Tag Archives: writing

Just say yes

No, this isn’t a reference to the Great Virginity Debate.  It was a new year’s resolution of sorts, and so far it’s bearing fascinating fruit.

Chess Nuts! is my tenth publication in ten years.  Last year I was overwhelmed by the dayjob and other projects, and I was frustrated at all the writing-related things I had to say no to.  So this year, prompted by a comment by a friend (thanks Danae!), I decided, wherever possible, to say Yes to writing-related activities, whatever they were.  No matter how scary-looking.  And look what has since cropped up:

  • the first chapter for The Age MS Readathon (which, to be frank, scared the pants off me – but I did it!)
  • a column on public education for the Education Department’s magazine, School Matters
  • a cover endorsement for the wonderful Carole Wilkinson‘s YA novel, Sugar Sugar
  • Perth Writers Festival gigs
  • lecturing and workshopping at Bunbury ECU
  • Chess Nuts! has been taken by Australian Standing Orders
  • writing with Delphine Jamet (even if it is slower than we both would like!) – joint authorship being a first for both of us
  • script editing for Tawdry Heartburn
  • touring Melbourne for Children’s Book Week

And, most wonderfully, the virginity novel is going be published – more detail on that later. 

I am famously skeptical about the magic of wishing, but maybe – just maybe – there’s something in it. 

Introverts unite

In my list of advice for practising but as-yet-unpublished writers, I discussed things that you might do, or attitudes you might take. But what I should perhaps have mentioned is the matter of temperament.

Temperament is a vague, catch-all term, I know, but it seems to me that most published writers share a particular kind of temperament, one that involves having an attitude of tenacious patience, if I might put it like that. It was because I was lacking in tenacious patience that I didn’t publish until I was 30*: before that, I could barely sit still, let alone pay writing the kind of attention it needed.

Being an introvert is also useful. If you’re not sure which you are, ask yourself, a la Dorothy Rowe, whether you are recharged by being around others, or by being alone. If the answer is the latter, you’re an introvert, or at least on the introvert side of the continuum. The world is not very accommodating to introverts (why can’t we all work from home, I ask?!), but introversion is an asset for writers, for obvious reasons.

(Update: my writing friend Karen Cunningham referred me to this, which is one way of finding your introvert factor, amongst other things. Thanks Karen!)

In other news, I am almost 60,000 words into The V Girls, and am doing my best not to think about all the work I’m going to have to do when the draft is done. I’ve also been very disturbed by writing the story one of the characters, who is recovering from trauma: I’ve learned that if I am not immersed in the story, the result is shallow and unsatisfying. So I have to let myself feel the character’s feelings, and it’s icky. The literary equivalent of method acting, I guess. If somebody has advice on how to write authentically minus the angst, I would be most grateful.

* In any case, writers are not like pop musicians: writers generally get better with age, whereas the loss of youthful drive seems to detach musos from their target audience. Personal opinion only, of course.

The joys of writing

Writing is a hard gig.**  First there’s the actual writing, a rollercoaster of pleasure and pain.  Then there’s finding a home for the product of your many hours of bum-numbing (literally) labour, and the possible (and, for so-far unpublished authors, inevitable) pain of rejection.  If you’re lucky enough to find acceptance, you then have to run the gauntlet of reviews, reviewers, and awards shortlists (or the lack of them).  And all of this while earning less than you would on the dole (unless you’re Mem Fox, who I heard remark about how much money she’d earned for such minimal effort.  Pah.) 

So writing joy can sometimes be thin on the ground, and when it descends, it needs to be noted and celebrated.

I am absolutely delighted, therefore, that the fabulous Cristy Burne has won this year’s Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Book Award in the UK for her novel Takeshita Demons.  I had the pleasure of getting to know Cristy through a mentorship program through Varuna: her writing has great energy, narrative drive and originality, and I’m so unspeakably happy to see that recognised.  (She also won the Voices on the Coast manuscript award last year for One Weekend with Killicrankie, which is a gorgeous piece of work). 

Cristy is also a study in what serious writers need to be able to do: keep going and keep positive.  Killicrankie had many almost-accepteds, and throughout she has continued to write, and to polish what she has already written.  The inimitable (and brutally honest) Doris Lessing once scoffed at a writer who had given up because his first novel hadn’t been published – her view, expressed in one Walking in the Shade (I think), was that you should keep going until you had it right, and that having several unpublished manuscripts in the drawer were part of learning the craft of writing.  (Anyone got the exact quote?)  Writing is not for the faint hearted; and faint hearted is what Cristy Burne is not.  I can’t wait to see Cristy in London in July and to have a glass of something nice to properly celebrate.

Meanwhile, I have just finished reading proofs for my Chomp Famous!, and am now in the process of doing a big structural edit/rewrite on Chess Nuts.  My wonderful editors make this part as easy as can be, but for my money, it’s way harder than the first draft.  But exciting, too: you can see the final novel taking shape under your considering, critical gaze.  Noice.

** Yes, yes, I know, nobody forces you to do it.  I’m merely making observations.

I heart you, Justine!

One of my sorrows about having missed the Perth Writers Festival was not getting to meet Justine Larbelestier, whose open-hearted and funny blog I adore.  In a recent post, she offers entirely apt advice for those struggling with the whole writing/publishing/awards/reviews conundrum.  I don’t know a writer alive who doesn’t have their own demons of doubt with some or all of the above, and it doesn’t get (much) better, no matter how published or successful you are.  I remember, at the beginning of my writing career, reading Bryce Courteney – who is so successful he has his own font – complaining that he wasn’t considered a real writer by Australian reviewers because he wasn’t literary.  If he’s insecure and niggly, just imagine how those of us who earn less than the dole from our writing income feel.

So, I share Justine’s wise words with you here.  I suspect the advice, with modification, applies to most of life’s endeavours.

You can only control the book you write.

You can’t control whether you sell it. You can’t control how big the advance is if you sell it. You can’t control how much is spent promoting it. You can’t control how many copies Barnes & Noble takes or whether they take it at all. You can’t control whether punters buy it when it finally appears on the shelves. You can’t control the reviews. You can’t control the award committees.

Spending time and energy angsting about any of that stuff will only do your head in.

All you can do is write the very best book you can.

It will get published or it won’t. It will find its market or it won’t. It will sell or it won’t. It will win awards or it won’t. None of that matters if you’ve written the best book you can.

To a fine 2009

Once upon a time, I used to religiously reflect on the year that was, and compose lists of resolutions for the year to come.  Like a good Protestant, I saw my life and the world around me as a project that always needed working on in order to feel that things were worthwhile.  Like a good Virgo, I would go back and tick off each of the previous year’s resolutions I’d stuck to or achieved (apart from the generalised ones like, say, world peace.)  But in the past few years, I’ve lost any interest in trying to better myself on a grand scale, or wishing for things that are impossible.  My new year’s resolution for 2006, as I remember, was, ‘Learn to use liquid eyeliner.’  Maybe it’s that I feel that life (touch wood) is generally a lot better than it used to be, and the surprises that come along are generally (again, touch wood) good ones, like getting a new job or having a book accepted, or hooking up with old mates. 

So I envy bloggers like the always fascinating Judith Ridge, who summon the energy to summarise their reading and other highlights from the previous year.  I don’t blog about my reading here because I’m not a critic, and that’s not what this blog is about.  Having said that, I will just mention some of the books I’ve read and loved in the last while, in case you’re short of some summer reading:

Simmone Howell Everything Beautiful
Tim Winton Breath (and can I say, if there’s anyone out there who can write about water and the surf better than Tim, I’d like to read them)
David Sedaris Naked
Marilynne Robinson Home
Alicia Erian Towelhead
Christos Tsiolkas The Slap
Joanne Horniman My Candlelight Novel

I should also mention that much of my reading is due to a) the heat, b) being on holidays and c) writing avoidance.  Which is not to say I’ve been doing much of c) as I’m about 12,000 words into the virginity novel, but still, grappling with characters and plots makes reading other people’s completed, edited and bound works highly appealing.  Especially on 37 degree summer days when you still have some holidays to go.

To fine reading in 2009!

Writing is rewriting

John Updike* once said, ‘Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what you are saying.’  As I’m in the throes of rewriting a story that will hopefully become an Aussie Chomp, and knowing I’m in for more with the chess novel, this is particularly apt.  Even with relatively short pieces, you have to have a clear idea about what your characters are doing and why, and to make sure everything evolves naturally from there.  At the moment it is a mystery to my readers as to why one of the characters is behaving the way she is, so I have to think about her life, her family, and her thoughts and feelings about herself before the story will work.  Even after so many novels and stories, I still need patient and insightful editors to tell me what’s missing – even though you’d think I’d have got the hang of it by now. 

*sighs, plods on*

Yesterday I did the first of a series of workshops with some very talented Year 10s at the School of Isolated and Distance Education.  I’ve set them a pile of homework, for which I hope they don’t hate me, aimed at getting them writing.  The technology is something else – we can all hear each other, they can show me their writing, they can highlight on the board, they can put their hands up, all without leaving our computers.  A bit different from when I did Distance Education in the mid 80s, when I got sent a pile of materials at the beginning of the year and then made my way through it.  Amazing, truly.

*He also said, ‘Sex is like money, only too much is enough.’   These days they’d send him to therapy.

I love Philip Pullman …

because he said this here:

My basic objection to religion is not that it isn’t true; I like plenty of things that aren’t true. It’s that religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.

Sage advice

I used to play classical guitar.  I stopped when I realised I couldn’t make the sounds in my head come out of my fingers, and I’m still not sure whether this was a wise or foolish decision.  Perhaps by now the Bach Preludes would have untangled themselves and I could do the hideous stretch needed on the Choro de Saudade.  Perhaps.

But I’ve been thinking recently about my teacher, the brilliant, messed-up and long-dead Brian Black, who told me a story, probably apocryphal, about the great Segovia.

The story goes that Segovia was visiting Perth (or Australia – the place isn’t important), and a rich woman asked Segovia for a private masterclass.  Segovia refused, the woman insisted, and eventually Segovia gave in.  The woman sat down, played her piece, and waited for Segovia to comment. 

After a long, uncomfortable silence, Segovia said, ‘Madam, if you have nothing to say, say nothing.’

Ouch. 

There are probably many morals to that story, including the one that says money doesn’t buy you talent, and, knowing the macho culture the classical guitarists I knew strutted about in, something about women not having the goods for the guitar.  *Insert counter-argument here.*  But it always comes back to me when I’m struggling with the whole writing/life/work, can-I-really-be-bothered-doing-this thing.  Do I want to say something badly enough to keep on?

Well, yes. 

There’s also the question of pleasure.  Maybe the rich woman loved the guitar, and Segovia robbed that love from her through his cruelty?  Writing fiction is intrinsically pleasurable.  And addictive.  (It also, if you go by Margo Lanagan‘s latest, leads to an enduring love of red wine.)

So, if you want to write, get rid of the Segovias in your mind, and write.