A Novel Idea

Archive for the ‘Writing Rules’ Category

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.

Superannuation. What is a budding novelist doing writing about such a mundane topic?

Superannuation or 401(K) if you’re in the good ol’ US of A, is one of those beige but important facts of life.

I’m not going to call it necessary, although for many people it will be. I’m hoping I’m not one of them.

I don’t plan to retire. Ever.

I hope to be spinning a good yarn and living a comfortable life to the end.

I’ve got a really bad habit of ignoring any mail related to my superannuation fund. Sure I open it. I might even look at the balance (they charged me WHAT for losing money in the market ?! geez).

Since I quit my job my superannuation firm sent me the notice that it’s now been moved to a personal plan, not the company plan. Fine.

Then I got another letter which seemed to be indicating some new set of charges. Whatever.

Then my phone rang today.

The phone ringing during the day is a pretty rare occurence for me now. I’ve done my darndest to discourage this behaviour in family and friends.

My equivalent of ‘Do Not Disturb’ on a honeymoon hotel room would be a giant placard (in tastefully embossed lettering) WRITER AT WORK.

Not that I think I’m creating some great masterpiece that’s going to change the world (although that would be great). No, it just takes all my concentration to pin the words to the page in an arrangement that I’m happy with.

I’m in the middle of a sentence. It’s not the best sentence I’ve ever written, but at least it’s going somewhere. The desk is vibrating. I scowl at the phone.

But I can’t help myself. I look at the number. I don’t recognise it. It’s interstate. That always makes calls more interesting. I’m about to break two rules.

1. Don’t answer the phone before you’ve hit your daily word target.

2. Don’t answer numbers you don’t recognise. It’s probably a telemarketer.


‘Miss Violet XYZ’


‘I’m calling about your superannuation…’

Groan. Why did I take this call? Admist my self-directed eye-rolling I forget the vital phrase ‘Not a good time’. I respond to his questions. Five minutes later I’m glad that I did. Apparently they’re going to start charging me monthly for all the insurance that my company used to pay for.

I agree to read the previous correspondence and advise how I would like to proceed. He’s actually been very helpful. We hang up.

It got me thinking. Writing is my new business. It’s not just a tick-box on the list of my life achievements.

I add it to my bi-monthly list of must-do items. By 31 July I will sort out my superannuation along with finishing my first draft, celebrating one thousand glorious days with Connor, and booking my next pap smear.

I also resolve to set aside Friday afternoons to do administration.


Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You’ll always sound precocious

The Sherman brothers were always good for a ditty.

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.