A Novel Idea

Posts Tagged ‘Achievements

It’s been a long time between posts.

When I first started this blog I was bubbling over with enthusiasm. It felt like such a luxury to have entire days to myself just to write.

I could measure my progress as the word count stacked up like poker chips. I felt like a professional.

That was before I decided to increase my subject load at university. I’ve gone from four full days of writing time to one. I feel like someone’s stolen all my chips in a move I should have seen coming.

There are just a few weeks (and multiple essays) between me and five glorious days of writing a week. I’m starting to feel excited again.

Not that I haven’t made any progress with my day a week this semester. But it’s been progress of a different kind – not measurable in word count or chapters or drafts.

I’ve attended courses, conferences and networked with real live authors – more on this in subsequent blogs.

I’ve been avoiding blogging because I’ve felt unless I’m making steady (measurable) progress towards that final draft, I’ve nothing to share.

How do you measure your progress?


Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TapeMeasure.jpg

With my self imposed deadline just around the corner of the next year, and with all I’ve learnt about the publishing game in the last few months, I’m starting to reconsider measurement.

I want to carve out a career as an author more than ever. I have faith in the value of my stories. I just need to stay focused on my creative health and trust that all else will fall into place. 

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

If my library of books shared any of its owner’s innate impatience, I’d have a riot on my hands.

That book I bought last year in my King Arthur phase would be commanding READ ME, the slender champagne history would be sashaying onto someone else’s shelf and that great Australian novel would have galloped off into the outback.

I acquire books faster than I can read them. Much faster.

What do you consider a reasonable number of books to own?

As we are only three months away from year end, I thought I’d take stock. How much have I read this year?

Actually, this post was inspired by a less organised mentality. After mopping the floors today (yuck – I’m only doing it because we have our third dinner guest of the year this weekend – entertaining takes a nose dive on one income), I was horrified at the amount of dust gathering on my precious books. That led to a bookshelf tidy, which led to a desire to tally my reading achievements this year to date.

Novels READ: 10 (including 3 borrowed)

Novels reread: 1

Novels STARTED but NOT FINISHED: 13 (which I estimate equates to 5 novels read judging by thickness)

Total Novels READ: 16

Total short stories READ: Countless (20+)

Total Academic essays, Non-fiction and trade magazines READ: Countless (50+)

Total Picture Books READ: 4 (including 1 reread of an old favourite) 

That’s a lot of reading! I’m not even counting workshopping other writer’s work, the Saturday paper or online reading.

Before you pat me on the back, consider this.

Novels UNREAD and bought this year: 15 (clearly I think I can read novels twice as fast as I actually can)

Short story collections UNREAD and bought this year: 10

Nonfiction UNREAD and bought this year: 1

Here are some books which have been waiting years for me to get to:

I am grateful for the patience of pages. No person would put up with being ignored for so long.

How much have you read this year?

Read well. Read 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.

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.


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.


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.

If you could achieve anything, what would it be?

Are you working towards that goal, in some way, every day?

If you had asked me these questions a year ago, I could answer the first without hesitation.

I want to be a writer.

To the second question, I would have to squirm a little, not wanting to admit that the answer is ‘no’. I would say something about ‘finding my mojo’ and how demanding my 10-14 hour per day corporate job is. I would politely excuse myself – no I don’t have time to discuss why I’m not really doing anything about the one thing I actually want in this life. I’m too busy achieving arbitrary numbers for a corporate bottom line and being paid for it thank you very much.

Months later,  it is New Year’s Eve 2009. I’m on the other side of the world, enjoying the trip of a lifetime with my fiance. We’ve been scrimping and saving so long for this.

In our cosy hotel room in Paris, we’re writing out our goals for the year ahead. I’m cross-legged on the bed scrawling in a beautifully bound journal and he’s typing away at the desk. The champagne is wedged into the tiny mini-bar, waiting to christen the new year.

At this point, I should mention that the year ahead holds an age-bracket birthday for me. When I was younger I didn’t mind moving higher up in the marketer’s boxes. In fact it felt like I was somehow more important, more experienced. Moving from 15-17 to 18-24 was great. I could imagine all the exciting things I was going to do and try in that time. But at some point, when you’re avoiding what you most want to do with your life, moving age boxes is like moving from a house with character to a sensible apartment. Sure, you can afford it and your basic needs are met, but the sense of potential is gone.

My partner offers me a snack – I’d never eat in my own bed like this but somehow ’cause we’re on holidays and we’re in PARIS, I feel it’s okay to channel some Marie Antoinette indulgence. It’s a runny white goat’s cheese smeared decadently across fresh baguette.

I’m feeling quite wonderful at this point. I’ve totally forgotten about the project that is waiting for me at work. I’m ignoring the banking glitch that has meant I can’t pull out any Euros until the next working day. I’ve got a list of SMART goals in front of me, canvassing the major life areas of family/friends, health, personal, financial, etc. Let’s pop the champagne, I say.

We trade goals. I save the one I most want to meet till last.

I want to be a published author. I’m giving myself until my birthday in April 2011 to be published and paid for at least one work, I say.

What I really want to say, but am concerned it’s not achievable, not just in the timeframe, but maybe I just don’t have it in me, is I want that work to be my first novel.

This blog is the story of that personal challenge. I never intended to blog about this, in fact I’m a ridiculously private person, but I’m running into obstacles. This is my way of working through them. Excuse me while I confess publicly.

You can call me Violet, or V for short. Share this journey with me.

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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.