Monday, January 31, 2011

The Case of the Eggshell Skin

When I first started writing I didn’t want anyone to read my work. My stories said too much about me. They exposed my inner self. I didn’t want people to judge my writing because I felt as if they judged me instead.

I had skin made of eggshells. Aware of my fragility, I used to seek only approval so that I’d avoid the chance of cracks. It got me nowhere.

Now that I’ve been writing for a few years, my skin has grown a thick rhino layer. How did I do this? My thinking changed. I wanted to improve. I wanted my best work out there. I wanted to be proud of my words. And that meant manning up. I had to let other people read my work, judge my work, tell me my work sucked. I couldn’t allow rejection to break me. I needed to learn. I needed to accept that I can’t please everyone.

Of course, my rhino skin isn’t completely impervious. I still have days I let the doubts creep in. But that’s because I’m human… and a writer.

What’s your skin made of? How do you keep your skin thick? How do you handle criticism and rejection?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Is Writing Worth Your Time?

When we hear agents get hundreds of queries a day, when we suffer rejection after rejection, when we’ve agonised so long on a piece we can no longer tell if its any good, when writer’s block strikes with a vengeance and won’t let go – this is when we inevitably ask ourselves, is writing really worth my time?

My answer is a resounding yes. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t agonise over word choices, I wouldn’t spend hours plotting ways to make life horrible for my characters, I wouldn’t pour all my hopes and dreams into such a time consuming career.

Why do it? Because I love it. It’s as simple as that. I love creating stories, painting pictures in the minds of strangers, playing with words, building worlds, having the power to bring a moment of joy into someone’s life.

And so I write.

I don’t need to be published to do these things, but I do need to write.

What keeps you going?

I’d also like to officially thank two wonderful bloggers who gave me the Stylish Blogger Award this week.

Thanks to Michelle from Perfecting the Craft and Madeleine from Scribble and Edit.

Please visit these lovely ladies and say hi from me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Changing Face of the Humble Chapter

Twenty plus years ago books sported long chapters by today’s standards. They were often perfect mini stories with beginnings and ends. The end of a chapter was always a great place to put the book down.

These days things are a little different. For starters, there aren’t so many epic length novels unless they are historicals or written by a popular author. Stories often have a faster pace and the best ones have short chapters with cliff-hanger chapter endings.

While it’s not an absolute rule, I know I prefer the short chapters. I love a chapter that begins with a hook as intriguing as the first line of a novel and ends with a tease that compels me to read on.

Our task as writers is to make our novels difficult for our readers to put down. To do this, we need to understand these changes and embrace them.

How long are your chapters? How do you decide where to put in a chapter break? What’s your favourite page-turner?


Monday, January 24, 2011

Top Ten Countdown – Music that Inspires

Today I’m taking part in Alex J Cavanaugh’s Top Ten Countdown Music Blogfest. We are supposed to be listing our ten favourite songs of all time, but instead I will be listing the ten songs/albums that I listen to while I write. Below is the music that inspires me.

10. Hallelujah – Rufus Wainwright (from the Shrek Soundtrack). I’ve heard other versions, but I like this one the best. I don’t often listen to music with lyrics while I write but I’ve put a few in this list because of their inspirational value. This one can be a tad distracting, but I love it anyway.

9. Good Monsters – Jars of Clay. This is the only full album I’ve listed with lyrics. This makes great background music for writing because it broadens my imagination and helps to give my stories a life of their own.

8. Braveheart Soundtrack – London Symphony Orchestra. This soundtrack is not distracting and has enough power in the music that it helps me visualise scenes. Also good for sad scenes, particularly the main title.

7. Songs of Sanctuary – by Adiemus. This album is an old one but great for writing because it’s gentle. It has a tribal feel without being distracting.

6. Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack. Again, this makes great background music for writing. I particularly like “The Courier”.

5. Of These, Hope – Peter Gabriel. Amazing piece of music with a great beat and strength to it. I find this highly inspirational for my writing.

4. Bali –by Jalan Jalan. Favourite song on the album is “Lotus”. This album is soft. Great for writing quiet, thoughtful scenes. It also has a Malaysian note which makes me think of a cool breeze through the jungle.

3. Uprising – Muse. One of the few songs with lyrics that I’ll listen to while I write. It has a strong beat which is great for strong, angry or fast scenes.

2. Battlestar Galactica Soundtracks. Seasons 1-4. I think my favourite is “Storming New Caprica” from season 3. It’s great for writing fast scenes.

1. The Dark Knight Soundtrack. This is my current favourite music for writing. In particular I love “Like a Dog Chasing Cars”. It’s powerful, emotive and I see a hundred pictures in the music. I play this to death. I play this for any scene, but it works well for pivotal scenes.

What do you listen to when you write?

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Writing Process – Part 2

In my previous post I showed you how I began the writing process. I covered the idea and the first draft. Today I will finish the series inspired by Shallee’s recent Blogfest and describe my finishing stages of writing a novel.

How do I edit?
8. Chocolate. This is the stage where I eat the most chocolate because this is the stage where I begin to question everything – even my abilities as a writer.
9. The first pass. When I edit I first try to pay attention to the foundation of the story: the overall structure, where the chapters should end, the plausibility of the story, the hook in the beginning and satisfying end. This means a return to the whiteboard so I can see the big picture.
10. The second pass. I go on a search-and-destroy mission for any unwanted scenes. I look at pacing and the overall flow. I increase tension. I do the long awaited research needed for particular detailing in the story. For example, in my current WIP I will likely need to research the production process of certain types of cloth.
11. The third pass. I do line editing. This pass will often include many minor passes where I’m looking for particular details. For example, one pass will include a focussed search for those dreaded adverbs and passive sentences. If I look for too many different things at the same time, I’ll miss some or the task becomes too overwhelming. Basically, I tidy and polish.
12. The Break. This is a good time to take another break.
13. The fourth pass. I’m looking for anything I may have missed.

What do I do when I think my book is finished?
14. Critique partners. I will send out my manuscript (ms) to my critique partners. Sometimes they may get the ms early - after the first or second pass of editing.
15. I will edit again.
16. Beta readers. I will send out my manuscript to my beta readers and get their opinions. My beta readers include non-writers. Tip: because I write YA, I’ve found some teens to be my beta readers as well.
17. I will read through and edit again.
18. I will take another break. Since first impressions count so much, it’s worth taking yet another break from the ms before sending it out to the publishers/agents.
19. I will read through and edit again.
20. I will begin querying. There is no point querying until I am certain the novel is ready.

How do you approach the editing process?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Writing Process – Part 1

Today’s post is part of Shallee’s What’s Your Writing Process Blogfest. We can write about any part of the writing process, but I’ve decided to write about the whole thing from start to finish. Because I wrote more than I originally intended, I have split this post up and will post the final part of my writing process on Friday.

How does it all start?
1. The desire. You’d think the idea for a story would come first, but for me what comes first is the desire to write. No matter how great my story idea’s might be, they won’t come to fruition if I don’t have the passion.
2. The idea. I’m not one to wait for inspiration. If I did, I’d be waiting a long time. Ideas can come from anywhere, but when I’m focussed on a search for an idea, they generally spring from a single word or a single image.
3. The development. I pursue the idea, create the characters, and see if the idea is worth the time to write a novel. I will write the beginnings of a loose outline.
4. The outline. By this stage I’ve decided to go ahead with the story. I then work on a more detailed outline. This includes post-it notes on the whiteboard, character sheets which include their development through the story, world building and how the setting might change the plot.

How do I write?
5. The First Draft. It’s time to begin writing. Using my outline as a base, I try to write the first draft as quickly as I can. I try not to worry too much about detailing descriptions, proper grammar or polish. I just need to get the story down. I will often throw in a few notes to remind myself to do extra research where needed.
6. The break. I need time to step away from the story. I will either begin another project or write a few short stories.
7. The read through. I will come back to my work in progress (WIP) by reading through the entire novel. I will make short notes only, but I will try not to edit yet.

On Friday I will describe what I do at the editing stage.

How do you get started with your writing?

Kindle and Thanks

I finally caved and bought a kindle. It arrived last night! I'm so excited! But do you know what's frustrating? I don't get to play with it first. I'm in the middle of reading some paper books so my hubby is taking the kindle for a while. Oh, the agony!

What's so great about the kindle?  
  • "Look, mum, no hands!" I can sit it on my lap. I don't have to clutch it with both hands.
  • It doesn't take up copious amounts of space. My bookshelves are full and I don't have space for anymore.
  • It uses little power. I have yet to test how long the battery lasts before I need to recharge it, but I understand it goes a long way (unlike my mobile phone battery).
  • The screen is easy to read and doesn't strain the eyes.
  • I can finally read ebooks without having to sit at my computer. Woot!
Awards Appreciation:

I would also like to take this opportunity to officially thank Dezzy for the HollywoodSpy Dezmond's Angel Award. I just won't tell anyone I know what Dezzy looks like, otherwise I might break the Angel code...or something. Huge air-kisses to you Dezzy!

Thank you too to Rachna at Rachna's Scriptorium for the Magical Blog Award.
And thank you Trisha at Words + Stuff for the Versatile Blogger Award.

You are all so generous and wonderful.

Do you have an ebook reader? What do you love about it? What don't you love about it? If you don't have a reader, do you think you might get one soon?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Excitement of the Occasion

I’m putting aside the usual theme of my blog to announce to you all that today is a special day indeed. Today is HOLLYWOOD SPY'S ANNUAL AWARDS.

It’s a grand occasion. I’ve dolled myself up in a sparkly purple dress and sky-scraper heels. I’ve even put on some make-up (shocking, I know). So, come along to the ceremony, fill up your glasses and make a toast to the host: Dezmond, affectionately known to me as Dezzy, or DezzyDarling or Dezzy-baby-hun. A wonderful blogger who keeps me up-to-date with what’s happening in Hollywood, who always manages to make me smile with his comments, and whose honesty I value.

I hope to see you there.

Do you enjoy grand occasions as much as I do?


Friday, January 14, 2011

Worthwhile Links to Great Events


This is just a short post to let everyone know about some cool events hosted by some cool bloggers. Please, take the time to check them out. You won't be disappointed.

Jamie at Mithril Wisdom is having a 100 followers giveaway.
Go here to check it out.

A B Keuser is having a race to 100 followers book giveaway.
Go here to check it out.

Shallee McArthur is hosting What's Your Process Blogfest on 18th Jan.
Sign up here and post about any part of your writing process.

Alex J Cavanaugh is hosting a Top 10 Music Blogfest on 24th January.
Sign up and join in on the fun.


Reminding everyone of the greatest event of the weekend, week, month, YEAR! Dezzy-baby-hun -- erm, cough -- Dezmond at HollywoodSpy will be hosting a gala ceremony: HOLLYWOOD SPY'S ANNUAL AWARDS. Be sure to dress up in your fancy gowns and tuxedos on the 16th January and attend his fantastic event!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ways to go from Plod to Plot

Many stories fail before they begin. They lack that special something that engages the reader. The story may be self-indulgent. It may lack focus and plod along without any clear direction. These things will cause the reader to put down a book and never pick it up again. Below are some tips on how to keep your readers from boredom and frustration:

  • Have a beginning, middle and end. They don’t necessarily have to be in that order.
  • Make sure you grab your readers on the first page of your novel, on the first paragraph, on the first line.
  • Take out any scene that doesn’t add anything to the story
  • If you are bored writing a scene, then the reader will be doubly bored reading it. Remove it or change it.
  • make sure there is something new and interesting about your plot otherwise the reader will feel like they have read it all before.

  • Create believable, relatable characters.
  • Don’t use names that are long and difficult to remember or pronounce.
  • Characters need conflict but often it’s how they react to conflict that makes them interesting.
  • Take out any character that doesn’t add anything to the story. If two characters perform the same function in your story then remove one.
  • Weak and whiney characters will make a reader put down your book.
  • Readers want to see growth and change in the characters.

  • Weave in description rather than dropping in a solid block of it. Many readers skip descriptions anyway.
  • There’s no need to describe every detail in a room or every action a character takes. Readers have a vivid imagination so our descriptions should only be enough to pique their imaginations.

Pace and Rhythm:
  • Times have changed and continue to change. The majority of the population prefer a faster paced book than they did 20 years ago.
  • Rhythm is the music of your novel. It’s the subtle magic that keeps the reader’s eye dancing across the page. Match rhythm to pace and even a slow scene won’t become a plod.

What do you do when your stories begin to plod? Can you think of any other tips?

Monday, January 10, 2011

14 Lies We Tell Ourselves about Writing

Every writer has done it at some time: we’ve lied to ourselves about our writing. These lies might bring us much needed confidence, they might set us up on lofty heights, but they will soon get us into a tangle and hold us back. Below are some examples:
  1. I can only write when I’m inspired.
  2. If it’s acceptable to break the writing rules, then I don’t need to learn the rules in the first place.
  3. I know all I’ll ever need to know about my craft. 
  4. Reading is an indulgence that wastes my time when I should be writing.
  5. I don’t need to go to writing conferences or workshops.
  6. I don’t need a critique partner. 
  7. I don’t need to build a network. My writing will speak for itself.
  8. I can finish a novel in just two drafts.
  9. Editors don’t know what they are talking about. They just want to change my work for the sake of changing it.
  10. Marketing? I don’t need to know about marketing. My book is so great it will fit into the market without the need for research.
  11. I don’t need to check the submission guidelines. I know the manuscript format agents and publishers want.
  12. Single spacing my manuscript saves money and the environment. The publishers will understand.
  13. Blogging is only good for promoting my own work.
  14. Once I get accepted for publication I can finally sit back and relax.
    Have you told yourself any of these lies? Can you think of other lies writers tell themselves?

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Honesty in Writing

    Where does your writing come from? The real you? The honest you? The you you’ve kept hidden in those inner recesses? To write well requires letting go of affectations, letting go of pretences. It means delving into the soul of a matter and expressing the truth as you see it. It’s about feeding the passion and, at the same time, shaping it into your vision.

    We can’t write someone else’s story. When we try, we hover on the surface and stay where we think we are safe. But we won’t find the passion there. We won’t find the magic.

    Our beauty comes from our individuality. We need to find the courage to revel in that uniqueness, to be proud of it, and let others see it.

    For me writing is like stepping out from a cave into the sunshine – scary, exposing, but wonderful. What is writing like for you?

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    The Strength of a Story

    I’ve read poorly written books with fantastic stories and I’ve read beautifully written books with unsatisfying stories. Which one would I recommend to others? The one with the great story. The same thing goes for a movie. The film might have breath-taking imagery, it might have amazing special effects, but if the story is lacking, then I won’t come away feeling satisfied.

    Because story is so important, it needs attention. It can start with a single idea, but then we need to build up the inspiration, develop the characters, discover the setting, decide on a pace. We need to ask ourselves, does my story have a punchy beginning? Have I given it a satisfying end?

    On top of all that, a story will only stay strong if it doesn’t wander off the track without reason. In other words, no part of the piece should ever exist outside the story. In my latest WIP I wrote an amusing scene. It flowed beautifully, it made me laugh, but it had a fatal flaw. It didn’t add anything to the story. After much angst, I had to let the scene go.

    It takes courage and practise to keep a story tight. This doesn’t mean it has to be simple, but it does have to have focus.

    How do you develop story? Do you have the beginning and end in your head before you even start? Or is it a slow process involving much gnashing of teeth?

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    The Plan that’s NOT a Resolution.

    How often do you make a New Year’s resolution and then break it? Every Year? Me too. So, this year I’m not going to make any resolutions. Instead I’ve mapped out a plan (Shh, it’s all in the semantics).

    I looked back on the year that was and thought to myself, yep, 2010 was a brilliant year. While I may not yet have a book contract, I did continue to get some stories and articles published. I met so many wonderful new friends through social networking. I’ve learnt so much and I’ve grown as a writer.

    So my next obvious question is how can I make 2011 even better?

    This is my plan:
    • I will read more books
    • I will edit the two novels I wrote in 2010
    • I will start to send out queries on those novels
    • I will write another draft for a new novel
    • I will continue to learn and relearn the craft and the industry
    • I will persevere.

    All that might sound like a lot, but if I keep writing first drafts, I’ll get nowhere. If I keep editing, revising, polishing, I’ll get nowhere. If I remain inflexible and throw all my hopes into just one story, I’ll get nowhere. And so my plan is to push forward. I won’t have time to listen to that ever present voice of doubt. I’ll be too busy writing, learning, improving.

    What grand plans do you have for this year?

    A quick shout out to Ishta. I wanted to officially thank her for sending me a signed copy of Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr as a prize in a blog competition. Please, go visit her great blog and say hi from me.