Writing · Writing Process

5 Lessons Learned from Writing a Novel.

For some months now I have been busy re-writing an old novel I had written during NaNoWriMo back in 2015. The good news is I have finally finished writing it and at around 80k has become one of the longest pieces of writing I have ever done. It has certainly been a struggle for this short story writer!

During this entire process, there have been a few things that I have learned along the way.

1. Have a plan/outline

Previous experience has taught me that in order to finish a long writing project I need to have some kind of outline before I start. At the beginning of each chapter, I therefore wrote what I wanted to happen within that chapter in order to maintain my focus. It does not have to be a detailed outline for many pages that some writers are known to do; you may only need a couple of lines in order to get some sense of direction to move forward.

2. Listen to of your characters

Despite having some kind of plot outline, my characters would say and do things a little bit ‘off script’, sometimes making things better than I had originally imagined. This was great when it came to building my word count or to write again when I needed to take a break, however, this would also take me down the path of panster once again, meaning that I may never finish. When this happens, you may need to reassess what you want with what your character wants and take another look at your plot.

3. Use a timer and have a quota

Ever since I tried NaNoWriMo, I have been using a timer to help get the words written, otherwise my internal editor or perfectionist self can sneak in and it can take too long to get the words written down. Start with a quota that you find doable and gradually challenge yourself to go that little bit further. I began with a daily quota of 1,000 words and used a timer in order to get the words down faster. I would set a timer for 15 minutes and would average 500 words each session. As my 1000 word limit would be reached within half an hour, I then doubled my daily quota so that I wrote 2000 words in one hour. I then increased that to 4000 words a day, broken up into two separate hourly slots.

4. Aim to strike while the iron is hot

I returned to this old NaNoWriMo project because the idea still resonated with me. The more I thought about my characters and plot, the bigger the project had become. Sometimes new ideas may have to be placed on the back-burner if we are currently working on something, but the best time to begin writing a new project is while we are still brimming with enthusiasm, so make the most of such opportunities whenever possible.

5. Have a deadline and word limit.

Because my novel was becoming longer than I had anticipated, I needed to create some kind of deadline as well as consider my word limit, otherwise I would never finish. I had read that the average word limit for debut novels these days tend to be around 80k, so that’s what I aimed for (as well as taking my genre into account). Also I began to feel that the longer it took, my enthusiasm began to wane and I therefore needed a break. With a deadline and word limit in mind, it certainly helped to get the words written down faster.

One of my goals for this year was to step out of my comfort zone and by writing an 80k novel, I think I can safely say I’ve achieved that! It certainly has been a learning experience. 😉

Have you written your first novel and what advice would you give? How are you progressing with your writing goals? Have you stepped out of your comfort zone this year with your writing? Are you a plotter or a panster or somewhere in-between? Have you revisited an old NaNoWriMo project?

Main image courtesy of Unsplash

Advertisements
Writing · Writing Process

5 Things Writers can do During Winter (Besides Writing).

It’s hard to believe we have made it to June already. June! Here in Australia, we are now officially in winter, so it’s the season where people like myself usually act like a complete hermit and hibernate for the entire three months.

We are now halfway through the year and it’s time to take stock on what has (or hasn’t) been achieved so far this year. Going over the goals I set out at the beginning of the year, I can see I have a lot of work to get through. So, besides writing, what exactly can writers do during the cooler months to improve their craft and help achieve their writing goals?

1. Read

This one goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway (after all I haven’t done much reading myself this year). 😉 When not writing, we writers should spend a fair amount of time with our noses firmly placed in a book, whether that is fiction or non-fiction. In order to improve our craft we should always aim at reading books on how to make our writing better, or perhaps even read books on marketing and social media. Reading as much fiction as possible in our chosen genre/genres ensures we are aware of our genres tropes and what is currently available on the shelves.

2. Research

Doing research for our novels and stories can either be conducted in our own homes, or we can use the excuse to leave our writing caves and visit the local library. Depending on our stories, we may even venture out completely and visit places of note that may inhabit our novels and perhaps take photos and talk to experts.

3. Do a short writing course

It is always beneficial to keep improving our craft, no matter what level we are at. Short courses can sometimes be held through writing groups and libraries and even on-line. Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer and take up a course that may be of help, or you may want something a bit more general. For a while now I have considered doing the online Masterclass with James Patterson and will be doing that during these winter months.

4. Listen to podcasts

The advantage of podcasts is that you can listen to them anywhere. So getting away from your desk and having a walk while listening to a writing podcast can be extremely beneficial in more ways than one. There are quite a few good writing podcasts out there, it’s impossible to list them all. You will find a listing here at Writer’s Digest to help get you started.

5. Attend a Writing Conference/Writing Retreat

Attending a writing conference or retreat during the winter months is a great way of getting out of our writing cave and meeting like-minded people as well as recharging our batteries as enthusiasm can sometimes wane during the cooler weather. If there is nothing available nearby, perhaps you can create your own retreat by going away for a quiet weekend and use that change of scene to get some writing done. This is the time when the thought of being nestled away in a log cabin by an open fire can hold some appeal.

Of-course, doing these things can be done all year round, but in the cooler weather, we may need a little bit of motivation in order to keep us going. 😉

Besides writing, what do you like to do during the winter months towards your goals? How are your writing goals progressing so far this year? Do you have a tendency to hibernate during winter?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Blogging · Writing

Finding a Writing Community.

 

Writing is well known for being a solitary endeavour; one in which a person must be comfortable with being in the presence of their own company for a good length of time. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way, which is one of the reasons why social media is so popular amongst writers.

Before the days of the internet, finding other writers was at times limited and depending where you lived, consisted of writing festivals or conferences. It wasn’t always easy to find like-minded people and keep in touch. Social media has made finding writing communities so much better, so that we can talk to other writers around the country or around the world and not feel so alone.

Over the years I have been a part of a few writing communities, making friends along the way, but there has been quite a few instances of trial and error in order to find the right community. Recently, after reading an article by Joanna Penn, I joined the Romance Writers of Australia. This is something I have contemplated for quite some time and after reading this article, I finally took the plunge. I have heard a great many things about this organisation and as I tend to have romantic elements in my stories, I am hoping to gain some knowledge as well as form new friendships.

The best community I have come across after all these years is that within the blogging community. By having a blog and putting myself out there, I can reach out to others, whether they are writers or readers. Having people comment and commenting on other people’s blogs is a great way to meet and get to know others. This friendship can then be extended to other social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I know there are writers out there that think blogging is a waste of time and that’s their choice, however forming friendships through blogging can’t be overlooked.

Finding the right writing community can take some time and you really need to push yourself out of your comfort zone (yes, I’m still working on it). You will find your fellow writers to be the most friendliest and helpful group of people around, which will make your efforts all the more worthwhile.

And for those of you who I’ve made friends with over the years through this blog and other social media I thank you – you’re the best! 🙂

Are you in a writing community? After some trial and error, which writing community have you found to be the best so far? Have you been lucky enough to meet other writers you have only ‘met’ through social media?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

This Writer's Life · Writing Process

Setting Boundaries for Your Writing.

Recently I’ve been re-working the novel I had written for NaNoWriMo back in 2015. There have been times when I had been so frustrated with it that I wanted to throw it in. It was also around this time that some personal issues had occurred, forcing me to really put my foot down on setting particular boundaries when it comes to writing.

For some years now I have been the stay at home mum, raising my children, doing the occasional bit of casual work in a ‘real’ job, spending several years studying for a University degree, as well as writing and blogging. Despite all this though, because I’m mainly at home, family members see me as a ‘woman of leisure’ and think that I can be called upon whenever it suits them. I had managed to stave off friends in order to get some writing done, but somehow family had become a lot more difficult (after all, they are family). This time around, however, I had reached my limit and asserted some authority. It didn’t go down well with others, but for me it felt something like this (minus the socks of-course 😉 ):-

This has always been the problem. If you work from home, some believe that this makes it a bit of a free for all. People believe that you can be contacted at any time or go out at any time. Of-course the other problem can be we allow all that to happen because we are people pleasers; we find it difficult to just say ‘no’ (hence the ‘woman of leisure’ tag). Other people’s problems can then become ours; their needs and wants overtake our own. We can eventually reach the point where nothing gets accomplished as we can become both physically and emotionally drained.

Of-course, these people do not see you being at home all day long as actually ‘working’ or doing anything significant. When I finally completed several years of University study I was told by a family member that ‘maybe now you can get yourself a little job’ (yeah, I’ll never forget that statement). Not having a ‘real’ job and earning a traditional salary can be unimaginable to some and yet more and more people are becoming self-employed, which includes writers. Putting up boundaries to people with such thoughts may seem at times a bit selfish, but it is completely necessary if we want to be successful. A line needs to be drawn.

The same can also be said for social media. We may just want to hop on for a couple of minutes, only to find half an hour or more has flown by. It’s a great distraction that can control our lives if we let it. After reading a helpful blog post about what to put on my ‘not to do’ list, I have changed some of my old habits and have managed to get more things done.

By putting up some much needed boundaries, for the first time in a long time, I am actually enjoying my current writing process. We may end up putting some noses out of joint in our efforts to focus on our goals, but those who truly support our efforts will understand in the long run.

Have you found it difficult to set boundaries in your life? Do you find it hard to say ‘no’, especially to family members? How do you avoid distractions, such as social media?

Side Note: Just a reminder that in 2018, I’ll be spending less time on social media and more time writing. I will continue to blog, although there may be times when my posts may become somewhat erratic, it’s all in a good cause. 😉

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Movies/Television

Picnic at Hanging Rock: Re-adapting a Classic.

When it comes to movies, I’m pretty much a stickler to the originals (so, I’m old-fashioned 😉 ). I tend to go by the rule ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t bother fixing it’. I believe that if a movie was originally well made, then why bother tampering with it? There are a lot of movies out there with the label ‘classics’ for good reason.

When I first heard they were making Picnic at Hanging Rock into a six part series for television, of-course my initial reaction was ‘Why?’ The movie made back in 1975, is one of my all-time favourite films and is a classic in Australian cinema history. I began to wonder if suddenly, like Hollywood, television was out of ideas.

Then came the how? How could it be stretched to six hours? Sure they could show parts of the book that weren’t in the film, and would that also include the ‘missing chapter’? I didn’t see how that could all be done to justify six hours of television.

It was then that I discovered that it’s not actually a remake, but a re-adaptation.

Seriously?

Again, why?

Personally, I don’t see the point. However, part of the reasoning behind it is that it offers a ‘fresh take’. In an effort to attract viewers, it would appear that some of the familiar characters have been ‘fleshed out’, so to speak. There is more emphasis on Mrs Appleyard and her background, and from what I’ve seen, it would appear that there is also more to other characters, including Miranda. Both within the film and the book, we are told all we need to know about these characters. The mystery, its domino effect and the rock itself is the focus and the appeal of the entire story. An article about the re-adaptation understands that ‘the enduring appeal may now lie in the unanswered question it poses’.

I have read many comments regarding this re-adaptation and it would appear that many people agree with my sentiments. People are very sceptical, believe that originals can’t be bettered and that there is a lack of creativity as this is the era of remakes. There were some points made about Peter Weir’s version that resonated. It is believed that in Weir’s version, much was left to the imagination; that the original had a spell-binding feeling that cannot be replicated.

There is no harm in younger audiences appreciating such films for what they are and it wasn’t all that long ago that I sat with my kids and watched the movie. Both my children are teenagers, so perhaps well within the age bracket this re-adaptation is aimed for. My children sat through the whole thing, and with the short attention span people have these days, it managed to hold their attention and neither one found it ‘boring’. At the end of the movie, my son said ‘that rock is evil’. Somehow, I don’t think the idea of the story being re-adapted will hold any appeal to either of them.

I saw Picnic at Hanging Rock when it first came out (yes, showing my age here) and as a young child it captured my imagination. This movie, above all others, made me the writer I am today (Alfred Hitchcock’s work a close second). Will I still watch it? I may sneak a peek at the first episode to get some sense of it, mainly because my curiosity usually gets the better of me. Whether it will hold my attention completely though, remains to be seen*.

The re-adaptation will have its world television premiere 6 May on Foxtel.

*Update: I did happen to watch the first episode and I stick by the opinions I have stated above. You can also read a review from The Guardian, which gives this re-adaptation 2 out of 5 stars.

What are your thoughts on re-adaptations? Do you believe that some films should be respected and left alone? Do you know of a film or television series that is better than the original? Will you be watching this re-adaptation?

Blogging · Up Close & Personal

Liebster Award.

When it comes to blogging, there can be times when you wonder what it’s all for, but every now and then something happens that makes it all worthwhile. It came as a surprise to be given an award for my blog once again, so a big THANK YOU goes to Adam at Write Thoughts for giving me the Liebster Award. I really do appreciate the recognition and it’s a great motivator to continue blogging. It’s good to know that my blogging efforts are appreciated. 🙂

Adam has asked me a couple of questions and some had certainly given me pause for thought! So this week, in answer to these questions, it’s time to get to know a bit more about the person behind the keyboard.

1.We’ve all heard of comfort foods. Do you have any comfort stories? Stories you go back to when you’re feeling vulnerable and you just need to laugh, or be reassured?

I have a couple of comfort books, which I go back to every now and again because I really enjoy them and it feels like visiting old friends. One is Dragonwyck by Anya Seton, a gothic novel set in New York during the 1840s; another is Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, an Australian mystery/gothic set in 1900 that has basically gone down in Australian folklore and the last is the Poldark series by Winston Graham, set in Cornwall during the end of the 18th century.

2.Do you have any stories you generally recommend?

When I think stories, I think of the short story, so there are a few authors I recommend. As I grew up on Stephen King, I really enjoyed his short stories. More recently I’ve read some good ones from Daphne du Maurier, Susan Hill and Ramsey Campbell. As these stories are of the horror/paranormal/suspense genres, they may not be for everyone, but they are good examples of how to master the craft.

3.Have you ever found yourself in a situation so absurd that you had to stop and take a moment to recognize the absurdity of it? Or just burst out laughing?

Too many to mention! It doesn’t help that I can sometimes be the cause of it all as I have a tendency to either say or do something stupid. This usually happens when I’m amongst other people I may meet for the first time or still trying to get to know. I can have a tendency to say things before thinking things through and then laugh at myself. So I guess, when people first meet me they may think I’m a bit of an air-head, but I’d like to think I’m getting better at it as I get older. This is why I’m much more comfortable with writing. 😉

4.When having fun with friends, would you rather get up early and get started, or linger late into the night?

That has certainly changed over the years! After I left High School, I was a bit of a night owl and I would come home late at night (once arrived home after partying at 6am), and sleep until midday. These days though, I’m the complete opposite and prefer to get up early.

5.What was the last song that you heard for the first time and went, “Wow, this is something special”?

This is a tough one, as I haven’t listened to the radio for years (yes, it’s true) and can be a bit behind the times when it comes to music these days. However, after having heard ‘Chandelier’ by Sia for the first time I couldn’t get it out of my head.

6.What villain, super or otherwise, do you most feel a kinship with?

I’ve always been a strong advocate for the underdog, so ever since I read Frankenstein, I’ve always been sympathetic towards the monster. All he ever wanted was love and friendship, but instead received rejection through fear and misunderstanding. This kinship has only been strengthened by his portrayal on the television series Penny Dreadful.

7.Would you rather have the power to stop time (and not age during those frozen moments, but be able to interact with things), or live forever (not growing older, and gradually healing from any injury/malady)?

Given those two choices, I would have to say live forever. By stopping time, you might not always be in a good place (emotionally), so it would be nice to keep moving forward. By living forever, you have more time to do things/visit places and hopefully have a far lesser chance of regrets.

8.What’s a hobby or interest that most people would be surprised to learn you have?

I would have to say true crime; of special interest is murder and serial killers. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s reasons behind committing such acts, how their minds work, their M.Os, etc. This is why I watch a lot of crime shows and listen to podcasts and why I chose to work within the NSW Police Service upon leaving high school. During my first year of study at University, I even did a subject in criminology. The legal side of it put me off, whereas I prefer the psychological aspect of crime.

9.After writing, what would you say is your second passion?

That would have to be the paranormal, which is as much a part of me as writing. I’ve always been interested in the unexplained. I’ve inherited a belief in the spirit world from my Scottish father and I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), so I have a tendency to pick up on things a bit more than others. As a child, there was an incident that left me wondering if I had some special kind of ‘ability’ and in more recent years have had some ghostly encounters.

10.What first led you to consider/try blogging?

Back in the late 2000s, when blogs were really taking off, I read that in order to help build your platform, you ‘had’ to be on social media and that included having a blog. I began blogging in early 2009, but stopped shortly after, wondering if it was worth my time. However, a few short months later, I picked it up again and have continued to blog ever since.

* * * * *

So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed finding out a little bit more about me as it certainly put my little grey cells to good use coming up with some of these answers. My thanks once again to Adam for this award and giving me the opportunity to share.

Are there any questions from Adam’s list that you would like to discuss? Have you ever been given an award for your blog? What do you consider some of the best aspects of blogging?

Writing · Writing Process

When Self-Doubt Kills Productivity.

Recently, I’d been struck with a wave of self-doubt. As I worked on my re-writes, it began as a trickle; my first six chapters were a complete mess and felt I couldn’t continue until they were fixed. That was my internal editor speaking to me and as they kicked in; the self-doubt began to swirl around me until it stopped me in my tracks. I was doing nothing more than going around in circles. It was then that I stepped away from the keyboard.

It was also around this time that I was reading up on self-publishing. This coincided with reading about the odds of author success. I always knew that going down the road to self-publishing was not going to be easy, but I guess the reality of it all really hit home.

I’d been dealt a blow from the stick of truth (thanks South Park 😉 )!

The reality was that when it came to these re-writes, once again, I was stalling. I was using perfectionism as a crutch; going back over something I had already covered was not moving me forward and getting the work done. Editing prematurely was hampering my efforts. My self-doubt had turned into perfectionism and they fed into each other.

After taking some time away to gather my thoughts, I was reminded that when it comes to writing professionally, it is a marathon, not a sprint. We just have to keep on going, one small step at a time. Those moments when we encounter self-doubt, get rejections, when we’re told we’re not good enough or to get a ‘real job’, if we really want to succeed as writers, we have to keep going. Self-doubt will always hamper our progress and it is at these times that determination and perseverance will be our greatest asset.

The trouble with going over the same ground, I was too busy thinking of the end result, rather than enjoying the journey. I was considering the big picture, and instead needed to concentrate on what I can control (James Scott Bell has a helpful post on what to expect from your first novel). Thinking of my writing as a ‘business’, what I really need to focus on right now is my product; my writing (of-course, the key word there being focus). The best way to do that is to just keep writing my stories and focus on my craft; everything else is secondary.

It’s easy to let disappointments and doubts get the better of us, but by focusing on our goals and being held accountable, either through a writing buddy or a group, we can continue the momentum to keep moving forward.

Do you ever feel the need to edit before you finish a writing project? What things do you do to help you move forward and finish? Do you tend to focus on the end result rather than just enjoying the journey?

Image courtesy of Pixabay