A Novel Idea

Archive for the ‘Writers’ Category

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.

I’m certain there’s a glamourous image evoked in the minds of potential authors by the term ‘writer’s group’. If I thought about this term even two years ago, my mind would conjure up famous gatherings like The Bloomsbury Group or The Inklings. I would imagine Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and E. M. Forster dining and debating in a London home. I could see C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein reading aloud and laughing over a pint in an Oxford pub.

Now the term ‘writer’s group’ means something much more humble but far more useful to me.

Today I am a member of three disparate writers’ groups. I write across ages and genres, so each group sees different pieces.

By writing group, I mean a gathering of people who bring their work to each meeting to seek and provide feedback aimed at improving everyone’s writing.

I don’t mean a reading club where you talk about how incredible Toni Morrison is or a drinking session where you moan about writer’s block or how much you hate that your teenager thinks Twilight is good reading.

It takes some brass to open yourself to critique, but every instrument needs polish to shine.

I want to share my thoughts on what constitutes a successful writing group.

1. Common purpose

Writing groups are like relationships – they work best when you both want the same outcome.

Just as the girl who repeatedly stalls in front of jewellery shop displays studded with sparkling engagement rings in the hope that the boyfriend will one day get the hint, some groups are ultimately a waste of time.

Not everyone who writes needs to be published. They may want it, but aren’t prepared to do what it takes to make it happen.

Let me be clear. Any feedback about your writing is helpful. Regardless of whether someone has published One Hundred books or just read that many, their response to your work is of interest. But if your writer’s group is composed of people who are just dabbling, odds are you’re not maximizing the quality of feedback.

2. Regularity and size

At this risk of sounding like an advertisement for Metamucil, do not underestimate the importance of staying regular.

Two of my groups meet monthly, one meets fortnightly. Weekly meetings are possible, but I find fortnightly works best. It is long enough to produce a satisfying chunk of work and incorporate feedback into the editing process. One also has a life beyond writing to juggle…

Inevitably people cannot make every group meeting. That’s where size matters. Like a house of parliament, you need a quorum. If only two other people turn up, it makes it difficult to decide how to treat feedback you don’t vehmently agree or disagree with. If you have four or five opinions on the same piece, you have a better chance of obtaining an objective analysis of your work.

Twelve is a good number for a writing group. It’s manageable if everyone turns up, but half the time you’ll be receiving four to six diverse responses to your work. But like the Apostles, you’ll probably have one Judas.

Which leads me to my final tip.

3. Protect your work

The risk with sharing your work is not so much that someone will plagiarise it (in Australia the form of words is protected by copyright), it is that they will steal your idea and write something better. Or even something average that gets published before yours and sops up the public interest.

This is tricky.

It goes without saying that you should add a copyright note to all your material, whether it’s the first or thirty-seventh draft. I would also caution against giving people electronic or hard copies of your work until it is published. Make sure you collect every copy of your work at each meeting.

Unfortunately you can’t stop someone using your idea. I have heard speakers respond to this by saying your idea probably isn’t as unique as you think it is – there’s nothing new under the sun. That may be true, but it’s not very comforting.

I was at a course recently, with a well-known Australian author (within their field), who confided that a writing friend had published an almost identical book to the one this author had discussed with them just a year earlier. The so called friend had had a nervous breakdown and seemingly had no idea that they had done something wrong.

If you had the money to sue, you could. You might get back your expenses or even a share of royalties. You don’t get your book back though.

Protect your work by sharing it when you are close to finishing the draft cycle (within 3-6 months of your completion date). This makes it harder for someone to pip you at the proverbial post. This has the added benefit of putting some time (and therefore some objectivity) between you and your writing.

Take comfort in the fact that you are a writer, not a one-hit wonder. You will have other novel ideas.

Where to begin? 

Contact your national or regional writer’s centres to find out about active writer’s groups in your area.

Or start your own.

I would love to hear about other writer’s thoughts on writer’s groups. Any catastrophes? Any triumphs?

I’ll leave you with a quote from E.M. Forster:

‘Either life entails courage, or it ceases to be life.’

Time to print out copies for my next meeting…

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

I’m starting to feel a little lonely typing away all day.

I’ve been working for almost two months on my first draft of my first novel.

Today the words flowed well. So well in fact that I’ve had time to do a little self-indulgent web-browsing.

No I wasn’t on a dating site.

I’ve got the right man thing all sorted already.

I’ve been looking at potential pets.

As child I was constantly surrounded by cats, dogs and birds (until I started to open cages enabling their freedom).

As an adult I’ve always travelled too much every year to keep a demanding pet. Unfortunately they’re also the type that nuzzle you and make you seem like less of a loon for having a one way conversation with them.

I have managed to look after a fish.

Sadly my Siamese fighting fish of two years passed away just before Christmas. No other fighting fish looks as kooky and intelligent, so there’s no new pet fish.

Two years is terrible time period anyway. Long enough to form an attachment, short enough not to be able to countenance the idea of another fishy friend dying on you in two years’ time.

Now I’m home most of the time writing. It’s wonderful. It’s just really quiet.

I’m concerned that my collection of stuffed Tiggers in various sizes (which I’m trying to preserve for my child’s nursery, if I ever get around to that) is going to be pulled out of storage and dotted around the study to give the effect of company.

I want a pet. I need a pet.

Many writers have cats. Mark Twain loved them. He affectionately named one Satan. I’m not kidding.

2010 marks the 175th anniversary of Twain’s birth and the 100th anniversary of his death. Maybe I should get a cat?

My partner Connor hates cats. He loves Dumas though. I discovered today that author of Count of Monte Cristo fame loved cats. Would he reconsider on that basis?

Probably not.

It’s pointless anyway. I’m asthmatic so I can’t have furry pets inside the house permanently.

We don’t have a backyard here, so we can’t get a dog.

I’m not big on birds in cages, even though I love the graceful brass curves of the antique variety.

We’ve got a balcony. A rabbit hutch would fit on it with room to spare.

Would a rabbit make a good companion?

I’ve changed my desktop background to a fluffy ginger rabbit.

I wonder if Connor would agree to a rabbit?

I hope I’m not allergic to them.

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Warning: Contains mild coarse language that may offend.

When I felt unwilling to put fingers to keyboard a couple of weeks ago (more writer’s avoidance than writer’s block), I turned to another writer for advice. More specifically, to another writer’s book about the craft.

I reopened Stephen King’s On Writing. I read it years ago, at time when I fancied the idea of being a writer someday, but wasn’t yet ready for what that actually means.

All I remembered from that reading was the admonishment against adverbs.

I had been giving myself a hard time mentally because of what I felt was imperfect prose. I’m on my first draft of my first novel.

I’ve read great literature. I have a degree in it and am pursuing a Masters right now. I feel suitably qualified to criticize my own work.

So I turned to an incredibly successful mainstream author for help.

You can’t imagine my relief when I came to this nugget in King’s book:

‘In the first draft, I’m telling myself the story. It’s the following drafts that I’m telling the audience.’

(I’m paraphrasing to avoid wasting the half hour it would take me to find the page number when I could be writing more).

I took this as permission to bang out the first draft and not worry about the fact that I know this will probably take many more drafts to pass my standards.

Today, passing my enormous bookshelf on the way to make another cup of tea, I noticed my motley collection of writing manuals.

I’ve actually stopped buying them. I’ve read enough now to reassure myself that what I most need is just to get on with it.

Here are some books that have helped me along the way:

  • S. King – On Writing
  • W. Strunk & E.B White – The Elements of Style
    A set of rules to make your grandmother sound positively uneducated. Short sharp smacks to the head. For example “Meaningful – a bankrupt adjective. Choose another…’
  • S. Stein – Stein on Writing
    Includes a formidable table of contents and an entertaining version of the Ten Commandments for Writers. Number 4 “Thou shalt not saw the air with abstractions, for readers, like lovers, are attracted by particularity.”
  • J. Wood – How Fiction Works
    Just a bloody good read.
  • J. N. Frey – How to write damn good fiction
    The Seven Deadly Mistakes address ways to avoid stuffing up your own writing life. These include timidity, trying to be literary, ego-writing, dreams, faith, lifestyle and failure to produce.
  • D. Gerrold – Worlds of wonder: How to write science fiction & fantasy
    I’m not sure I’ve actually read this – an old book mark was stuck at chapter two. The bookmark had a great quote though. See below.
  • R. Silverberg – Science Fiction 101

Let me know if you have great writing manual which really helped you on your journey.

My random book-mark quote find:

‘We are made whole /

By books, as by great spaces and the stars.’

Mary Carolyn Davies, Poet.

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Writers are strange people. I can say this because I am one.

This week I sat in a room full of wanna-be writers, listening to published writers talking about their journey.

I’m currently gluing my glutes to the chair everyday to meet the wonderful but crazy goal of becoming a paid and published writer by midnight on the 13th April 2011.

I’m doing everything in my power to make that dream a reality (everything ethical and affordable that is).

I saw the event advertised and immediately booked a spot. Right now I’m a sponge in an ocean of information. It didn’t cost me anything to attend, I hadn’t even heard of the writers before, but I didn’t care.

My attitude is if someone has achieved something you dream of; find out how they did it.

But writers are strange. Writing is strange.

Both retain their mystery, sometimes gracefully, sometimes wilfully.

Wanna-be writers are stranger.

I took a seat in the back. I like to observe.

Actually, my nail polish is chipped (I’ve been crafting prose all day, personal grooming takes a back seat). The writers are seated on pedestals at the front of the room so I’m hiding my hands and my eagerness in the back row.

The writers talk about themselves in turn. Nothing new here. A mixed bag of success on first attempt and multiple rejections. There’s no one way to become a published writer.

It’s Q&A time.

An older lady, in the front row, who arrived twenty minutes late and made lots of noise on arrival, now asks a question. Only she hasn’t actually asked a question. She’s spent five minutes complaining about how she was about to be published but then the house got cold feet.

She keeps rambling.

The audience is muttering. She’s over stepped the unspoken time limit and she’s promoting her own work, in a most uninteresting and annoying fashion. The man to my left grumbles to his friend ‘not her again’. I tune out.

The woman in front of me has a hideous mushrooming jacket slung over the seat. I can’t actually cross my legs without nudging it. The girl next to her has died black hair stuffed into a short ponytail. It reminds me of a docked dog’s tail. Her neck is sturdy. It bears a tattoo: 31.08.06.

What happened on the 31st August 2006?

She’s not wearing a wedding ring. She doesn’t look old enough to have children.

Why would you tattoo a special event date somewhere you can’t see it?

My imagination runs away. Maybe she doesn’t know it’s there. Drugged and tattooed. No that’s totally unrealistic. Someone would ask her about it the first time she put her hair up.

A balding man in unassuming grey manages to interject with another question. It’s not particularly interesting. But the audience relaxes as if they were one long breath out.

The tattoo is bugging me. It’s not even in a nice font.

It’s like a bar code or a Nazi branding. I’m freaking myself out. I was going to ask her about it but now I don’t want to know the answer.

Mostly I would just prefer to create the answer.

Writers are strange. Some are intriguing. Just so long as the work is.

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.