I’ll be starting up Tuesday Writing Tips again soon on this blog.
Feel free to share this with any writer friends you know who might also have writing questions/issues.
I’ll be starting up Tuesday Writing Tips again soon on this blog.
Feel free to share this with any writer friends you know who might also have writing questions/issues.
My talented and wise writer friend, Claire Saxby once told me “there’s only a thin line between being published and not being published. One day you’re not published and the next day you step over the line and you are.”
This whole concept really resonated with me because it’s so true. You are still the same writer/person you were the day before, it’s just that you are now published.
It shows how precarious but hopeful this whole writing business is. It just takes one piece of luck to get you over that line.
But some days you think getting published will never happen – and even once you are published, you wonder when you will be published again.
It’s easy to become despondent – to think about giving up. But the reality is that giving up is actually harder than you think. If you are a writer, it’s in your blood and can’t be denied.
I had quite a slow year on the writing front last year. I had one book out – and a truckload of rejections – some very nice rejections but they were still ‘no thanks’. I even had a couple of ‘not yet, needs more work’ responses.
I start each year full of hope, but of course never really know where it will lead me.
At the start of this year, I began with my usual optimism, but at the time, I felt it might be a bit misplaced because I had NOTHING on the horizon. I had a lot of manuscripts written, but no promises of publication.
Then things changed. Early in the new year, I had Tom’s Dare accepted by Pearson. It’s a story about two kids growing up in Colonial Australia and it came out last month.
Around the time of the acceptance, I also applied to do a mentorship through SCBWI Nevada to work with New York Times bestselling verse novelist, Ellen Hopkins. I knew that competition for the mentorship would be fierce and my changes of getting it were slim, but I had to try anyway.
I also applied for every funding grant known to mankind to help me pay for the program and the airfares from Australia.
Then I sat back and waited – and wrote some more.
In June, I found out that my funding application from the Copyright Agency Limited had been successful. A couple of weeks later, I learned that I had also been received into the mentor program.
Despite slow beginnings, 2013 was shaping up to be a very good year.
Around about this time, I was contacted by Pearson to see if I would be interested in contributing to their Bug Club books. They wanted me to write a book about extreme sports. I had been skydiving and hot air ballooning and loved both – I thought this book was definitely something I could. Then one book about extreme sports became two.
Pearson must have been happy with what I had written because they then asked me to write a couple of books about cats – another great topic for animal loving me.
From there followed a book about how to make finger puppets, three books about a girl with a lot of pets, and another three titles.
I had so much fun working on all these titles, and couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be asked to write them.
So for me, a year with no prospects but lots of hope has turned into a truly amazing one.
You can’t give up hope.
Things can change for the better at any moment. You just have to keep writing and believing in yourself and submitting your work (no matter how hard rejection can be.)
I’d love to hear about your successes this year. Please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post (and include links to where we can buy your books)
Sub plots add interest and depth, but they can’t be allowed to overpower the main story
One of the problems I’ve identified is subplot. One of my subplots has grown so big that it’s taking over the story. The other thing I’ve realised is that one of the characters in the subplot (even though he’s dead), doesn’t actually need to be there – he just complicates things – and not in a good way.
When you look at a spider web, you’ll see that there are some threads that seem to hold the whole thing together. They interconnect with and support the more delicate threads – that’s kind of how a subplot works. It has to be strong and relate to other threads, but it’s usually the same size and thickness as the others – at looks like it belongs.
Another thing with my subplot is that I had just used it as a device to explain things about my main characters. It wasn’t actually essential to the story. While it explained a lot about certain characters, it didn’t actually add anything to their story – in fact, it distracts the reader from what the book is really about.
The other thing about this subplot – and one of the reasons why it seemed to take over the story was that it stood out – it didn’t link to other subplots – it didn’t connect to or have a place in the web of my story.
Not only that, but the subplot had a strong theme that was equal in weight to the actual plot – so in fact it wasn’t a subplot, but a plot for another story. My main theme involved drug addiction. My sub plot involved a child being interfered with by a family member – both strong themes – but not ones that really belong in the same book.
So here’s what I’ve learned about sub plots:
Have you ever had a subplot that’s tried to take over your story? What did you do about it? Feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments section of this post.
Happy writing and apologies to any arachnophobics, but I do think stories plots are like a web – don’t you?
It always made sense to me that if you want to find out what someone is publishing, you go to conferences to hear them speak, maybe even do a pitch so you get a personal vibe for what they are looking for.
So I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to realise that if you want to find apply for arts funding, you really should speak to the people who manage it before you fill out your grant application.
Applying for funding is not an easy road – I’ve applied many times without success, but when you believe in a project, you just have to keep trying:)
I’d probably still be living in ignorance if it weren’t for my good friend and writing buddy, Alison Reynolds. I was coming to Melbourne for a book launch so Alison kindly booked me in for an interview with the Australia Council to find out all about funding and whether my WIP might be eligible.
It was such an eye opener. Previously, I’d ‘assumed’ that the publishability of the project was a major criteria in the selection process – not true. There are so many other things you need to focus on in your application.
MY TEN TIPS
From my interview at the Australia Council, I realised that these are the things they are looking for in applications:
The Australia Council currently has Literature grants available in a number of categories. You can find out more here.
Good luck with your submissions. If you have any other tips about grant applications or would like to share your success stories, please feel free to comment on this post.
I hope you enjoyed the cyber bubbles. Feel free to help yourself to another piece of cyber cake.
Josie Montano is here now to share some fabulous writing tips based on how she wrote her novel, Sunlight.
Research the lingo for the age group you are writing for, i.e.: early teens speak differently to teens in their later years, so if your character is 14, make her a regular natural 14 year old. There’s a big difference between a twelve, fourteen and a sixteen year old, primarily hormones:-)
I research by eavesdropping on the bus, but don’t make it creepy stalky like, or they’ll just think you’re some crazy cat person! Also if possible and if mutually acceptable and appropriate, befriend teens on facebook so you can read how they communicate with one another. You can straight out ask a teen for help with lingo for your book if you feel you are not getting ‘it’. If you have teens in the house, perfect … just make them sit down to dinner with you and listen to the silence …. 🙂
Sunlight is my fifteenth fiction book but the first to be published outside Australia.
Sunlight visited six Australian publishers over four years and none of them were interested in publishing it, I always wondered whether it was because it was a touchy subject, cancer? I never gave up on having it published, never let those rejections get to me and even considered self-publishing when I noticed an add in ‘Buzz Words’ where Solstice Publications were looking for paranormal manuscripts. What the heck I thought, maybe my story borders this genre as the main character travels from one world to another. So I sent it to them and here we are today!
If you have an agent then they may be able to help you get your author tentacles in. Or if you are persistent, and vigilant then keep a keen eye out for opportunities – they are always there.
The definition is really hard to wrangle but here are a few dot points that helped me get my head around it!
Of course! Look at the latest works of Hunger Games and Twilight for example, YA and fantasy/paranormal combined. You can have teen angst, coming of age stories mixed with a spec-fiction sub-genre.
Sunlight was part of my university Masters and I wrote the novel and also am researching the exegesis (essay). I chose to research how the tools of method acting can assist with method writing. I won’t say much more as I’d like you all to wait for my paper to be published.
OK you twisted my arm, here’s one example of how I utilised method writing into the manuscript. I used memories from my own cancer journey of nearly ten years ago and wrote them directly into the emotions of my teen character in Sunlight.
I always become my character, a little like I allow my character’s ‘soul’ to slip into/takeover my body. I was known to dress like a teen while writing Wogaluccis – around the house of course!
I get to know my character from the inside and out. So not only their physical features, but their emotional needs, concerns, angst, what triggers their emotions, what was their past like, what is their future going to look like. I have a questionnaire that I like to fill out initially that brings out the character onto paper.
Rewind back a few years before my own cancer experience, I was asked by a teacher of a hospital school to visit one of their students as she had read Wogaluccis and loved it, the teacher thought it would be a lovely surprise for her student while she was a patient going through chemotherapy. This visit to a very special young adult lying in her bed wearing her best wig and make-up left me feeling very humbled, and I knew I had to honour this experience, but a story evaded me for years – and I know now why, because I had to experience this myself.
It was then a few years after my own cancer journey that I wanted to get life insurance – which was a frustrating exercise because as soon as the insurance company found out I had cancer (even though now in remission) they didn’t want a bar of me. So I compared that with an ex-prisoner who even though they have done their time and have been rehabilitated, finds it hard to get a passport, enter another country, get a job, gain respect etc because they have this prison sentence over their head.
Click! The idea began to formulate in my head, what if my story is about a young girl diagnosed with cancer, how does this affect her family life, social life, school etc? Will her boyfriend support or dump her? What kind of strength does she need to go through the therapy? How does she cope with that? And I answered my own question with …. She goes into a fantasy prison world which parallels her true world to cope with her diagnosis, pain and therapies.
Um I didn’t. My story just fell into that genre. So don’t get caught up in the genre, get caught up in the story … ooh I like that one, copyrighted!!! Write your story with meaning, heart, passion and I always throw in a little humour, yes even with a serious topic like cancer, then work out what genre it fits into. And make your writing mean something, from a picture book to an adult novel, even the simplest story will mean something to someone, somewhere.
I’m not ashamed to say that I didn’t even know what the term spec-fiction meant until I started my university masters. I recognised the genres that huddle under the spec-fic umbrella but didn’t know they had were part of a spectrum.
I also don’t particularly like full-on fantasy stories such as dragons, elves etc, I prefer science fiction and specifically stories with robots, artificial intelligence etc – I seem to be attracted to Phillip K Dick’s writing style.
I also don’t find myself attracted to vampires or the paranormal, have not read any of the Twilight books and yet find it very surprising that I am dabbling with a sequel to Sunlight that may incorporate vampires in a fantasy world that my character will delve in. So that will be interesting!
If you have a question for Josie about her writing, feel free to leave it in the comments section of this blog.
WIN JOSIE’S BOOK
You can win an e-book version of Josie’s new YA novel, Sunlight by sharing a funny or positive cancer experience in the comments section of this post.
You can buy Sunlight at the following locations:
P.S. See you back here in half an hour for a review of Josie’s book.
Some people suffer from writer’s block because they can’t think of anything to write. For me, writer’s block is caused by having too many things I want to write … too many ideas colliding in my head.
Only my closest friends (and family) know just how many finished, but not quite right/not quite ready/just not quite manuscripts I have stored in the overflowing filing cabinets in my study.
Recently I decided that the ‘system’ wasn’t working. I am usually working on 2 or 3 works in progress at once and if I spread out all the drafts and research for these manuscripts, my study turns into complete chaos. And I have to spread the materials out because I can’t keep all the information in my head.
LET THE DOG SEE THE RABBIT/S
All my WIPs are going into clearly labelled plastic containers that if stacked, should take up less room than my filing cabinets. And I can sort them into genre stacks…YA contemporary, YA dystopian, chapter books, mid grade adventure, mid grade humour, picture books, non-fiction, adult books …. yep I have some of each.
The theory behind all this is that it should allow me to focus on ONE piece of writing at a time. I plan to get that ONE box off the stack and leave it out while I’m working on it …. and then put it back in the stack.
Apart from anything else, this stack system allows me to see exactly what manuscripts I have in which genre so I can target particular publishers or competitions, and just focus on those manuscripts.
There’s also incentive to get manuscripts published so that the stacks don’t become too high and cause a potential toppling hazard.
That’s the theory. Wish me luck.
If nothing else, the whole exercise has allowed me to see what I have to work with … and to focus on ONE thing at a time. I guess it’s allowing me to symbolically and practically compartmentalise things.
So here are some things I’ve learned that help me focus on ONE manuscript at a time.
Do you have trouble staying focussed on one manuscript? What do you do to keep you on track? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Feel free to leave them in the comments section of this blog.
I’ve been working on my YA trilogy which is a complex maze of characters, plot and foreshadowing. I tried a series of different plotting devices, but what I realised this week is the thing I need most is to take a break – to stop forcing the issue and allow my subconscious to do its work.
I find that the more pressure I put on myself, the harder it is for my brain to relax…for my thoughts to flow freely…to find the creative solutions I need.
Part of my difficulty has been the discovery that what I thought was book one in the trilogy is actually book two and now I have to basically start from scratch – which is okay, but these characters and their conflicts have been in my head for so long that I feel like I need to put some distance between us.
Basically, I got to 12,000 words and hit the brick wall. Even though I know what’s going to happen, I need to do more character development and plotting…and thinking. Like a freshly made pot of tea, I need to leave this story to let it brew. So, hard as it has been, I’ve walked away from the manuscript for the time being.
I’m taking a break and loving it…and I know that when I get back to this story I’m going to love it a whole lot more too.
Sometimes you need to walk away from a manuscript. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but it’s okay to let it go for the time being and move on to something else.
Here’s what to I’ve been doing and these are some things that might help you if you feel like your manuscript is managing you:
Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section of this post.
There’s a lot being published, but people seem less prepared to take risks – particularly on new and emerging authors.
Instead of producing completely new works, I’ve seen a definite trend with publishers in Australia to republish things that have sold well – but in a different format. Or they commission established writers to work on projects that their marketing departments think or know from experience will bring sales.
This is all great! It means authors are still getting their work published and there are still fabulous books out there to be read…and we all understand publishers have to make a living.
But unfortunately, if you haven’t established yourself as a writer yet, it seems to be getting harder and harder to break into mainstream publishing.
At the moment, I have six projects out on submission across different genres – two YAs (one verse, one prose), one mid-grade novel, one chapter book, one stand alone picture book and a picture book series.
And for a while there, I started to think that my submissions were going into the Bermuda Triangle. I sent them out and never heard word of them again. Thankfully, I’ve had a couple of positive responses lately, but I have come to accept that this is the way of publishing. Agents and publishers receive so many submissions that they just don’t have time to respond to all of them.
So I’m taking ‘no response’ to mean ‘no thank you’ and I’m moving on.
I’m looking at what I’ve written and reworking it if necessary, and some submissions I’m simply sending elsewhere. (In a strategic way of course – after researching and finding out who has an interest in the kind of thing I write)
Fortunately, I have a group of truly wonderful and supportive writerly friends who understand how all this feels and who pep me up when I’m feeling despondent.
In the end I know it’s up to me. I find that the best cure for the writing blues, to drag me out of that black hole of uncertainty is to write.
Writing is the thing we have control over. It allows us to immerse ourselves in a world that has less pressure and stress. It allows us to express how we feel, to challenge ourselves, to make us consider events and circumstances outside our experience.
Writing makes me happy. It gives me hope.
There’s always the hope that this is the manuscript publishers will fall in love with. If I don’t have anything to submit, then there’s no hope of publication.
We have to dream, hope and we have to write. It’s who we are. Writing helps us move on.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to getting published, but the one certain thing is that we have to keep writing – for us, for our future readers. We have to write our way through these difficult times in publishing.
How do you cope with rejection/uncertainty/lack of progress with your writing career? Please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions. They may help other writers to keep writing.
Have hope, stay strong and happy writing:)
P.S. Next week I’m having a special event here at the Deescribe writing to help writers who are looking for a crit buddy or writer’s group.
Last Wednesday, my goat, Molly got her head stuck in the fence…not once, not twice but three times. It’s not something she normally does, but she was lured by the bright yellow flowers on the other side of the fence. She had to have them no matter what – her immediate goal got in the way of her common sense.
I sometimes think that this is what happens with writers yearning to get their work published. We are so focussed on the ultimate goal that we can’t be objective about our work – can’t deviate from what we are doing even though there may be a better way.
Molly getting her head stuck in the fence repeatedly also made me think about the fact that making the same mistakes over and over again (and not learning from them) is something that can hold our writing back. So how do we stop ourselves from doing this?
Here’s what I do:
I make a list of all the things I need to watch out for in my next draft.
- Are my characters interacting with the setting or have I just put description in?
- Have I made my plot too complicated?
- Have I developed my characters enough?
- Have I given my supporting characters different motives and focus?
- Have I used repetitive language?
- Has my character grown and changed during the course of the story?
Although I ended up with blisters and was physically tired from fixing Molly’s fence, it didn’t take a great deal of brainpower to solve the problem. All I had to do was attach finer mesh to the existing fence and use fasteners to keep it in place.
FIXING HOLES IN MANUSCRIPTS
As I twisted and attached the wire, I thought about how fixing fences is much easier than fixing holes in manuscripts.
For starters, holes in manuscripts are much harder to identify. Here’s how I identify mine.
1. Do a scene map identifying
2. Once I have my scene map I compare it to my plot diagram and see where the scenes match up, and if it’s where they should.
3. I look at turning points, the climax of the story and whether the resolution is strong enough.
4. I look at whether I have left the appropriate clues for the reader – will they be hooked into the story all the way through?
In much the same way as the fence rebuilding, I hope to identify the holes and fill the gaps.
How do you identify holes in your story? I’d love you to share your techniques and experiences in the comments section of this post.
P.S. Don’t forget to check back here for Friday Feedback and if you’d like to submit 150 words for feedback, email me Dee*at*DeeScribe*dot*com*dot*au
Recently, Rachna Chhabria, a writer friend from India suggested I blog about revising.
Seeing as I’ve spent the last few months revising a YA mystery thriller and an MG survival story, this seemed like a really good idea.
There are two ways I create novels. One is to plan every major plot point and graph them on a plot diagram. The other is to identify the important bits like inciting incidents (the piece of action that starts the character on a new path), turning points, midpoint reversal (where the story changes direction) and the resolution. This is how I wrote my MG survival story, allowing the plot to evolve as I wrote it.
What I’ve realised recently is that I revise differently depending on the method I’ve used to create the story in the first place. When it comes down to it, there are no ‘rules’ in writing or revising – this is simply what works for me.
This week I’m going to talk about revising my YA mystery thriller, THE SECRET LIFE OF MINDY PALMER, a novel with a straight narrative arc. In this story, 17 year-old Lia Palmer sets out to discover how her sister Mindy really died. This novel was carefully planned and structured so the plot diagram was like a working drawing that I could go back and examine to see what needed fixing.
Right from the start, I knew how I wanted the book to end so the structure involved creating a series of events leading up to the climax of the novel – events that would build tension and bring the reader closer to the main character.
As I revised, I looked back at my plot arc and at each individual event and asked myself these questions.
With this particular story I found that mapping it on a plot diagram was the right way to go. It allowed me to follow the progress of the story. Being a mystery/suspense meant that every event was crucial to the story. Every thing that happened had to have a reason for being there.
For a story like this, I’ve found that a plot diagram works really well because even if I think of a new conflict for my character, it can easily be added to the diagram by way of a ‘post it’ note as you’ll see from the pics in this post. The plot diagram gives me a snapshot of exactly what’s happening in my story – it gives me an overview.
So when I’m revising this kind of book, that’s how I look at structure to see if it’s working.
Author, Bren MacDibble says The problem I find with structure is that you can get it so wrong but you’ve covered it with such beautiful skin you’re reluctant to hack into it.
This is so true. When you’re revising, it’s hard to stand back and be objective about your own work – to tell yourself, this story is beautifully written but it’s not interesting or important enough to hook the reader. That’s where writers groups and crit buddies come in. It can take you a while to find the right one but it’s worth it.
Another writer friend, Shevi Arnold suggested a great technique for more detailed revision. She rewrites the same scene three times and picks the best one. This is a great way of working out if your dialogue, setting and characters are really working for you as they should be.
In the early drafts of THE SECRET LIFE OF MINDY PALMER I found I had flat scenes in my novel where nothing was really happening but they needed to be there to get my characters from one place to another – I guess these were the transition scenes. Shevi’s method really works for invigorating these flat scenes. Thanks, Shevi.
I’m focussing on structure in these revision posts because to me, that’s one of the most important things in your novel. From my experience, if you have a great story idea, editors and publishers will work with you to fine tune the detail. If you write beautifully, but your story idea is not engaging, it’s going to be a lot harder to make your novel work.
REVISION TIPS – PART TWO: Next week at Tuesday Writing Tips I’m going to look at revising a story that is less structured and has evolved through a more organic process.
I’d love to hear your revision tips. Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.