Tag Archives: Writing process

What is writing – some words for writers

Writing is the trade of experience.

You may have heard me say this before, and you may well hear me say it again. I think it’s an important observation because it reminds us as writers that we must stay connected to our experiences in order to explore and convey them. If we’re not connected to our experiences, we won’t connect with our readers. Simple as that. It also reminds us that we are trading our experiences with our readers, just as they trade theirs with us in their interpretation of our works. Writing is always a two-way relationship between writer and reader – even if your only reader is yourself. Celebrate that connection and don’t betray it.

Finally, the word ‘trade’ also connotes the idea of writing as a craft. Which it is. It’s not a jumble of words; it’s a collection of words carefully chosen to convey meaning. Most writers don’t deliver beautifully crafted sentences on-call and with undying consistency – these things take time, care and practice. There are of course writers who were just born with it and don’t need to keep aiming higher – I’m certainly not one of them. I need to work on my trade and always aim to improve it. Otherwise there’s no trade.

‘Writing is the trade of experience’ will be my quote when I am famous, which I’ll probably never be. This leads me to my next point.

Writing is not being published and/or being celebrated. It just is.

It’s guttural. It’s within you or it’s not. It’s that scratch that can never really be itched, that monster that screams out if it’s not fed. The beast that treads your dreams. You’ll know whether or not you have this beast within you.

Your need to write can cross the line from passion to obsession very easily, but can happily swing back the other way just as easily – like a pendulum on an old clock. Pick your moments before you take up that pen. Be careful of your obsessions when you write. Obsessions come through in your words as much as your passions do. Passion is better. Your readers will agree.

Writing is a promise.

It’s a promise to deliver emotional truths to your readers, to connect with them and understand them. It’s a promise to add something to your readers’ lives. Writing is not about you – it’s about your audience. You’re nothing but the hand behind the words, and the words take on a life of their own for each different reader. Let them go.

Writing is being both brave and humble.

It’s breaking down walls, pushing your boundaries and being courageous – despite your fears. It’s putting yourself out there and being willing to face the consequences. It is not being proud. It’s understanding the power of humility.

Writing is accepting – and committing to – failure.

Fall over. Get up again. Repeat, repeat. You may never be a successful writer. Deal with it and keep writing. What else is there?

Writing is understanding what it is to be human.

Enough said.

Writing is compassion.

Writing is accepting your own faults and the faults of others. Treat all your characters with compassion, even your worst villains. Writing is not being judgemental. If you’re writing from the perspective of a judgemental character, fine – but you as a writer must remove your own judgements from the process (as much as you can, anyway – you are human after all ; )).

Writing, of course, is life.

 

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Travel observations from a writer

So someone really thought through this design…

This post is a variation of one I just wrote for my life blog (http://littlewhitetruthsblog.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/little-white-travel-truths-and-quirks.html), but I’ve re-cast it from a writer’s perspective.

As a writer, one of your tasks is to observe – whether with an objective eye or with a subjective one (when you’re writing from the perspective of a particular character).

I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a good deal of travelling – fortunate in the sense that this is where most of my disposable income has gone in the past, and I don’t regret it. As part of these travels I’ve lived for a few months in Florence, Italy; Seville, Spain; and New York, Yemen (had you there for a second…; ) ). My husband and I also migrated to Berlin for just shy of two years at the beginning of 2012 and returned to Melbourne in late 2013. Over my travels I’ve noticed various quirks about different countries – including my own – and I wanted to share them. I’d be excited if anyone wants to add to the comments below about their own travel observations. They always make me smile, and please note: they’re meant well and not meant to be taken the wrong way!

Also, if I’m lucky, some of the observations below might be useful to fellow writers and spark off some ideas about content to include in their own writing. That would be really cool : )

The list!

Nowhere else in the world does washing strung high between windows look so amazing as it does in Italy.

Greece: I totally agree that a large bottle of beer should cost less than a small bottle of water.

Laughter sounds the same in every language.

Dear Germany: there’s more to life than potato and sausage.

Dear Australia: There is no need to treat your citizens like two-year-old children and over-regulate to the point where breathing the wrong way may soon be a punishable offence (which of course will carry an extortionate fine that most of us can’t afford to pay).

If we all smiled as much as the locals in Thailand, the world would be a happier place.

Mexico… Where every salt shaker is filled with salt, and every pepper shaker is too.

The Swiss embarrass me. They speak better English than I do.

German is a useful language when one is in a foul mood.

Egypt: I get that tipping is standard when you provide good service in restaurants. I’m not sure the same applies when you remove all the toilet paper from the cubicles in public bathrooms and then hand it to me in scrunched bundles, expecting payment for this ‘service’.

So Canada… What’s with the gross yellow cheese? You know that’s not the only cheese on the planet, right?

Melbourne: Where you can get off a train at a station you don’t know, in an area you don’t know, and yet be certain that decent coffee is a stone’s throw away.

Italy, I like your style. Smoking in underground train stations might be illegal but when people do it anyway, ‘eh’ is a great response.

Um, Germany… For all the hoo-hah about the brilliance of German design, you do realise that your traffic lights are placed in such a way that you can’t actually see them unless you bend over your steering wheel, cock your head and peer upwards, right?

Having said that, dear Germany – I LOVE your autobahns. Please publicise to the world (and particularly to my own dumbarse country) that you have one of the lowest road tolls on the planet. Speed limits do not always mean safety.

Oh Australia, I am happy to drive at 40km per hour in school zones. I am not happy to do same for phantom roadworks.

You learn things when you travel. Like snow really does fall on beaches. And Texans really do speak and act as they do in films. And even the smallest country town has an Italian restaurant, a Chinese one and an Irish pub.

Hi Mexico, just a suggestion – not every dish has to be drowned in condiments. If I order meat, I want to taste meat – not a gluggy, soupy mass of seven or more unidentifiable sauces.

So, um, America… Portion sizes, obesity… Yeah? Speak to the French for more information.

Dear Europe: Light switches should be placed just inside the room you intend to illuminate, not in random positions in the room outside it.

Dear Europe 2: I love the large bathrooms you have in many of your hotels, really I do. So luxurious, so much space – I could play mini golf in some of them. Do you not think, however, that the showers could be enlarged at least slightly? As it stands, I don’t have enough room to wash my hair without smashing my elbows on the shower screen. And I often accidentally turn the tap off with my arse when I bend down to pick up the shampoo. Not ideal.

G’day Australia, I’ve been thinking – if you want your citizens to prosper, perhaps you might consider reducing your prices so we can all afford to eat? And speeding/parking fines shouldn’t bring one to the point of bankruptcy. Just a thought.

So Belgium… What’s with the local attitude? Are you still p*ssed over the fact that the French claimed fries as their own?

‘Ladies and gentlemen, our sincere apologies for the delay in opening the boarding gates. However the hostess tells me that you are all on board and seated and your luggage is correctly stowed, so we can in fact leave 20 minutes early.’ (Christ I love Germans.)

Hi again Mexico, another suggestion: If you’d like to solve your traffic problems, you might consider introducing rules and actually enforcing them.

Dear Western Europe: Why can’t I ask for a glass of tap water with my meal? I mean, what’s the problem? Do I need to pay for air too? And can’t I just use a public toilet without paying for it? Please???

Dear Eastern Europe: Thank you for giving me tap water with my meal without me having to ask for it. And for not charging me to use public bathrooms. I love you.

Oh Australia and your over-regulated ridiculousness, the whole cigarette plain packaging thing didn’t really work out, did it? You turkeys.

Asia… I thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing us some of the best cuisines on the planet. I have to ask though, what’s with the desserts? Is bean curd flan really such a good idea? Really???

South America, I ask you kindly to please reconsider your bus system. Tiny two-way lanes high up on mountains, paved in gravel and with no lighting, and crazy drivers doing crazy turns at night are not a good mix. I do rather like travelling with cages full of chickens though.

Someone seriously needs to explain to the Germans that a coffee is not a jug-sized cup of boiled foam.

Attention: India and France. Please learn how to queue.

Turkey… Why do you get angry when I want to pay in your national currency? I’m not European and I don’t want to pay in Euro. Thank you.

If Italy and Greece can’t stick to timetables for public transport, why have them at all? What a waste of paper.

 

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Tips on how to write a novel

The title of this post is laughable really – don’t know why I used it. There is, of course, no ‘way’ to write a novel. You just start writing, learn things through trial and error, work out what works for you. You have to find your own way. Having said that, it’s always useful to hear how other writers go about their processes – sometimes you’ll find something that fits for you.

1.    To plan or not to plan

I don’t plan. Never have. Though I do know a couple of writers who do (most don’t, in my experience), and their first drafts do tend to come out a little nicer in terms of structure and direction. If you’re new to the writing process and feel you need some guidance, there’s plenty of stuff online to help you plan your novel. I did have a crack at Randy Ingermanson’s ‘Snowflake Method’ once and found that pretty useful. Don’t think I stuck to the plan in the end though, but it felt nice to write it out. Comforting.

Don’t worry about having a beautifully planned novel before you’ve started, and don’t get hemmed in by any plan as you start spitting out the words. See where the words take you.

I should say that, once I’ve got the first draft out, I do write the whole thing out in terms of plot/character points and compare it against something like the hero’s journey. But I don’t worry about that kind of thing before or during the first draft; I’d never get anywhere if I did – there’s something paralysing about getting bogged down in all that (but that’s just me).

2.      Do something towards your novel each day

If that sounds like too much hard work, ask yourself whether you actually have the stamina to write a whole book. I’d recommend taking one day off your book per week, nothing more.

If you’re not feeling creative, revise/edit your work. If you’re strapped for ideas, do some brainstorming or rewrite a scene in a different way (eg from the perspective of a character other than the one you’ve been using). There are of course days when you just don’t feel like writing or when you’re too tired or distracted to do anything useful – and even revising stuff you’ve already done could set you back because you’ll change things that are better left alone. On those days, research. All books need research – even those that ostensibly have no historical or informative content. And there’s nothing stopping you writing a synopsis of what you’ve done so far – these can be useful for seeing holes in your book anyway.

Of course, there’s much to be said for taking a prolonged break from your work and then coming back to it with fresh eyes after a month, two, a year. But that’s later. In the initial stages? Just keep writing until you’ve got the whole thing down on paper, otherwise you’ll lose your momentum.

3.      Find your own process

How and when do you write? For me, I have to write in the morning, when my creative brain is at its best. After about midday I get what my godfather refers to as ‘toothpaste brain’ and it’s bloody useless for writing. It’s still good for editing/revising/research though, so I do those things in the afternoon.

I do most of my writing in cafés – I prefer to be somewhere with movement. Others would hate that though, and work in a quiet room at home. Some people like to be somewhere visually stimulating, like a nice park (I’ve tried that a few times myself – it’s worth a crack).

Some people prefer to write long hand and then type what they’ve done. That would drive me insane – I type so much faster than I write and if I try to write long hand, I lose where my crazy brain’s going because I can’t keep up with it. There’s a romance to writing things out though, in tattered, dog-eared notebooks. I wish I could say I did that.

4.      Use the spaces

When I used to work in hospitality and had no customers in my section (and no more napkins to fold or cutlery to roll), I would stand somewhere and pretend to look useful, jotting notes down on my order pad. Sometimes if I’ve just missed the train and need to wait around, I’ll look for things I can make observations about – other people on the platforms, the state of the station house, Melbourne’s weather in June. Whatever. Carry a notebook with you always to record the good ones. Sometimes you’ll strike gold. That’s one of the things I like most about being a writer, using the spaces – nothing gets wasted.

5.      Read

This is part of my process but of course it doesn’t apply to everyone. One of my friends is a brilliant writer and he reads a book about every five years. I can’t do that. I read truckloads of books within my genre, noticing how others do it, working out what I do and don’t like. I read outside my genre of course but I’ve found it best to read the kinds of books that I want to write – the more the merrier. Trust me, it helps. You’ll start to feel like you know what you’re doing (for like a second, before you realise once again that you’re lost in the woods).

6.      Critique others’ work

I’m fortunate enough to have a few writer friends (and I did a writing course not long ago where lots of workshopping was involved), and we often swap work. It is of course so much easier to critique others’ work than your own, to pick up their ticks (like overusing certain words/phrases or starting every sentence with a noun) and see the holes/opportunities for development. However giving feedback on others’ work will open your eyes a bit and make you better at reviewing your own.

7.      Ignore the advice of people like me

Sounds obvious, but there’s no right or wrong way to write. Find your own path. Don’t let people tell you what to do, and certainly don’t get disheartened if others’ writing processes seem more refined than yours. No one knows more than you do about how to write your book, and the process for each book you write may well be different.

I think that’s probably enough from me on this subject for the moment. I might update the post in future as I think of all the things I’ve missed!

I’d be interested in hearing from other writers about their processes and tips.

The final thing I should say is: don’t chuck in the towel. Writing isn’t easy, and the more you do it/more you learn about it, the harder it seems to get. Roll with the punches and just keep writing.

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