A Novel Idea

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Rules

Warning: mild sexual reference.

I don’t want to pick a fight with the woman dubbed ‘Humanist of the Year’ (2007), but I have to disagree with her on one topic: housework.

Joyce Carol Oates on the compatibility of writing and other tasks including housework: 

“If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework you can still be writing, because you have that space.”

Me on the compatibility of writing and other activities: 

“Is it appropriate to pick the lint out of your partner’s belly button while having sex? No. Great sex like great writing requires focus. Make sure the housework is in another room.”

How do you stay focused (on writing)?

I consider myself a clean person living in a hygenic but messy apartment. I must admit that since I started writing full time, the house is dirtier than before. I am stubbornly refusing to let housework encroach upon my writing time. I didn’t bring dishes or washing or scrubbing to the office – why should I change that attitude just because I’m home more often?

I like to think that I rarely nag Connor to do anything (let alone housework), but I do think I’m the driving force in getting the house clean. Except anything sink related.

Connor is a clean-up-immediately-after-dinner kind of person. I was more a morning after person (rinsed the night before of course). Or at least after my food has settled.

I’ve since come around to his way of thinking – it’s nice not to face a mountain of washing each morning.

Something strange has happened lately though. Despite the dishes getting done after dinner, there’s still a pile in the morning.

We don’t have a lot of space in our kitchen (about enough to swing a keyring).

I’ve been eating at home more often (thereby making more mess) and in this space we can’t keep up.

I have had to modify my HOUSEWORK FREE TIME ZONE to include a quick wash-up.

In general:

Don’t let housework invade your creative workspace!

Picture courtesy of http://www.whateverworks.com/itemdy00.asp?c=&T1=K7046&GEN1=New+This+Season&SKW=+KC075&PageNo=1#top

Has your writing made you more or less house proud?

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.

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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Today’s word count: 1,236.

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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.