A Novel Idea

Posts Tagged ‘Overcoming Obstacles

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.


(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.

How could an aspiring author take comfort from the words of someone who drowned themself?

 Cautiously. Gratefully.

I was reminded of Virgina Woolf’s lengthy exposition, A room of one’s own, just the other day in an unexpected moment.

If you’ve only heard of the famous title or even the quote that to write a woman needs money and a room of her own, I urge you to read it in its entirety.

My partner and I live in a modest two bedroom apartment. We’re yet to have children so have the luxury of a shared study. Our two identical desks line one wall, only you wouldn’t realize they were the exact same desk at first glance.

Connor’s desk is clean. You can see the glass desk top. Everything is masculine black or silver.

You can’t see the top of my desk.

It’s hidden beneath a burgundy woven tablecloth that I bartered with a woman in Cappadocia for. You can’t see much of the tablecloth though. It’s covered in earlier versions of the first five chapters of my novel. There’s a scarf that I wore three weeks ago that somehow hasn’t made its way back to my drawers. Roget’s thesaurus hides under a pencil case stuffed with markers in every colour of the rainbow. A pretty trinket that my father gave me for my twentieth birthday is luxuriating behind a pile of books. Really, I’m lucky to fit a mousepad amongst all this.

Unfortunately or fortunately there’s no view from my desk.

I’ll write anywhere quiet. Libraries are great (free heating and no shortage of reference books). Other people’s houses are great (it’s not your washing so there’s no way your going to waste time cleaning instead of writing). Parks are a good summer option.

Noisy funky cafes are for the cool writers (or those who listened to their Sony Discmans way too loud when they were teens and can consequently never be distracted because they are almost deaf).  

Today it’s been grey and dreary. I didn’t even go for a morning walk. I’m not one to complain about the weather (except for last year’s dust-storms which were horrendous). In fact I love the rain. It was just a whole lot easier to write at home today.

On days like this, I do feel as if I have a room of my own.

Back to Woolf. Her phrase has been bouncing around my brain for the last few days. Connor and I were both in the study, doing our separate things. I finished my word count for the day and triumphantly shut down the computer.

You know, we’re doing a good job of sharing this space, but one day, we’re going to get you a room of your own.

I don’t think Connor was paraphrasing Woolf at that moment. It was more a virtual pat on the back. Kind of like the time one mum said to mine (I must have been three or four at the time but I’ve got a great memory for odd moments):

Your daughter is a good sharer, for an only child.

She meant it as a compliment as well.

Adults are like the stereotypical only child. It’s all about me. Let me tell you about myself (my blog is a case in point). Me me me me more about me.

Connor’s comment was an insight into most people’s (and most couple’s) sad inability to share.

I’m not holding us up as some perfect couple who never fight. We’re both stubborn with strong opinions so we’re bound to clash horns on occasion.

One thing we do really well is support each other. We both know what it feels like to draw blood towards a goal. We both know how much better that feels than being denied the opportunity to give something your all in the first place.

This study is important to us both. It’s a shared resource for individual and team goals.

I hope I can continue to share well, even as finishing times get later and patience is tested.

Someday, when I’m a successful published writer, I will have a room of my own. I’ll make sure he has one as well.

Here’s my favourite quote from A room of one’s own.

‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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  • Comments Off on What I don’t want to admit

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.


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.


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.


  • 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.