A Novel Idea

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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.

V.

(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.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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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.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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:

https://nouvellenovel.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/how-to-procrastinate-productively-part-one/

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.

V.

(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.

V.

(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.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Today writing has been like trying to peel the label off a jam jar without ripping it: nigh impossible.

I didn’t particularly make it easy for myself. I’ve been chief procrastinator all day.

I spent most of the morning flapping around organising stuff rather than writing.

Sure, some of it is related to my writing:

I’ve registered for an upcoming conference, coordinated the next catch up with my writing group, and researched an aspect of my novel.

I spent a great deal of time on Google Maps locating the best town of origin for the protagonist’s nemesis.

I resisted the urge to answer my phone.  Sorry mum. Thanks for the txt.

I’ve unsubscribed from a random mail list (just because I buy from you once does not mean I want to receive your World Cup Socceroos thinly veiled selling attempt).

Some of my procrastination has been totally unrelated to my writing:

In an attempt to stop my close friends from thinking I’ve turned into a hermit, I’ve arranged a weekend catch up.

I’ve washed up.

I’ve bought pasta for our dinner tonight.

I’ve researched various perfumes even though that is by no means in the budget.

How do you write when you’re just not in the mood?

One blessed letter at a time.

Back to it for me. This could be a late night.

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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Here I am, brazenly quitting my job, delaying my dream wedding by a year, turning us into a frugal one-income household. All so I could write. So I could let the novel clanging around my brain escape and get paid for it.

It was all going so well.

I banged out three chapters. I had people read it (people who have no incentive to stroke my ego). They liked it. Wanted to read more.

I got brave. I sent it into a competition.

I kept going. Chapter four materialized.

Then I did something that sounds like a really good idea for a beginning writer.

I went to a writer’s festival.

The Sydney Writers Festival.

That was last weekend. I haven’t written a new word since.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. I have written this blog. I have also edited my previous words. I’ve handed in a university assignment. I’ve texted.

But I haven’t furthered my story by even one new word all week.

Why? I’ve been asking myself this since Monday afternoon.

I have a daily word target. 800 words a day, 6 days a week. That may seem a lot, or it may seem miniscule to you. I’m not a fast writer. At least not so far. I currently owe my story 3,200 words. ACK!

Why this debt of words? I blame the festival.

The highlight of the weekend was sitting approximately 5 metres away from Peter Carey, listening to him discuss his new novel, Parrot and Olivier in America. This made me feel good. He seemed like any other person, albeit with an exceptional talent.

I went back for a second day of back to back author panel discussions. I absorbed.

I pondered.

I came to the realization that though my novel has a clear ‘voice’, I don’t know my characters well enough to write purely in their ‘voices’. This is a problem.

It’s not that I don’t know my characters. I know what they want, I know their fears. I know their passions. Yet somehow I’m still not fully in their heads.

How do I know this?

The dialogue. The words of the main character and his sidekick are virtually interchangeable.

If they were fully formed characters that wouldn’t happen.

!@#$3%#%%$%%55^&^6

Clearly it’s not the festival’s fault. Being in the presence of so many authors, talking about their own work, sometimes entertainingly, sometimes not, made me examine my own.

Essentially I’m not letting myself write because I don’t really know what I’m doing.

I know enough to string sentences together, but I have a gap. An experience gap.

I’ve never written at novel length before. I’ve never had to construct characters of such depth.

I’m worried this is going to take some time to ease into. I don’t have the luxury of time.

I have a deadline. I’ve sent the first three chapters into a competition. If, by some wonderful happening my work actually rates a mention and makes it ‘on the list’, I have to cough up the manuscript. The full manuscript.

I now have 30 days to write another 37,000 words. Not only do I need to snap out of this not writing limbo, but I have to bump up my daily word count by more than 50% to 1233 words.

ACK! ACK! ACK! ACK!

Deep breath.

I’m playing hard-ball. No chocolate until the 1,233 words are written and saved each day. No, that’s not consequential enough.

Unless I write at least 1,233 words each day, the entire chocolate stash is being thrown out.

That’s more like it. Connor has a sweeter tooth than I do. If I have to throw out the weekly chocolate ration, there’ll be hell to pay.

Write well. Write often.

V.

100 days. One HUNDRED days. It sounds like a long time. 

We measure Prime Ministers and Presidents by what they can achieve in this slice. They usually come up wanting.

My first hundred days opens spectacularly. My fiancé and I leave our Paris hotel room to brave the cold and mingle with the French in the streets of the 16th arrondisement. We hold each other as 2009 moves into 2010. The start of a new decade.

My New Year’s resolution to become published sparkles in my mind as brightly as the coloured lights of The Eiffel Tower before us.

Three weeks later. We’re back in Australia, back to work, and sadly back to reality.

I return to my habit of waking up early to squeeze thirty or forty minutes of solid writing in before work. It’s a relatively new habit, begun after taking a six week fiction writing course at a community college a couple of months before our big trip. Every week we had to turn in writing for critiquing by the group. With my stupidly demanding job and the postgraduate degree I’ve started ‘in my spare time’, the only time I can write is at sparrow’s fart.

In the world beyond, the Global Financial Crisis is still wreaking havoc. Colleagues are ‘leaving’, entire divisions are ‘restructuring’. I get a new boss, one in another country, one who feels it is perfectly reasonable to call me during dinner, repeatedly, for non-urgent requests. Suddenly there is never any boundary to when work stops and my own time begins.

I’ve worked many a long night or early morning. I’ve done it for weeks at a time for crucial projects. I get the job done. But this is something else.

I keep my goal in mind. I try to maintain my early morning starts. Late night conference calls across multiple continents are shearing my sleep closer than an Australian jumbuck. Two strong coffees aren’t enough. I start missing important family functions.

My morning output could best be described as ‘a random collection of letters’, certainly not writing.

I’m getting desperate.

My partner, Connor, sits me down. This isn’t working. You’re stressed out. You whinge about your work everyday, yet you used to love it. I’m getting sick of you being unhappy.

You’re sick of me being unhappy?

Back and forth.

Eventually, a plan. This year, we’re saving for the wedding. Next year, we’ll save for a year off for you to write.

OK.

Not OK. V has the brilliant idea to take a tougher job (with more pay) to get to the golden writing time faster.

Disaster ensues.

New job is ten times worse than old job. No amount of money can make new job bearable. V quits job.

(After consulting Connor of course.)

V dabbles here and there. Interviews. Progresses through the rounds. Everything’s going great (except no writing is happening because finding a new job takes more energy than cruising competently through an existing one).

V runs out of play money. Just waiting on that job offer. Any day now.

Starts writing again. Great work, just gushing out.

Still waiting on that offer.

Waiting…

Connor throws a curve ball. Is there some way we can cut back on spending so you can have your writing year now?

Well, I could give up this, and this, and I guess I don’t really need this either.

Budget adjustments…

No, we can’t afford it.

Look, says Connor. This is about your sanity and therefore mine. I will give up this and this. I probably don’t need this.

Recalculate. Still not enough.

Well, it was a great idea honey. I’m really touched you would give up all that for me. It’s OK, I’ll take that job offer and we’ll just stick to plan A.

But you love writing.

Yes, I know I love writing. But I love a roof over my head, and shelter, and food in our bellies. We can’t cut any further. It just isn’t feasible.

What about the wedding?

What about the wedding? You still want to marry me right?

Connor gives me the please-don’t-ask-stupid-insecure-questions look.

I wait.

I love you and you love writing. I’ll marry you tomorrow, we can just keep it simple. Or, we can postpone the wedding. But to be honest, I was really looking forward to having the wedding the way we’ve planned it.  

In my first 100 days I’ve moved from would-be to full-time writer, but our dream wedding has moved a year further away. I tell you about the other things we’ve given up to make this happen as I miss them.



  • 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.