A Breath of Spring Air.


It’s my favourite time of the year once again!  Spring is in the air, and there is a definite bounce in my step.

The season has gone off with a terrific start.  Signing up for the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign has proved rather hectic with all the groups I have signed up for, but it has been fun meeting a whole bunch of wonderful writers I would never have met otherwise.  Thank you to all my fellow campaigners who have stopped by here to introduce themselves and/or subscribed to my blog.  Throughout the campaign, I aim to visit each and everyone of you, comment (although I find this difficult with some blogs I visit), and subscribe.  I would have to admit, visiting some of these other blogs has made me feel a bit of an amateur!  Because of the season and the inspiration I am getting from other campaigners, I’ve even changed the look of my blog/website.

For the past couple of weeks I have made some progress with the re-writes/edits of my first YA novel, Deception.  I was having difficulties with getting the voice right for one of my main protagonists, but with some tweaking, I think I’ve got it now.  I have managed to add about another 6,000 words during that time.  When I eventually finish with these re-writes, I hope to find some critique partners/beta readers.  If I recall, Rachael Harrie has mentioned something about this on her blog, so maybe I could be critiquing with some of you. 🙂

As always, with the arrival of spring, I go over my progress for the past twelve months and re-assess my goals.  I have plenty of ideas for novels and short stories (what’s writer’s block again?) and I have three complete novels to re-write/edit; my problem, as always is juggling my time.  I need to get my priorities right and make some sacrifices, but I’ll talk about that next week.

How has your writing been going lately – have you made good progress?

Image by Debbie Johansson.

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Writing from Experience: Bringing it Home.

2011 is shaping up to be a personal year for me.  Events have taken place that I feel compelled to write about them and others throughout my childhood.  Writing personal essays has now become a part of my writing agenda.

I have been reading books on essays, including Writing from Personal Experience by Nancy Davidoff Kelton and Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Homes.  I have found them both helpful and motivating and I have since compiled a list of possibilities to write about.  Reading these books have also helped with my novels.

My first novel begins with a hit and run accident.  I was left wondering if my writing sounded convincing enough when revealing the emotions of my characters.  It was not until I was going over my personal experiences that I discovered I must have had some kind of repressed memory.  I was in primary school when my grandfather was hit by a truck.  He died instantly.  Images and emotions of the days that followed flashed through my mind.  I did know about such an event; I know how that feels.  I feel I can now do my re-writes with more confidence.

It’s also funny how timing comes into our lives.  Through my husband’s work, he forwarded on a link to a Victorian Roads commercial.  This video is both graphic and confronting, yet it brings the message home.  It, too, has allowed me to focus on the emotions and the people who are left behind.  Since watching this video, I have discovered that looking outside the box is a helpful tool.

As Nancy Davidoff Kelton writes in her book:  ‘Writing isn’t about going far.  It’s about going far within’.

How far are you willing to travel?

When Failure is Not an Option.

To help celebrate the release of her Totally Twins series, Aleesah Darlison is embarking on a blog tour.  Today, I’m honoured to have her as a guest blogger to talk about rejection and perseverance.  Thank you Aleesah!

One of my all-time favourite quotes is by American actress, Mary Pickford (1893-1979). I keep her words of wisdom taped beside my computer where I work every day and I’ve often used them to motivate me through the tough writing times I’ve faced.

‘If you have made mistakes… there is always another chance for you… you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.’

I get a lump in my throat every time I read that quote. It’s so brilliant, so inspiring, so true. And every time I read it, it makes me want to pick myself up, dust myself off and keep going.

I’ve been writing for children for about four and a half years now. During that time, I’ve received over 400 rejections. It’s true, I kid you not. Following the advice of Di Bates, well-known Australian  children’s author and mentor to many aspiring writers over the years, I keep a record of all my submissions to publishers, competitions and magazines in a detailed spreadsheet.

To me, 400 rejections equals 400 failures.

How do I deal with that?

Well, I try not to focus on the failures. They’re all learning experiences. They’re all the attempts I’ve tried to improve my work. And the more failures you have, the more triumphs you are likely to achieve. It’s a numbers game. Right?

What I focus on instead, are the triumphs. The acceptances. Sure, they were non-existent at first and even now I’m a (newly!) published author they seem only to ever trickle in and I still get loads of rejections. But I don’t let them get me down. Not for too long, anyway. There’s always an element, no matter how brief, of grieving the loss of another publication-hope. There’s always that hint of ‘what’s wrong with my story?’ or ‘what’s wrong with me as an author?’.

But you can’t give in to those feelings. They will only hold you back.

Besides, writing is such a subjective field. What one publisher hates, another will love. If one publisher rejects your manuscript, well, it’s an opportunity to send it to someone else.

Believe this, it’s true.

Of course, there were times when I doubted I’d ever make it. There were times, as I watched friends and members of my writers’ group get published and I didn’t, that I thought I’d always be lost in the world of nearly-published, that I’d be forced to spend my life living on the periphery and waiting in vain hope. But I kept going. I had to. All I wanted to do was write. Whether someone published my work or not, my stories still flowed. What else could I do, but keep trying?

Are there sacrifices? Definitely. Like sunny days spent inside my tiny office tapping away at the computer instead of sunbaking by the pool. Like long, wintery nights spent inside my tiny office tapping away at the computer instead of being tucked up in bed. Like hours missed watching my children grow and laugh and frolic. That’s probably the one that hurts the most because I know how quickly their lives can rush by into adulthood. Still, I try to find a balance and still I know I crave this life of a writer so much that I must make it happen. The sacrifices, for me, if balanced well, are worth it.

My first book, Puggle’s Problem, was released in July 2010. It’s a picture book about a baby echidna, a puggle, who can’t get his spines. My second book, Totally Twins: Musical Mayhem, was released in September. It’s about identical twins, Persephone and Portia Pinchgut and is the first book in the Totally Twins series. Both books are selling well.

Now I’ve achieved my dream of becoming a published author, I probably spend less time writing and more time promoting my books. I’m ‘on the circuit’ as an author friend said to me, conducting school visits, author talks, appearing at festivals, running workshops, organising book launches and tours, and driving my own publicity. True, the marketing side of this ‘business’ steals writing time from me, but it’s become a crucial part in the modern author’s artillery to help establish your name and stand out from the crowd.

And I can’t say I don’t love it. Being able to talk to children and adults about my work, having them as enthusiastic and passionate about the stories I write and the themes I address in my books, is amazing and delightful and totally surprising. It’s kind of addictive in a way, this performance side to being an author and again, I must find a balance. I must find some way to fit it all into my life.

I don’t want to think about the wasted years not spent driving myself towards my writing goal. I’m no teen-author, that’s for sure, I’m not even a twenty-something author. But I still have a few good years in me and a few good stories, I hope. So, I won’t look back at the failures or the lost years, I’ll only look forward to the next submission I make and to living in hope that it will be a ‘yes’ this time.

And next time you receive a rejection don’t dwell on it too long, for your time is precious. Just remember my 400 failures and remember Mary Pickford’s words:

‘…this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.’

Aleesah writes picture books and novels for children in the fantasy and contemporary fiction genres. She also reviews books for The Sun Herald. Aleesah’s stories have appeared in the black dog books Short & Scary anthology, The School Magazine and Little Ears. She has won numerous awards for her writing. In 2009, she was awarded an ASA mentorship and was runner-up in the CBCA (NSW) Frustrated Writers Program.

To find out more about Aleesah, visit her website at: www.aleesahdarlison.com.

Next stop on Aleesah’s blog tour is Susan Stephenson’s, The Book Chook blogspot at: www.thebookchook.blogspot.com/ where Aleesah will talk about ‘What’s the Go with Pokemon?’

Images courtesy of Aleesah Darlison

Finding Advice at Author Talks.

Recently, I attended an author visit by John Flanagan, author of the Ranger’s Apprentice series.  The series began as a collection of short stories for his young son, who was not interested in reading.  Although the series was originally meant for young boys, the series has a large following amongst girls (John took his publishers advice on introducing a strong female).  The books have since gone on to sell millions of copies throughout the world, been translated into various languages and has won many awards.

John was entertaining, informative and great with the children.  A highlight was his ‘show and tell’ – being a longbow, which he got some of the children to demonstrate.  Here is his advice to writers just starting out:-

  • Plan your story – you wouldn’t get in your car without knowing exactly where you were going.
  • Story ideas can be found anywhere – it could be as simple as just walking down the street.
  • Character names can also be found anywhere – one character’s name was found upon a billboard in Tamworth advertising a local business (of course, some alterations had to be made).
  • Although rejection letters can feel personal, your story may not suit the publishers’ requirements, or the publisher may recently have accepted something similar.  John was rejected about nine times!
  • Be persistent – John Flanagan almost gave up trying until one of his children reminded him of those short stories he had written some time ago (they later went on to become the Ranger’s Apprentice series).

Attending author talks can be very rewarding – not only do you learn about the author’s work, you also get a feel for their personality and see how they interact with their readers.   I recommend it to anyone.

Image by Debbie Johansson.