Tag Archives: writing

Like falling out of a window

Yes, it’s been seven months since I blogged. Shame on me, though I do have excuses. It is one year since I had a melanoma removed. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is like falling out of a window [a thousand other metaphors or similes come to mind] and ‘so far so good’ as I haven’t yet hit the ground. My quarterly check three days ago showed NED = no evidence of disease and no need to come back for four months.

You want more excuses? In July I had two related operations, nothing to do with cancer, ‘just bad luck’ consequences of the original melanoma operation. Successful, albeit with a long period of enforced inactivity.

Still not happy? Okay. This week I completed the first draft of ‘Stopping Time’, my novel about the challenges confronting modern universities; that is, the pressure to do more with less and to be more commercial, competitive and ‘relevant’ while maintaining core values of academic freedom. One hundred thousand words of pure gold. Maybe.

No more excuses.

Now it is decision time. Time to cross the river, not the Styx fortunately. The photo is one of many river crossings when I was hiking in the Flinders Ranges in September perfectly timed to coincide with a ‘once in 50 years’ weather event. Three ops and you gotta keep going through flood, storm, whatever.

Anyway, I digress. My decision, my metaphorical river to cross, is this. Which of my two manuscripts do I revise first? ‘Death on the Camino’, the one with potential but needs more work [according to an editor] and which is my first love? Or ‘Stopping Life’, the one which my mentor likes and which is probably more commercial and topical? The heart versus common sense.

Time for a walk in the rain and a spot of pondering…

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Decisions …

I described in my previous post the response of an editor to my novel ms set on the Camino. That person believes it can work well as a travel narrative and currently does not work as fiction, essentially being too introspective, intense and ‘Gothic’. I accept much of her criticism, albeit surprised she detested sections of my novel which published authors [not editors or agents] have praised in writing workshops. Fair enough, opinions differ and this editor is a professional whose assessment I should take seriously before deciding on my next step. After all, this is my first attempt at writing fiction.

But…

At a book launch last week, an acquaintance [a highly successful fiction writer] asked after my Camino ms, I summarised the opinion and after prodding, revealed the identity of the person. Her response – ‘Oh, everyone knows x never likes that stuff! X always goes for -‘. Followed by first rate gossip and a faint glow of affirmation on my part.

Alright, nothing new, nothing to be seen here, move along please. Publishers have preferences and profiles, make decisions good and bad and their worst mistakes become the stuff of folklore and we wannabe writers have a good laugh. I am not kidding myself, I know my ms needs more work. The frustration is receiving such contradictory feedback.

What next?

Revise my novel ms? No, I need to leave it for minimum six months to gain some distance from it.

Write a Camino travel book? Nope, the world has enough.

Start a new blog devoted to the people – fascinating, mad, appealing, romantic, annoying – whom I have encountered on various pilgrimage paths? Yes. Watch this space.

Write a university novel? I have had a story in mind for some years and maybe now I have the perspective to write it after four years out of the game. Again, watch this space.

 

A surprising response from an editor

Six weeks ago I sent my novel ms to 3 publishers. I had low expectations of success given the small number of novels published annually in Australia and the tidal wave of unsolicited manuscript submissions washing up weekly on editors’ desks. Nor did I expect any feedback since publishers’ websites sternly enjoin ‘no feedback will be given’ and ‘silence equals rejection’. Let’s add the fact that I had no idea if my writing was good, bad or ho hum who cares?

Imagine my surprise to receive feedback from one editor . Alas, not feedback saying this is the most brilliant piece we have ever seen and we’re publishing it unchanged in a print run of 1,000,000, film rights already being auctioned. Quite the opposite. As a work of fiction it requires more work and they are not interested. So far, so depressing. I keep reading.

They love the ‘compelling sense of place’ and the ‘very strong travel narrative’ – you may recall my story is set on the Camino in Spain and France – and suggest I focus on that in the short term, perhaps placing articles in travel magazines, perhaps as a stand alone travel book. Well, knock me down with the proverbial feather. I love quality travel narrative ranging from the classics of the 19th and early 20th century to contemporary travellers/commentators/writers and am no snob who believes fiction is inherently superior to travel narratives.

Anyway, it is early days and only 3 publishers, however, it does give me food for thought [sorry for the unimaginative cliché] as this blog began life as a story of hiking and writing and maybe that will be my path again after a detour into the land of fiction. Not that I am giving up on fiction, perhaps this story needs a breather though. It is my first effort, I have learned a lot and cliché alert number two, you have to know when to hold and when to fold.

I have experienced three dramatic turns in my life in the last year and this could be number four.

Watch this space…

 

Write like a Spartan: a small rant about rules for writing

No adjectives.
No adverbs.
No exclamations!
No background setting. ‘Get on with it!’
No explanations, ‘show, not tell’.
Short sentences to make it easier for the reader.
Break up long paragraphs to make it easier for the reader.
Start mid-scene so that the reader is not bored and drops the book within 30 seconds.
We live in a digital age of short attention spans so get to the point and keep it simple and fast. Oops, sorry, too complicated Hilary Mantel and as for James Joyce, what’s that all about?
Only one distinctive speech signifier per character.
The plot must be ‘this and therefore this and therefore this’ so no digressions. Sorry, Laurence Sterne, you are out.
Avoid flashbacks and non-linear narratives. Gone, Woolf and Calvino.
‘Kill your darlings’ is the cry. Sorry to all writers who write elaborate, luxurious and expansive prose. Red pencils at the ready.
Stay ruthless; if it does not propel plot or character, if it is merely digression, out it goes. Sorry, Tolstoy, Gogol, Mann, Dostoevsky etc. [and do not use ‘etc’].
Lean and straightforward prose is the mantra. Sorry, Proust, out you go. Sorry, Thackeray, get a good editor. Sorry, Woolf, self-indulgent and lacking in plot and clear structure. Austen? You can stay.
Out the door with the rest of you.
Hemingway? Ideal, albeit spawning countless bad imitations and we need to separate the author from the writing; no problem, we celebrated the ‘death of the author’ decades ago.
And when all too often the critically and commercially successful novel breaks all these rules, we are told ‘ah well the exception proves the rule’ and we odd sagely [note unnecessary use of adverb].
Yes, it is all good advice and it helps prevent the self-absorbed, over-written, neglectful-of-audience stuff I was writing 12 months ago. Yes, it helps to train better writers in the same ways we can train people to be better athletes or dancers or guitarists. There is nothing mystical about writing [except for those authors who inspire awe and I ask ‘how do they do it?’] and rules are valuable: we have to know the rules and then know when to ignore or bend them.
Why this gentle rant? Maybe because I would love to hear/read a creative writer teacher to add the ‘and yet ….’ to these rules and to allow leeway, at least a little encouragement to ‘dare to be different’ to us wannabes.
They are only rules.

Our first anniversary

I was reluctant, but my friends kept telling me that I had to get out there, get in the game, join the million other hopefuls. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So I agreed to give it a try despite my anxieties that I was too old for this sort of thing and had been to the trough a few too many times; better to put on my slippers and night cap, get a dog and close the blinds. But that has never been my style and, recalling the old adage that you should never die wondering and that remorse is better than regret, I let myself be persuaded.
It was scary and it was exciting getting to know each other; the familiar tingle, the anticipation of our meetings, the world suddenly a brighter and happier place of colour, aromas, sound and sensation. A special connection with another! Sigh. Every poetic cliché of every trashy romantic novel.
She seemed to feel the same and that was wonderful.
After a couple of months, however, I could feel our connection slipping away. Sure, we liked each other, missed each other when we could not meet, but there was something lacking – the age old cry of lovers, no?
In the middle of the year we travelled together for two months and we had the closeness I craved. It did not last. Back in Australia I was ready to give up and she felt the same. It was simply not working and in my heart I knew it was my fault because I was withholding and not being my true self with her. I was playing a role and felt paralysed from acting differently. Nor was it all my fault; there was a guardedness in her, a core of secrets which she was not showing me.
I was losing her and I hated it. Hated my own inadequacies.
Knowing I had to change, I began to reveal more of myself: my hopes and fears, wants and needs, wounds and scars – the usual stuff. I began to find my own voice, becoming recognisable to myself and thus to others. Although she is cautious, I can feel her responding to me as I learn to trust and to share and to be ‘authentic’ [I know, all very new age]. Others do it, so why not me? How hard can it be? Don’t answer that, we know how hard it is to stop pretending and role playing and going through the motions and instead to be truly present and honest.
Early days and I have much left to learn. It is getting better.
Yes, it is our first anniversary.
One year since I began on WordPress in utter naivety. It has taken me a year to get a feel for what I want to do here and what I want to say; in short, to find my voice. Next I must take another deep breath and interact with the blogging community and not be only a passive reader and receiver; I could not do this unless I first found what I wanted to do with my blog.
She has been patient and accepting and you know, I think we’ll make it to our second anniversary!
Wish us luck!

The writing process: conquering the wastelands of Act 2

I had 50,000 words of draft 4 of my novel-in-progress and all had been running smoothly; heavens, I was even writing in Paris! Okay, not in an attic, still you get the picture and then boom. The plot became bogged, main character motivations became muddied, key turning points were arriving too early or too late in the narrative and the whole boat was listing badly, if not actually taking in water and sinking.
What had gone wrong?
I had been rattling along and feeling pretty good about my writing and thinking hmm, I should have draft 4 finished and ready to send to the assessor by the end of this year. By late yesterday I knew that it was not working: the narrative arc stalled exactly as I had read about and been warned about in writing workshops.
We have all read novels which start with a bang – original, tightly paced, sympathetic characters, interesting location and all the rest – and then it loses momentum, becomes flaccid, drifts, labours to make points and seems stale. Then we hit Act 3 and we pick up steam and sail into port (to muddle a few metaphors).
What to do? Back to the assessor’s comments to see what I had forgotten in the excitement of being in my own little world of writing every day and then, painfully, back to read the manuscript from page 1 to see where it had stalled. I was horrified to discover how much I had ‘forgotten’ of the detailed assessment discussions and reports and was able after a couple of hours of close reading of my manuscript to see where it had fallen flat. More sighs and then major surgery: deleting chunks of ‘fine writing’ which slowed the narrative and added nothing and bringing forward 1 turning point and delaying another.
Time will tell if the problem is solved. I comfort myself that at least I could tell when the words were dying as they fell from my pen.
Back to work with a lighter heart ….