A Novel Idea

Archive for July 2010


Last week I felt both relieved and elated to complete the first draft of my debut novel.

The week was made doubly sweet by Connor suprising me with a special dinner out to celebrate this accomplishment. We are living on one income while I finish my novel, so we both really appreciated a whiff of the good life. And the best red I’ve swilled this year.

I’ve been advised to let the novel ‘rest’, but due to our situation (and my desire to get this story polished and into real readers hands), I have every motivation to move into my second draft now.

Where are you at in your current writing project? Are there any tricks you use to keep yourself moving ahead?

Here’s my approach:

1. Rewrite the Synopsis

Writers seem to grumble about composing a synopsis. Call me sadistic, but I enjoy them. They force me to commit to a version of the story.

Today I reworked the amusingly ambitious synopsis I wrote about two months ago.

I aligned it with the actual plot of the first draft.

2. Prioritise Problem Fixes

One reason why resting a draft is a good idea (other than preventing the gag-reflex when you encounter putrid rubbish having mostly imagined writing perfectly ripe fruitful phrases) is to gain some objectivity.

Maybe I’m just naturally hard on myself, but I could tell you exactly what was wrong with my first draft as I wrote it.

Unfortunately that brilliance did not extend to fixing said mistakes at the time.

I keep a file called ‘Questions to Resolve’ containing all the difficulties I am struggling with. For example:

  1. Character A sounds like an English gent yet he’s a savage – fix it.
  2. You said object X was left behind, whereas it’s in the fight scene so you had better fix it!
  3. Writing group member quibbles over the scientific basis of occurrence Y – check your sources.

As you can see, they are more commands to self than courteous questions.

I find this a great way of freeing myself to move the text forward.

After a three day break from the novel I found more areas for improvement and can now edit with the cold precision of a surgeon’s knife.

This week I’ll prioritise the long list of 50+ grumbles and attack the worst offenders first (or the easiest depending on my mood).

3. Set a deadline

I intend to have a completed novel by early December (so I can enjoy the silly season wholeheartedly and give myself five months to find a publishing home). Five drafts seems like a reasonable figure. So I have just over a month per draft.

Am I crazy? Only one way to find out…

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Today started at 2am for me. I had one of those rare mornings when you’re awake in an instant.

A hot cup of cammomile and spearmint tea later, I was at my desk.

Pitch black outside. Still.

Furiously bright inside as I tapped away at my noisy keyboard.

By 8am, when most people are just starting work, I had achieved a lifelong goal: MY VERY FIRST NOVEL DRAFT.

After almost three months working on it I am finally finished!

Not really.

I suspect this story has another three or four (or maybe more?) drafts to go before I’m ready to unleash it on the world.

This is going to be a two-coffee day, but in the best possible way!

What would you wake up at 2am for?

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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Productive procrastination.

I grant you, it doesn’t have quite the fatuous flair of its oxymoronic cousin ‘Doing Nothing’. It does have some value, at least for me.

In today’s post I’m going to share three guilt-free activities to escape temporarily from your writing which actually make you a better writer.

I’m not going to cheat by including Reading as one of those activities. If you fancy yourself a writer and you rarely read, I’d hazard you’re not much of a writer.

I’m even going to exclude web browsing (we all know glam and gossip can be edifying in their own ways).

I’m not entirely productive when I do procrastinate. I discussed bad procrastination in my previous post:


I’m also not talking about getting up to make your fourth cup of tea or coffee which you then sip once after realising you cannot stomach another of those today. I classify that under mild leg and arm stretching, not procrastination.

Procrastination is a mental affliction preventing the physical form from coherent key tapping.

Time well spent? Picture courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/rctaylorphotography/3025951136/

If the bottom glue just isn’t working on a writing day, rather than chastise myself, I try to something vaguely useful to the overall goal.

Here are my favourites:

  1. Enter ’25 words or less’ competitions
    A lot of companies run competitions (sometimes with fabulous prizes on offer) designed to ‘engage’ the customer and increase their loyalty. As a break from serious writing, I like to challenge myself to pen pithy answers to questions like ‘Which Aerosmith song changed your life and why?’

    It gets my mind thinking along a different track (pardon the pun), and my prize haul to date includes a backstage meet & greet with a musician, a bottle of perfume and hundreds of dollars worth of books.

  2. Walk the dog
    Sadly I do not have a furry companion at the moment, but if I did, my little puppy would not have a chance to plump up. We’d be round the block, down at the park with the frisbee, sniffing the wonders of the local bakery. Actually it’s probably a good thing I don’t have a dog right now. The next best thing to walking with a mate is of course walking somewhere picturesque. How can you not be inspired to write after some lovely fresh air?
  3. Bookshop Crawl
    Like a pub crawl, the aim of a bookshop crawl is to soak up the atmosphere at one shop after another. You stop when either a) You are seized by the need to write and see your book on the shelves b) You’ve bought more books than you can read in the next year c) You’re starting to feel word sick.

    The Bookshop Crawl has the pleasant side effect that you can spy on customers and see what people pick up and take home.


So what are you doing when you should be writing?

Don’t ‘Do Nothing’. Engage in Productive Procrastination.

Maybe it’ll catch on? Maybe not.

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

For me, there are two types of procrastination from writing: good or bad.

Bad procrastination includes any activity that not only detracts from your word count or the quality of your work, it actually makes you less likely to write that day.

Bad procrastination includes activities such as:

  • Housework
    One load of washing spirals into a spring cleaning epic. I’m too tuckered out to type afterwards.
  • Socialising (Virtual)
    A Facebook friend announces a birth, death or marriage. I’m obliged to congratulate or condole accordingly.
  • Socialising (Actual)
    If my writing like a hermit hasn’t deterred a friend by now and I’m actually having a live, in-person conversation with them, they care enough to know that I am writing and will inevitably ask ‘so how’s the book going?’. If I’m socialising in writing time, I’m just going to feel bad about it.

Do you engage in bad procrastination?

Hamlet has long been identified as a literary procrastinator. I adore the play and am intrigued by the character. However I am aware that some audience members may have felt like hurling abuse along the lines of ‘Would you just GET ON WITH IT!’

Perhaps our family members also feel like saying this to us at times?

In the tradition of Shakespeare – an aside:

Here is Brendan Cowell, terrific Australian actor, as Hamlet in the Bell Shakespeare production last year. The performance I saw at the Sydney Opera House was the most enjoyable Hamlet I have seen to date.

Picture courtesy of http://www.theage.com.au/news/arts/wrestling-hamlet/2008/06/26/1214472670857.html

Slaying Claudius is akin to writing a novel. Not that writing is a murderous occupation, but it does involve pain and contemplation.

Good (or tolerable) procrastination may reduce your word count for the day, but it somehow helps in the overall journey to finishing the manuscript.

I’m putting off the rest of this post for now…

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Warning: mild sexual reference.

I don’t want to pick a fight with the woman dubbed ‘Humanist of the Year’ (2007), but I have to disagree with her on one topic: housework.

Joyce Carol Oates on the compatibility of writing and other tasks including housework: 

“If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework you can still be writing, because you have that space.”

Me on the compatibility of writing and other activities: 

“Is it appropriate to pick the lint out of your partner’s belly button while having sex? No. Great sex like great writing requires focus. Make sure the housework is in another room.”

How do you stay focused (on writing)?

I consider myself a clean person living in a hygenic but messy apartment. I must admit that since I started writing full time, the house is dirtier than before. I am stubbornly refusing to let housework encroach upon my writing time. I didn’t bring dishes or washing or scrubbing to the office – why should I change that attitude just because I’m home more often?

I like to think that I rarely nag Connor to do anything (let alone housework), but I do think I’m the driving force in getting the house clean. Except anything sink related.

Connor is a clean-up-immediately-after-dinner kind of person. I was more a morning after person (rinsed the night before of course). Or at least after my food has settled.

I’ve since come around to his way of thinking – it’s nice not to face a mountain of washing each morning.

Something strange has happened lately though. Despite the dishes getting done after dinner, there’s still a pile in the morning.

We don’t have a lot of space in our kitchen (about enough to swing a keyring).

I’ve been eating at home more often (thereby making more mess) and in this space we can’t keep up.

I have had to modify my HOUSEWORK FREE TIME ZONE to include a quick wash-up.

In general:

Don’t let housework invade your creative workspace!

Picture courtesy of http://www.whateverworks.com/itemdy00.asp?c=&T1=K7046&GEN1=New+This+Season&SKW=+KC075&PageNo=1#top

Has your writing made you more or less house proud?

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

What does it take to get your attention?

The phrase ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’ is well worn, but especially pertinent to a writer navigating slush piles.

Publishers receive so many unsolicited manuscripts that it is physically impossible for them to read your entire work. You’re lucky if they finish your first page before moving on to the next manuscript.

First impressions matter. Your first page or perhaps only your first line will be judged as emblematic of the quality of the thousands of words which follow.

How do you craft a riveting first line?

My writing process, unlike a good scientific experiment is not consistently reproducible.

Sometimes the first line I write proves to be the both the first line of the story and the best choice. Sometimes I have to write the story before I can pin the opening down.

Right now I’m working on the first draft of my first novel. I’ve set myself the milestone of Bastille Day to finish it. There’s about a hundred pages between now and then to write. I should be tapping the keyboard furiously to close the gap, but instead my mind is circling the opening sentence like a vulture sensing death.

I turn to other novels I love for insight. Here are their first lines:

“It was her scars that made her beautiful.”

~Mary Gentle, Ash: A Secret History

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  One Hundred Years of Solitude

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune, is in need of a wife.”

~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Great first lines not only grab your attention, they pull you into the story.

I may have been going to far by equating them with flashing, but they’re just as arresting. 

I wonder whether these gems arrived in the first draft stage. How marvellous if they did.

What are your favourite first lines of published works?

I best get on with the remaining hundred pages…

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

I have been writing full time now for two and a half months and seem to have established a uniform. No, I’m not talking about my multicolour flannel pyjamas and comfy terry toweling robe. Although I must confess I am sitting here in my Ugg boots (the most comfortable and the ugliest footwear I own).

No, my winter writing uniform has a lot in common with the ‘House wife/husband at the shops’ look. It consists of slate grey track suit pants, a long sleeved t-shirt, a woolen jumper, a polar fleece jacket, covered by a woolen thigh length coat with the biggest buttons you’ve ever seen. I’m typing in cut-off woolen gloves despite the little column heater pumping its guts out next to me. I’m more bird-woman from Mary Poppins than Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City right now.

I am comfortable. I am productive.

You wouldn’t believe that I gleefully pour over my monthly subscription to Vogue magazine though.

I am concerned that I risk becoming labelled with the F-word.

That’s right: FRUMPY.

It really is an insult I hope to duck my entire life.

I’ve started to wonder if Connor finds me any less attractive now that he’s coming home to a fleece-clad woman rather than a sexy sophisticated business manager.

Let me be clear, I have absolutely no evidence to support this. Except…

Except last night.

Yesterday I dolled myself up to attend a play in support of a new actress who I grew up with. I even put on make-up (I forgot the lipee though and my wallet – I seem to be turning into an absent minded creative).

Upon seeing me in my finery Connor suggested we go out to dinner rather than eating the leftovers we had planned – what a treat!

It was fun and so spontaneous. The food was great too.

But I couldn’t help wondering: am I doing our relationship a disservice by dressing to quill rather than to thrill?

Fellow feminists in the audience – resume your seats – I’ll never be the good little 1950s house wife.

Further, if my clothes are bland (they’re not actually – they’re good quality but the most comfortable tend to be the most basic), will it infect my writing with a kind of drabness?

Do I need to look like a Lorrikeet to write colourfully?

Picture courtesy of: http://nrpg.org.au/page/Newsletters.aspx

Total aside: I loved the touch of the Jenny Kee jumpers in the hiliarious series Kath and Kim on Australian ABC TV. Great example of clothing reinforcing characterization.

A quote from a great writer on the subject of clothing:

One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art. 

~Oscar Wilde

A quote from a great mind:

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it. 

~Albert Einstein

While I agree that substance should trump style, I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive.

When I dress well, I do feel better about myself. Does that translate into writing better? I think I shall have to experiment.

Do you have a writing uniform?

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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  • Violet: Thanks Alannah :) Apologies for not replying sooner: I'm finally catching my breath and the year is almost over!
  • Alannah Murphy: I remember your first post, way back when I had my old Here Be Dragons blog, and I am glad you are still writing. We all find out, sooner or later, ho
  • Violet: Good to hear that Aaron. Good Luck with your work.