a bit hit and miss with the blog lately despite good intentions of posting something every day; sometimes life just gets in the way. You know, the day job, the spouse, going to the gym (yes, I really did) the odd domestic task.

Writing, even.

So I haven't had a chance to post, and I have to accept that I fell a little short of my goals.

Yes, I find that tough. When I was younger, fear of falling short, of failure, was enough to stop me doing things. Now, I try.

Sometimes I fall short. I fail. But there's a difference between being less than perfect and failure. Falling a little short doesn't make you a failure.

I still don't like it but I've learned to deal with it. Things don't always work the way I want them to. Sometimes the writing doesn't flow the way I want it to. Sometimes, I'm just not good enough. Yet.

Sometimes I fall short. But sometimes, it all works.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Speaking in tongues

What happens when you lose confidence in your writing? When you get some negative feedback from a competition judge or a critique partner, does that mean you didn’t get it right or they just didn’t get it?

Does this mean you need to change something? But what about all the people who liked it?

It seems writers are always waiting for the sledgehammer. Five positive comments are neutralised by the one person who doesn’t like your heroine, or who thinks you use too many adjectives. Five? Even the fifty-five people who liked it can be undermined by the one who didn’t – particularly if that one person is adamant.

I think I've said it here before that I believe voice comes from inside. I think voice essentially is the muse. Usually, once you've been writing for a little while, you are already half-expecting it when someone tells you your scene-setting still needs work, or one of the character's motivations doesn't make sense, because you already have a feeling there's something wrong.

If you lose confidence and try to write what you think other people want, you lose your voice. The story may not be terrible, but it probably won’t be very good, either. It certainly won’t be wonderful.

Repeat this after me:

I will listen to my voice. I will write in my own voice. When I receive negative feedback I will allow my voice to be heard, because this is what tells me which things I need to change and which I need to fight for.

I will listen to my voice. I will...

Monday, September 15, 2008


Or, why I love Grey’s.

That’s Grey’s Anatomy to the uninitiated, who think it’s just another far-fetched medical drama where there’s a lot more steamy sex than saving lives.

OK, so there is lots of sex in Grey’s; sexual tension, sexual escapades, sexual frustration. They do save lives occasionally. They lose some too.

But that isn’t why I love Grey’s. It’s not. Seriously.

I love Grey’s because just when I think I know what’s coming next, the show surprises me. With all the time I’ve spent plotting and writing I can often predict exactly where a storyline in a book or movie or TV show is going, and that’s kind of dull.

Although I've recently been converted to the sensible ways of my outline-queen critique partner, I like to leave a bit of wriggle room. I like the freedom of discovery, and some of the best ideas I’ve had have come unannounced and unanticipated during the writing. I can still surprise myself. That’s why it’s fun.

So, yeah, I like that freshness in my dramas. I like quirky. Unrequited love. Tragedy, life or death decisions, sacrifice, emotional pain. Sly humour. Madcap moments.

So I love Grey’s Anatomy.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Word of the day

I love words. Love playing with them, rearranging them, using them, admiring them. I’d eat them if I could. So I’m going to start sharing those that particularly take my fancy.

My word of the day is efficacy.

Wikipedia definition:

"Efficacy is the capacity to produce a desired size of an effect under ideal or optimal conditions. It is these conditions that distinguish efficacy from the related concept of effectiveness, which relates to change under real-life conditions. "

I love that word! While I was studying for my equine science degree I met it almost daily, but it has now become one of those friends you sort of lose touch with.

Yet I remain true.

A word I used to great effect in my uni assignments. A word I miss. Not a word I’m likely to use much in my fantasy romance writing.

Hmm. The possibilities...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A little bit hungry

Today it isn’t about writing, it’s about another goal of mine: losing weight and getting in shape.

I’ve had an epiphany, and it’s this: I need to be a little bit hungry.

Yes, I know. The good advice, that which concentrates on the good-diet-plentiful-exercise-drink-lots-of-water appproach, preaches that you don’t have to be hungry to lose weight. I believed that for so long. But it isn’t true.

It can’t be true. I am a certain weight (nope, not ‘fessing up; I’ll tell no lies here but I don’t have to share that) and a certain amount of calories is needed to maintain that weight. I am that weight, ergo I must consume that many calories. If I want to lose weight I must eat less calories than what’s required to maintain my weight. Less calories than my body needs right now. Less food than it’s used to. Less food than I’m used to.

Of course I’m going to be hungry.

Maybe a lot at first, and then just a little bit. And then I’ll get used to it. If it triggers the compulsive parts of my personality, I may even begin to like it.

But I think I’m safe from that. I don’t like to be hungry. It makes me cranky. But at least now I know what I’m in for.

Next week. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My side, your side

Yesterday I posted on the care and training of cliches, and it becomes apparent this approach isn’t preferred by all writers. Erica, it seems, has a shoot-to-kill order in place.

It does highlight a simple truth—what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.

I’ve learned to embrace my cliches, my extra adverbs, my sentences that—after the second or third attempt—just don’t say what I want to say. I adopted these potentially bad habits because for me the alternative was to not write at all.

I was unable to silence my inner editor enough to make any progress. Every sentence I wrote, I had this shrill harpy screaming in my head: “That’s crap, awful, lame - you can’t write that.” I’d get stuck, rewriting the same paragraph over and over, getting more and more frustrated.

A few overworked pages or chapters don't make a manuscript. I had to find a way forward if I wanted to write, and I did. It isn’t without risks—it’s easy to become blind to the cliches and clunky bits. Especially the sneaky-hide-in-the-corner-ones. Good news though: I’m now able to tidy up as I go and still advance the word count, keep that story rolling.

I found a tool that worked for me. It might work for you, or it might not. You won’t know until you see how well it fits.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I never met a cliche I didn’t like

And you know, that’s surely another one right there. Cliches. Can’t live with em, can’t live without em – ooh, did I really say that?

Seriously, I was horrified recently when I realised just how many cliches I use in my writing. I use them all the time in speech too, and you can bet I was a little dismayed when I worked that one out.

But hey, at least that means I’m writing in my own voice. Right?

Cliches do have a legitimate use in writing. A phrase becomes a cliche because it becomes overused, but this only happens because the phrase is so apt everyone starts using it. These soon-to-be-cliches resonate with us; we feel they exactly describe what we want to communicate.

When writing a first draft, let those cliches off the chain. They act as place-markers, allowing you to say what you want to say and get on with telling the story. Using a cliche allows you to capture the idea or tone of something without getting hung up searching for that perfect, interesting way of saying it. It means you aren’t wasting time, agonising over a sentence that may end up cut during revisions. When you come to revise, you can freshen up those tired old phrases and find exciting, clever ways of saying it instead.

And if when you go back to look at your revised manuscript you still find cliches lurking in the corners, then you hunt down and slaughter every one of the little buggers.

Which reminds me. It’s time I signed off.

I’ve got some hunting to do.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The character is King

Or, why every writer should read Stephen King.

Yes, you read that right. Yes, I even used the ‘should’ word. And I stand by it.

Stephen King has been writing for many years, he’s produced a tremendous body of work and penned a fantastic writing craft/memoir, On Writing. Required reading, by the way.

Whether or not you read horror (I generally don’t) or whether or not you like King’s distinctive style (another reason to try his books—voice in action) it’s worth reading his work for all you can learn about characterisation.

King’s characters live and breathe. They have history and prejudices. Bad breath and bunions. They are capable of incredible acts of stupidity and astonishing acts of bravery and self sacrifice. We get to know them not through rude slaps of biography or back-story dialogue and info-dump, but through the way they talk, think, feel and behave.

And so we care what happens to them. We pray Susan won’t fall to the vampire, we hope Cujo won’t get Donna and Tad (and we even have the futile wish things could somehow work out OK for that ill-fated, rabid dog) and we certainly do want to see Roland make it to the Tower.

Stephen King masters every aspect of characterisation, and he does it again and again. This is no accident and it’s artistic excellence. King’s characters are alive and well—or as well as can be expected. Somewhere.

So give Stevie a read. It might be fun.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fear and honesty in Las Writing

For Erica it comes down to shedding fear. For me it means embracing honesty. I think we’re probably talking about the same thing.

Being true to yourself on the page.

To a certain extent, this is also being true to your voice. I agree with Erica, and I think she revealed something particularly interesting when she pointed out our themes are as much a part of our voice as the way we put words together. But I digress.

Fear and honesty. In my real life (as opposed to the fantasy life I dwell in when writing) I avoid conflict. Can’t stand it.

This is such bad news for my writing.

I’m uncomfortable with conflict, I don’t relish suspense, and so I tend to smooth the way for my characters. I tell you, fictional people never had it so good.

Drama – story – is about conflict. Without conflict there is no suspense, no interest, no damn story.

Honesty in writing means whenever I find myself shying away from something – a character set back, a sexual encounter, simply a painfully emotional scene – it’s a warning to me I’m about to duck out on something important. Something vital to the heart and power of the story.

What you write about, and how you reveal it to the reader, is just as much a part of your voice as the words you choose. Yes, and the themes that haunt you.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The year my voice broke

The other day I talked about reccurring themes in a writer’s work. Themes recur in blogs, too, and I’m airing one today: voice.

Such a precious thing, so elusive, so delicate, so vital.

I actually found my voice late last year, even though I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Nearly thirty years of trying to write what I thought I should be writing. It was a long time before I questioned whether it was what I wanted to be writing.

I’d heard about voice and how it couldn’t be described, exactly, but it was the one thing that made you unique, made you stand out. That sounded like a cop out to me. It was a lot like being single, when all those well meaning but patronising friends and relatives tell you how you’ll find the right person. One day.

Yeah, right.

But I did find that person, and I did find eventually find my voice. It just never occurred to me that when I found it, the darn thing would come with an ‘under construction’ sign around its neck.

It seems voice slowly evolves as you improve as a writer; it broadens and strengthens and increases its range as you do. I guess this means you’ll always be watching that line – be true to yourself, to your voice, but allow enough room to grow.

That’s scary and exciting at the same time, but ultimately great news. Change is a good thing, and it doesn’t mean something’s gone wrong with your voice. Having yearned for it so long, it seems only natural we'd be afraid of losing it.

But as long as I keep sight of my line, I’ll be fine. And so will you.

Friday, September 5, 2008

To crit or not to crit

Many of us who write have a small circle of critique partners, fellow writers–usually at a similar standard and with similar goals–with whom we exchange work and offer constructive criticism. Or that’s the theory.

Critiquing may be a great help in improving your work but it can also be rather like walking a tightrope over a snake-infested pit circled by tigers. And lions. Hungry ones.

OK, I got a bit carried away there, but critiquing does come with responsibility and a not insignificant risk.

The responsibility lies in making sure you give your critique partners fair and constructive feedback on their work. Your job as a CP is to help them figure out what they’re trying to say when they haven’t done that as well as they could have – you’ll need tact, by the way – and to spot any deficiencies and suggest remedies. It’s a tough job.

Now to the risks. There’s the risk you’ll offend someone. The risk they’ll offend you. The risk you’ll be making changes that are contrary to your story, your themes and your voice.

I am lucky to have some awesome CPs and this is what I’ve learnt: when critiquing it’s best to be honest, but go gently. You need to stay true to the writer’s voice and goals, not your own. This is not your story.

When you ask for a critique, be specific about what feedback you are looking for; this gives your CPs some guidance and ensures you don’t get a line edit when you just wanted to know if the plot hung together. If you listen to that voice within you’ll know which bits of advice to act on, which bits to tuck away for some thought, and which bits to dump in the bin.

Which voice is that, you say? You know. It’s the voice you let out on the page when everything is going well. Your voice.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Faith, love and the price to be paid

You might have noticed I’m kind of into the whole writing bit. No? Guess I’m too subtle for you.

Seriously–writing is my thing, I love it, and I’m always trying to get better at it. Which means digging in. Looking for the themes that run beneath.

Most writers have recurring themes in their work. Sometimes it seems a writer may be aware of these themes, other times not. I’m fairly confident Stephen King is aware how often love–undying, passionate, self-sacrificing, even old-and-comfortable love–lies at the heart of his stories, but I’m not sure he’s noticed how many times he includes a sacrificial dog. And yes, it’s a fair bet you’ll hear more from me on that.

So I think about themes in my work. What are they? How often do they appear? How can I do more with them?

I’ve identified some of mine. Faith. Sacrifice. Love. That sometimes, there’s a price to be paid.

Much of the time I don’t consciously thread these into the story, but when I go looking, there they are. Then it’s a case of drawing them out and adding some sparkle and making sure they’re properly woven in, that they rise up a few times. Making sure they’re working hard to support the story.

Have you looked at yours lately? What are your deepest fascinations?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Promotion or presumption?

My lovely and talented friend Dana just posted a blog over at Bootcamp on how attending the conference makes it easier to see yourself achieving your writing goals. This touches on the ‘other stuff’ that goes with aiming to be a published author, getting your name and your work out there.

Which raises the question: Is this promotion or presumption?

It’s been on my mind lately. One of my critique partners, Tracey (who just signed a 3 book deal, awesome work!) returned from the Romance Writers of America conference in San Francisco with the intel that establishing a web presence was essential for any aspiring author. Well, I sort of knew that; I guess I just needed to hear it that magical thousandth (ten-thousandth?) time.

So why hadn’t I done it?

It seemed, well, presumptuous. A bit like this blog. I mean, who cares, right?

I do. And you should.

Writing is my profession, and my website and blog are ways of advertising this. No one would question it if I sold insurance, cleaned carpets or manufactured dog toys. Actually, if I did any of those things as my job and waited until after I’d sold something to advertise, you’d think I was crazy. Stupid, even.

Think about that. And even if you aren’t an award winner yet, or your manuscript is not quite ready, get going on your blog, your business cards and your website. No time like the present.

Post conference rumination

I recently attended my second Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne, and I’m still in post-conference-rumination mode. Last year I’d just joined RWA and I didn’t know anyone. Oh yeah – and I was a finalist in the Valerie Parv Award, so I was a little overwhelmed.

I came away from that first conference changed. I met all these passionate, professional (no, that's not an oxymoron) writers who were supportive and organised. I picked up dozens of valuable writing tips and met fabulous writers who've since become friends and critique partners.

This year? Even better. On Friday I attended a Deep Editing course with Margie Lawson. If you write, do yourself a favour: take her class, do her online courses, buy her lecture packets. I'm already reading, writing and editing through new eyes. Thanks Margie!

All the workshops I attended were excellent, and I met a bunch of new people. I’m serving on the RWA executive committee this year and contributing to the newsletter, HeartsTalk. If you write, do yourself another favour and check out RWA. You’ll find a link on this page.

Monday, September 1, 2008

What will my mother think?

Kirsty and Erica get the blame for kicking this one off, as their comments dragged another aspect of fear kicking and scratching out into the light.

The fear of what someone else will think presents a hurdle to most writers. It can take the shape of trying to write something you don't love because you think it will sell. It can take the shape of censoring the words you put on the page. It can even stop you from writing at all.

Writing fantasy romance means I have characters falling in - and making - love. Yes, sex. Hot, steamy, inhuman sex - and what will my critique partners think when they read that bit where he...? What will my frends think? And oh, my stars - what will my mother think?

My mother thinks my sex scenes rock.

Don't be afraid, because fear in witing will make you dishonest. If you aren't writing what you love, if you aren't letting your voice shine through then you are cheating your readers. You are cheating yourself.