A Novel Idea

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Forget Santa. Oprah is coming to town.

My home town, Sydney, is rife with Oprah anticipation. Today’s paper has three separate articles on the subject in the same section. True friends were revealed and frenemies created in the tussle over the lottery tickets to be part of the studio audience. Tourism industry livelihoods are teetering on the success of cross promotions after a tough year of trading.

The doyenne of daytime television is due to land here next week. Her production crews have already arrived. Three shows will be filmed, airing in January.

Are Australians mad to be spending millions of tax-payer dollars on a media junket?

I must admit, I’m excited. I didn’t scramble over tickets to see her (but that is more indicative of being distracted with essays than of some deep coolness on my part). I don’t watch her show everyday. I just think she’s a good role model for women in business.

I credit her with reviving book clubs amongst ordinary people (anyone who can read, should).

I am agog with her ability to influence people’s tastes and purchases. Thank goodness her agenda seems genuinely positive.

How do you feel about Oprah?

Image courtesy of Oprah.com

I subscribed to her O Magazine when it was first launched – mainly out of curiousity. I still have some bookmarks with inspired quotes (no not of the Chicken Soup variety, more the classic literature and great minds type).

For example, one O Magazine bookmark bears this quote:

‘I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve.’

– Montesquieu

Eventually I grew tired with the product placements and let the subscription lapse.

My Oprah viewing consists of author interviews or book club specials that interest me.

Oprah’s paid visit has caused much controversy here. A lot of people view it as a waste of money (how ’bout spending the cash on improving our health care or education? they say). A few people are actually enraged by the idea.

I’ve watched our tourist campaigns come and go. They’ve cost small fortunes and launched modelling or acting careers for their stars (or leveraged existing careers).

I’m very proud of our country, particularly of our culture and breathtaking landscapes. I’m happy to share this with others, especially when it preserves those wonders with much needed tourist dollars.

How much do you know about Australia?

Forget sex sells. Oprah sells.


Travel well. Travel often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Unless you are lucky enough to write in a state of peace and quiet, cocooned from the noises of city life in a far away beach or mountain retreat, you probably take some time to switch gears into writing mode. Music – of a specific variety – helps invite the Muse into your mind.

I want to share some pieces that I have found particularly inspiring.

Music has a number of functions for the writer:

1. Music stimulates your synapses.

2. Music sets the mood: for the writer to create and for certain stories to emerge.

3. Music can give you access to a character’s perspective (and their ‘voice’) quickly.

4. Music delivered through good quality headphones can block out external noise.

Have you found other uses for music in your writing life?

The Muse Calliope by Augustin Pajou, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Surely she’s a sucker for a symphony.

Here is a glimpse of the play lists I use for each function above:

‘Get the brain working’ play list:

– Jane Rutter’s ‘Apasionada: Spanish and Exotic Pieces for Flute’ (I’m listening to it as I write this).

– Handel’s Largos

– Brahms’ Symphony No.4

If classical just won’t cut it, try jolting your brain with Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World/ Harder Better Faster Stronger’ from Alive 2007.

‘Doing my writing thing’ play list:

I find music with lyrics almost impossibly distracting. I start singing instead of writing. While I have been inspired by the words of a song before, I tend to listen to instrumental music if I’m actually writing.

Classical! I hear you say – that has no words. 

Have you considered movie sound tracks? A lot of them include mood pieces which are perfect for writing along to.

Some of my favourites:

– Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard’s ‘Gladiator’ sound track

– James Horner’s ‘Braveheart’ sound track

– Randy Edelman’s ‘Tomb of the Dragon Emperor’ soundtrack (I kid you not) 

Character play list:

How well do you know your own characters? If they had control of your stereo or mp3 player, what would be pumping out?

At the danger of appearing nutty, here’s what one of my characters loves to listen to. Can you guess their kind from their musical choices?

– Good Charlotte’s ‘Misery’

– Santanna and Dido’s ‘Feels like Fire’

– Missy Higgin’s ‘Steer’

Do you have a set of songs or artists that you write by?

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

This morning I woke fired up. Well that’s not strictly true, I woke up slowly (having enjoyed a lovely glass or two of red with my partner last night). But once cognition kicked in, I felt marvellous. Why? Because today is a day of writing for me.

I’m studying and writing my first novel this year. Last week saw the final essay of the semester submitted, so I’m a free woman.

I may not be earning an income right now, but I’m learning my trade.

After the rounds of breakfast, bathing, news and email the day was clear.

A lot of published authors caution ‘Don’t give up your day job’, and while I am cautious in some respects, I knew this advice didn’t fit me. In my early posts I talked about trying to string sentences together in the wee hours before and after a demanding day of work. It was driving me nuts. Like someone only letting you eat one M&M a day. I want a bulging handful – if not the whole packet!

So I’m sitting at my computer this morning with a mission. My novel draft is resting till next week. This week I have decided to write one short story every day and then submit them all to competitions or for publication.

Working away and then BRRR, BRRR, BRRR as my phone almost vibrates off the shelf. I’ve blogged before about my strict no interruptions policy. But it’s my Dad. I’m always going to take his call. It must be urgent – he knows the policy. I just saw him a couple of days ago so he couldn’t be missing me already surely?

Everything OK?

Yes, just wanted to talk to my darling.

Thanks Dad, but I’m just in the middle of writing…

That’s good dear … [tells me about painting the house, mangoes are in season, but does not pick up on the not so subtle nod towards THE NO INTERRUPTIONS UNLESS IT’S URGENT & IMPORTANT POLICY]

…Dad – can I call you later, I’m midstream on my writing. This is my work day remember.

On that darling. I was thinking. Maybe you should get a part-time job.


Just part-time-

We’ve discussed this. The whole point of me quitting my job was so I could finally write my novel.

Yes, but a job would get you out and about…

(I back out of the conversation – We’ll discuss this later – tell him I love him – which I of course do – but I’m irritated)

Whenever I find myself less than angelic towards either of my parents I always feel quite guilty. They love me and have supported me and almost always been 100% behind what I wanted to be or do.

I felt irritated that my perfect writing mind had been jolted into a reminder of how hard things are financially. I felt irritated that six months into this escapade it sounds like my father is losing his nerve with respect to his daughter’s ability to eventually turn a profit from her new career.

I know he is only ever well intentioned towards me.

I don’t think anyone but other writers can understand how dark and desperate some moments are in that pre-published stage.

I stomp on the little voice that whispers doubts.

I turn up the volume on anything that makes me feel a little closer to my goal.

I have to.

There is only one thing worse than failing and that is not daring in the first place.

How do you cope with the good intentioned opinions of others?

Excuse me – I have a short story to create…

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Today is Melbourne Cup day, known in Australia as the horse race ‘that stops the nation’. This prestigious race is a long one – similar to the Ascot Gold Cup, the Gold Cup at York, or the Prix Du Cadran in France. Racing has a lot in common with publishing. Both are pursuits that draw crowds for the short-lived public performance but involve a lot of hard work in the much longer lead up.

I set out on a personal challenge to be published within a year six months ago. I, like many of the horses competing today, have travelled a long way to get trackside. I’m not getting pre-race jitters, but I am starting to see that the finish line may be much further away than I first anticipated.

Pictured: Sub-zero, the 1992 winner (about the time I started watching every cup race).

Image courtesy of http://www.news.com.au/national/melbourne-cup-winner-subzero-facing-customs-red-tape-death-sentence/story-e6frfkvr-1225784048987

The recorded fastest time to date for a Melbourne Cup winner was Kingston Rule with a time of 3.16.30 back in 1990.

Thinking about racing and more specifically, racing preparation has coincided with my decision to modify my original goal. I’ve come to realize that most books take a year to print even once the writer has delivered the drafted manuscript. Without self-publishing, or already having a polished manuscript up my sleeve, it is totally unrealistic to think (without even a contract) I could pull off zero to published in one short year.

I’ve been trying to gallop whereas my current form dictates I should ease into a canter.

I still think it is crucial to set goals (ones that stretch rather than knacker you). Here’s the new goal:

I will publish my first novel by midnight 19 April, 2013. [within 3 years of setting the first word of the novel down]

And, to make this first year really count, by midnight 19 April, 2011, I will send the latest draft of the novel TO A PUBLISHER.

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

I was going to title this post ‘My First Rejection’, but that is inaccurate. Both in the context of my writing career and my wider life experiences to date.

I’ve been rejected before – just not as a ‘serious’ writer.

Significant Rejection #1: Being dumped. Ouch.

This is something we can all relate to (if we’ve entered the murky world of human relationships where love and/or lust are involved). I actually do alright on this scale. I’ve only been dumped twice. Both times for the same offence: not sleeping with the adolescent male who, in hindsight, was probably a poor choice of boyfriend anyway. Not that I’m bitter about being dumped. After a few sobs into my single bedcover I got over them. I still remember the two infamous moments in burning detail though.

Significant Rejection #2: ?

There hasn’t really been one. Worthy of the qualifier that is.

I’ve made my own luck in life. I’ve worked really hard. Eventually you get rewarded.

Sure, there are jobs I’ve gone for and not landed. I can count those on my hands. Generally I was considered inexperienced (the PC way of saying ‘too young – get back in your box you little upstart’) but capable.

Then there have been minor snubs along the lines of shop assistants not greeting you (even though you’ve been in the store well past the reasonable period of time in which you should be acknowledged). This is generally because I will walk into a store in whatever I’m wearing (which is usually something comfortable). I dress up for people I care about, I don’t dress up for shop assistants. Why should I make it easy for you to gauge my wallet depth?

I’ve known hardship. We all have. Just on varying scales.

Rejection is a separate concept.

The one thing I do care about – passionately – (family and dear friends aside) is my writing.

If you’ve been following my solipsistic blog, or have read the early posts, you’ll know I’m heaven-bent on becoming a published author.

So we come to the topic of disappointment.

In my eagerness I sent the first three chapters of my novel into a competition. The winner of the competition will have access to the senior editor at a well known publishing house. All you had to do was be unpublished in the genre you were submitting for and be better then the hundreds of other entrants. You also had to have the full novel ready to deliver when selected.

I found out about this competition when there was just over a month left to the closing date. I had nothing to submit, but it sparked a strong desire in me. A desire so strong that I quit my job in order to manage the feat of writing three terrific chapters in the space of one month.

I succeeded. I took an idea I’d been pondering and banged out the first five chapters inside a month. I submitted.

The entries were not going directly to the publisher. The writing centre which organised the competition had a manuscript assessor on hand to vet the submissions.

Two weeks ago I found out that my three chapters did not even make the short list that the publisher screened. I did not rate a mention.

I was not bereft, but I was disappointed.

Egotistically, I was even a little shocked.

How do you deal with disappointment?

Connor surprised me with champagne the night of the announcement. This is a guy who gave up buying lunch (and many other things that you can’t afford on one income). I almost cried.

What was I thinking?  

He insisted we celebrate.

Two weeks later, I can see he was right. I may not have won this time, but I’m on the path.

I do wish I could ask the manuscript assessor why I didn’t make the cut. Googling the winner I can see they have prior form in another genre. That makes me feel better, but I don’t just want to feel better. I want to be better.

I have no regrets about launching boldly in the direction of my dream.

I have time now. Time to make this novel the best I am capable of crafting.

And the good news is – technically I haven’t been rejected – the publisher never got the chance!

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 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.

  • None
  • 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.