Life Lessons · This Writer's Life · Writing

Writing: A Change in Direction.

For the past few months, I have been submitting short stories to competitions. I have been doing this on and off over a number of years and despite the continual knock backs, I have been successful once. Perhaps this is why I continue to persevere; after all, when it comes to writing, we do have to be in this for the long haul. However, there also comes a time when we have to admit when something isn’t working and need to consider our alternatives.

It was very timely, therefore that I read a couple of posts by Kristen Lamb Pay the Writer 2 – Out Hustle the Hustlers and Writing Exposure – Gamble or Grift? that got me thinking. The rules of publishing these days have changed. Many writers like myself are of the old belief that if we write and get exposure we are helping to build our CV. This will eventually lead to work coming our way. These days, however, the old rules no longer apply and that older way of thinking can be a bit hard to shake off.

The reality is that by sending my work out to competitions, I’m still waiting for that ‘validation’ for the gatekeepers to accept me. Because I allow my fear and insecurity to hold me back, I need someone to tell me whether I’m good enough for this game and each rejection adds to those insecurities. At the same time, though, those knock backs are a good way to help develop that thick skin. We keep holding on for that win. But the competition is fierce and the win may never come.

Writing for exposure is fine when writing is a hobby, but when it comes to taking your writing seriously and being paid for it, we may need to be a bit more selective. We should be the ones benefiting from our writing and not giving our work away so freely in order to benefit others. My one and only ‘win’ at least taught me that there can indeed be benefits.

One of my beta readers suggested I compile my short stories and self-publish. I’ve been thinking of doing exactly that for some time, but it is fear that is preventing me from doing so. I know that I have now reached a point in my writing where self-publishing is the road I will be travelling. It’s a long road and to begin with it’s going to be pretty rough. In the end though, I do believe that the journey will be worth it. So, who’s with me?

Does fear and insecurity hold you back? Will you be going down the path of self-publishing? If you’re self-published, has it turned out better than you expected? Have you won any writing competitions? Have you become more selective when it comes to your writing?

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Writing · Writing Process

5 Lessons Learnt in Writing a Novella.

book-419589_1280Last week I finally completed the first draft of my first novella (yay)! I’m still short of my intended word count, but I’ll leave that for later when the ‘real’ writing starts – that is, the dreaded edits and re-writes. 😉

Some years ago I made my first attempt at writing a bush poem and during a critique it was recommended that I could convert it into a short story. That idea grew to the extent that I decided to try my hand at writing a novella. So now that I have a rough draft behind me, what exactly did I learn when it comes to writing a novella?

1. Do Some Research Before You Start

In order to help with the plot for your novella, it’s handy to get some research done before you start. Even if you have some idea of facts for your novella, when you stew over your plot you may find you require a bit more information. You don’t want to leave a hole in your plot while you are writing, as this only prevents you from moving forward (note to self). By having some research up your sleeve before you start writing frees you up from having to do a lot of it when you’ve finished.

2. Do Up an Outline

Like short stories, in a novella, you need to concentrate on one plot with a limited cast of characters. I tend to sit on the fence a bit when it comes to being a plotter or a pantster. I usually do up rough outlines for my ‘novel’ ideas, whereas for short stories, there is no planning involved; I have an idea and run with it. In the case of writing a novella, I found that doing a rough outline helps. It allowed me to help focus on the relationship between the two main characters (in this case a husband and wife) and how they came to be in the situation the novella finds them in. Breaking the plot outline down into each scene also helps build tension and conflict.

3. Know How it Will End

As I was converting my bush poem into a novella, I already had my story’s ending. I found this quite helpful in telling the story, because from there I could work backwards by asking myself the ‘why’ questions, resulting in digging deeper into my characters personalities and their relationship with each other as well as helping with the plot. Because I knew the ending, this was one of the first scenes I actually wrote. This helped with the setting, giving me a better picture of what time of year the events took place and setting up the mood for the rest of the novella. Writing the last sentence also gave me an unexpected idea that could possibly be worked into the novella.

4. Don’t Think about Word Count

You need to make sure that both your characters and your plot are strong enough to last anywhere between 20,000 – 40,000 words. I’m used to writing short stories (the longest short story I have written so far is about 2,500 words), so stretching for a longer word limit appeared somewhat daunting. I was reaching a point where I became more focused on the word count than the actual story itself. My husband, being the helpful accountability buddy that he is, mentioned that the story itself should dictate how long it will be. It was at that point in time when I told myself to worry about that later in the re-writing/editing phase.

5. Go Where the Story Takes You

I know this flies in the face of what I mentioned before about doing an outline, but bear with me. There are occasions when stories can go off in a completely different direction than what we had originally planned. Sometimes characters can take a life of their own; you want a particular character to go one way, when they decide they want to go another. Like a determined child, no matter how much you try to rein them in, things don’t always work out the way you want it to. That’s when you need to give up and just go with it – you may find that the character knows better than you do. The same can also be said if a novella takes you along the path to an entirely different genre. Experiment, but above all, have fun!

Have you written a novella and what did you learn from the experience? Are you a plotter or a pantster? Do you worry about word count when you’re writing? Have you found your plot and/or characters take you on a completely different direction than what you had planned?

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Writing Short.

short breakFor years, writers had been lead to believe that the best thing for them to do was write novels. For writers like myself, who were used to writing short, this usually posed as quite a daunting task (still does). Thankfully, with the introduction of self-publishing, writing short could become a relief for those who enjoy writing in the short form.

As a subscriber to Anne R Allen’s blog, I can be thankful that I am one of those writers that have always enjoyed writing short. Anne has written a number of blog posts regarding short stories and I recommend you read them if you haven’t already done so.

For me, writing longer projects has always seemed daunting. A few years back I had some writing assessed. Being fairly new to a complete stranger reading my work, I felt the need to apologise for my writing. I felt it wasn’t enough; that there wasn’t enough description. The reader, however, didn’t have a problem with it, believing that sometimes ‘less is more’. That’s when I began to write even tighter. Years later, this would prove a valuable skill when I undertook University studies. I became used to keeping what needed to be said in as few words as possible. Writing short is a matter of getting your message across quickly and is good practice for that all important ‘hook’ at the very beginning.

Writing short can take some time to master and can be a great starting point for new writers. I’ve found that blogging can be a great help in keeping your writing ‘on topic’ with each blog post. Writing short pieces, short stories, even personal essays are a great way to build up your publishing credits and prepare you for longer projects.

Anne told me that my writing is ‘just right for today’s market’, so if you also struggle with the longer form and like to keep things short, don’t be put off by it; instead, embrace that skill. In today’s market, you’ll be rewarded for it.

Do you enjoy writing in the short form? Do you struggle writing longer pieces or shorter pieces? As a beginner, have you ever felt the need to apologise for your writing?

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3 Reasons New Writers Should Try Writing Short Stories.

ShortsA few years ago I began writing short stories and eventually took the plunge in submitting some of them into competitions.  After having little success, I became disheartened, especially after paying entry fees and receiving no feedback.  Eventually I gave up my short stories and began wondering if they were becoming a lost art.

Last year, however, I attended a Short Story Workshop and posted on my blog advice on Writing the Short Story.  Now I am delighted to see that lately there has been a bit of discussion about the short story form.  Due to people’s hectic lifestyles,  shorter attention spans and indie publishing, there is renewed interest – May was unofficially short story month.

On her website, Joanna Penn discussed 5 Ways Short Stories Can Boost Your Writing Career, and Anne R Allen had great explanations on why Short is The New Long: 10 Reasons Why Short Stories are Hot.

So for new, unpublished writers, I’ve come up with three reasons why you should try writing the short story:

1. Short stories help you get to the point quickly.

Short stories don’t need a lot of build-up on setting and character development, so you need to get to the action right away.  This enables you to help hook your reader in, which is a great help when you want to write longer pieces.  Also, getting to the point quicker can assist with writing your resolution – an added bonus if you struggle with endings.

2. Short stories tighten your writing.

With a much shorter word count than the novel, short story writing can help you with the editing process.  You need to use fewer words in order to get your message across, so you need to make every word count.  Entering competitions is a great way to help reach that all important quota (just because the form is shorter, it doesn’t mean they’re any easier to write).

3. Writing short stories helps build up a body of work.

Short stories are a lot less time consuming.  Novels can take months and even years to write – however, depending on the length, the first draft of some short stories can be written within a week, even within a day.  You receive quicker feedback from your beta readers, so you have a better understanding on how your writing is progressing.  A larger body of work can tell publishers that you are taking your writing seriously.

Feeling inspired by this resurgence, lately I’ve been bringing new life into some of my short stories – how about you?

What are your thoughts on the renewed interest in the short story? Do you write them? Have you ever entered any into competitions? Were you successful? Have you given up on competitions and submitted them to publications instead?

Image by Debbie Johansson.

Writing · Writing Treks

Writing the Short Story.

I recently attended a Short Story Writing Workshop run by the Central West Writers’ Centre.  Award winning author, Chris Womersley was our teacher for the day.  His first novel The Low Road won the Ned Kelly Award for crime fiction.  His second novel Bereft was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, the Australian Society of Literature Gold Medal and won the Indie Award for Best Fiction.  In 2007 one of his short stories won the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize, so we were in capable hands.

Here are some of Chris’s advice on how to write the short story:-

  • Be a bit of a magpie when it comes to getting ideas.  Stories are great ‘what ifs’.  Let the reader bring their own ideas to the story.
  • You need to make sure your story is for a short story and not a novel.
  • Don’t adhere too much to real life – experiment.
  • Story is conflict.  Expectations are thwarted, change the status quo.  Start story at the time of change – action, background, character.
  • Who is the best person to tell your story?  First person can be more compelling, third person has more scope.  Generally stick to one character.
  • Be ruthless to characters; kill your darlings.
  • Never use language that your character wouldn’t use.  If it’s out of character, lead up to it – set some groundwork or you could lose your reader.
  • Tense and point of view needs to be consistent.
  • Choice of words shouldn’t be random.
  • Sometimes you need to tell the reader certain things, rather than show. It depends upon the story.
  • Consider listening to music that co-incides with the writing you are trying to produce to help set the tone for your story.
  • Have you conveyed your message clearly?
  • Surprise yourself.  If it’s unexpected for you, it will be the same for the reader.
  • Resolution of plot is not the main attraction.

Have you written a short story?  Got any great tips for writing the short story?

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