A Novel Idea

Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

Happy New Year everyone!

Image courtesy of Marina and the Diamonds band blog

http://www.marinaandthediamonds.com/blog.htm

I’ll be posting a new inspirational piece each month.

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2011.

2011 is the year I will land a generous contract for my first novel. It is the year I will complete my Masters. On a personal level, it is the year I will marry the love of my life.

These are my goals for this year. What are yours?

On New Year’s Eve 2009, I was in Paris. The goals I made then did not anticipate the upheavel and the opportunity that 2010 would bring. This time last year, I did not realize I would be writing and studying full time after abandoning a successful but unsatisfying corporate career.

We cannot know what lies ahead, but we can know what lies in our hearts and act accordingly.

My biggest lesson from 2010 was to trust in love. Sometimes your own steam will only take you partway up the mountain. A supportive life partner, who values your dreams as much as their own, can provide the encouragement that inspires you to find the last skerrick of determination you need to approach the summit.

Look at the relationships in your life. Are some in need of repair? Are some better left in the past?

If your art is your life, the people closest to you need to support your path.

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2011.

Season’s Greetings fellow bloggers, writers and inhabitants of this wonderful world. Here is a gift for you to do with as you please.

This picture stopped me in my tracks as I browsed through the local bookshop today. I hope it sparks a story for you.On the cover of Guy Bourdin’s ‘In Between’ photography book.

I’ll be posting a new inspirational piece each month.

Write well. Write often.

V.

(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.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.



This week’s post is an attempt at being ‘cruel to be kind’. I read Ian Irvine’s ‘The Truth about Publishing’ earlier this year and found it brutally honest yet ultimately encouraging.

Make yourself a steaming cup of tea or coffee – then read this:

http://members.ozemail.com.au/~irvinei/publishing.html

Harsh as it may sound, I agree with Ian that ‘Anyone who can be discouraged from writing should be’.

What do you think?

Write well. Write often.

V.

(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.

V.

(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.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.