Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Days 320 to 339 - A Plague on Both my Houses

I'm sick. My son is sick. My husband is sick.

The cat is the only one enjoying herself, because we all have too little energy to push her off our laps now. So while my men sniffle with their colds, and I clutch my three-week old migraine, she purrs away in contentment and kneads my knee with her uber-sharp claws, ignoring my weak protestations.

But honestly - what kind of headache goes on for three weeks?!? I've never had a migraine before. This one started with a bang. I got a massive head pain, then when I went to tell my husband all that came out was a random string of noise. That was one of the most bizarre moments of my life. It looked a lot like this:

Like me, she didn't have a stroke. But presumably, like me, poor Serene Branson had to have a CT scan and (*shudder*) a lumbar puncture just to be on the safe side. I'm not good with needles. My toddler, who has a tantrum when there's an ad break on TV, took his shots better than I managed to give a sample of spinal fluid. Then I spent two weeks lying in a dark room listening to Stephen Fry read Harry Potter books to me and wishing my head would stop feeling like someone had stabbed my frontal lobe with an ice-pick.

But I'm almost better now! Last night I finally managed to get some writing done, and I'm looking good to attend the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne this weekend.

So - what has everyone else been doing for the past month?

Word Count - 611

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Days 285 to 319 - And we're back on air!

Oh wow, this last month or so has just been so incredibly hectic!

First there was the RWA 50K in 30 Days, which went really well - so well, in fact, that it exceeded all my estimates for how much time and energy it would take ^_^ At the end of the day, our writers racked up nearly 2 million words during that time, and I couldn't be more proud of everyone. I didn't reach my goal for the month, but I did hit about 30,000 which I probably would not have done otherwise.

Then for the beginning of July I was at the RWA 5 Day Intensive Manuscript Development Workshop. I got so much out of it, and I feel so damn lucky to have been chosen. Stay tuned for a proper write up!

It's nice to be back home and blogging again - I look forward to catching up on everything I missed over the middle of the year!

Word count - 21,760 (but that's over the past 30-odd days)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Days 283 and 284 - Stealing from myself

I really liked this post I put up on the 50K in 30 Days blog, so I thought I'd share it here as well: 

Be not afraid of going slowly, be only afraid of standing still. 
- Chinese Proverb

It's so easy to look at the past and say "I could have done better. I SHOULD have done better. I should have written more, or made more time for editing." After all, it's going to take forever to get where we want to go if we don't make optimal use of our time, right? 

Regret and perfectionism can be a bigger drain on our productivity than pretty much anything else. Personally, I struggle to retain a sense of proportion - I've written x many words, which is x more words than I would have written otherwise. Still, it's not what I expected from myself. 

Writing is like life. It's messy, imperfect, full of unfulfilled potential (everyone has that one scene that was just so perfect in their head) and layered with excitement, regret, drudgery and bursts of inspiration. It may not go the way we want all the time, but if you do the best you can during the good times, the bad times can only ever drag you down so far. 

Word count - 2,972

Monday, June 13, 2011

Days 280 to 282 - Thank Goodness for Long Weekends

I've been so absolutely exhausted this weekend, I did pretty much nothing right up until Sunday afternoon. Once I buckled down and actually got going, I managed to pull out a decent word count, but I still feel bad for sleeping away most of my free time. It was necessary - I think I'm getting the bug Marcus had last week. My throat was caning earlier today.

While I was lying in bed, I managed to read my first ever full Neil Gaiman book. I once started American Gods, but just couldn't get into it. So I started with Stardust and absolutely loved it. Scarily, I just kept marvelling at his technique - he has such a beautiful way with words. I had to keep reminding myself I was reading for fun and stop examining sentence structure! ^_^

Word count - 7,083

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Days 278 & 279 - Only a word count update

Just popping in here quickly for a word count update! For the month of June, I'm blogging daily at Write in June, the blog for the RWA 50K in 30 Days challenge.

That and work and writing and sometimes seeing my family is taking all my energy at present!

But at least today I got something done - especially good seeing as I was tempted to go to bed at 8pm :-)

Word count - 1,715

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Days 276 and 277 - I am an Oubliette

Yes, I am a place you put things when you want to forget about them.

I just remembered I was supposed to take a book back to one of my mum's friends last week. And looking through my cupboard, I can't help but notice at least three t-shirts that used to belong to my ex-boyfriends. Oh, and two other people have also loaned me books I haven't finished reading yet.

It could be worse, I suppose. At least I'm not the Bog of Eternal Stench.

Word count - 2,687

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 275 - Some facts

For a day where I spent all my time in front of the computer, I don't seem to have done much writing.

It's 12.40am. I have to be up at 6am.

I've decided that I'm going to stop reading troll articles. Every time I turn around, some "columnist" is suggesting that NaNo is evil, that YA is dark and depressing and ruining our kids (Won't SOMEBODY think of the children!) or that women don't read hard epic fantasy. I'm with Janet Reid on this - Stuff it.

Minecraft is fun and a little bit addictive.

On a related note, I spent 20 minutes earlier trying to find a floor plan for the castle at Versailles.

It's 12.50am. I have to be up at 6am.

Word count - 1,336

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 274 - US-centric Internet

I'm not going to downplay how influential American culture is on Australia. We watch a lot of the same TV, we eat a lot of the same foods. We have some similar problems.

But I don't understand why so many places on the Internets, especially those places with Amazon affiliations, seem to have such a strong and unbreakable US-centric focus. The US dollar isn't what it used to be. Internet access and usage is strong in many other parts of the world. And people who don't live in the United States of America are getting increasingly annoyed at sites acting like the rest of the world is just "those people over there".

Yet places like Kickstarter still won't catch up with the times. Three years ago I discovered Kickstarter, a site where people post art projects in need of funding and people online donate to make it happen. Eager to share it with my friends, I looked up whether Australians were able to use it.  Three years now, and they have had the same question and response up on their FAQ. Are you going to be going international? Yes, any day now. Thank you for your patience.

I'm glad I wasn't holding my breath.

And there's no reason for it. It's a donation site which allows random people to share money with aspiring artists to help them achieve their dreams. It's a beautiful idea, and one which in the beginning I was happy to contribute to. After all, people are people anywhere and I loved the idea of helping people with their dreams.

Recently I started to ask myself - why, when I am able to sponsor US artists, can't my friends put up projects? Why is Australian money okay, but not Australian art? Or Scandinavian art? Or Peruvian art?

This isn't about America, or Americans, at all really. It's about businesses and other groups who don't realise that the Internet is a global phenomenon - and that they're losing out all round by excluding approximately 95.5% of the world population.

Word count - 3,547

(Oh hey! And I broke 200,000 words today! Go me!)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 272 - Discomfort and Growth

Everything I write always ends up being adventure romance. I try and write a hardcore science fiction novel? It turns out to be an adventure romance. I try and write a literary novel set in WWII Australia? It becomes an adventure romance.

There's nothing wrong per se with writing what you're comfortable with. After all, it is most likely you are drawn to a genre because you love it, and that passion will come through in your writing. But at the same time, I can't help but feel it's important to cross-train, like a swimmer doing weights to increase muscle mass, or a footballer doing dancing to improve their footwork.

So in the spirit of becoming the strongest writer I can be, I have been trying to write more outside the adventure romance field - specifically, I have been trying to write horror short stories.

There's only one problem. I get scared thinking of plots.

Seriously, I chose a magazine that has a monthly theme and started to work up ideas for an entry that would work in well with the theme. I came up with something that is perfect, but it makes me feel icky even thinking about it. A fellow Twitter devotee suggested that good horror came from a place you were scared of, but that doesn't help when the block you put up to stop yourself feeling bad gets in the way of the actual writing.

I'm going to steam ahead with it and see how it turns out. I'd be interested to know - do you have troubles with some genres? Or are you obsessed with the one genre and never want to leave?

Word count - 1,675

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Days 264 to 271 - Why Write 50K in 30 Days

NaNoWriMo has really brought writing challenges to the forefront. There's just something about setting yourself a huge word count goal and just going for it, quality be damned. This year I'm helping out with the Romance Writers of Australia 50K in 30 Days June Challenge - over 100 people have signed up!

Every year, I read a lot of trash talk suggesting that NaNo is the cause of multiple publishing woes, mainly high submission rates of low quality manuscripts. Personally, I think the home PC and a lack of recognised apprenticeship structures goes a long way towards that, and don't get me started on editing, but whatever.

What these people don't realise is that there is a certain freedom that comes from locking your inner editor in a box (side note - my inner editor sounds like my ex-boyfriend, an awesome writer who still proof reads for me on occasion - does anyone else get that? I mean, not get my ex-boyfriend, but get a recognisable voice?) for a month and just focussing on finishing the story. You don't have time to think about how crap it is, you just have to keep pushing ahead.

It's not for everyone, sure. But it's done wonders for me. I've written almost 200,000 words since last September when before that writing was something I was gonna do one day when I got good. A lot of that was through challenges like Nano and the RWA one.

I've set myself a goal of 100,000 for June. I'm already behind (as expected!) but there's a public holiday coming up and my husband has promised me a good chunk of uninterrupted time. Here's to writing a whole bunch in June!

Word Count - 698

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Days 257 to 263 - Happy Birthday, Me!

Yes, today I turn the once-dreaded 30! I must admit, I am a little sad to leave my 20s behind, but in the same way that I never really minded finishing at a school or job, I don't really have much nostalgia for my own past. There was good and bad, and there will be good and bad again. Or, in the words of the Cylons, all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.

My writing this month has been awfully slow, mostly because I agreed in a moment of enthusiastic insanity to run the RWA 50K in 30 Days. Think Nano for romance writers. It's going to be a lot of fun, but the wonderfully large number of sign-ups have seriously cut into my writing time. My word goal for next month is 100,000 so here's hoping I catch up a little!

Word count - 1,147

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Days 252 to 256 - Re-reading Novels

I've been thinking recently about re-reading novels. Some people swear by it, but other people find it's a terrible waste of time when they already have so many new books on their list that they want to read. I do understand where they are coming from - my "To be read" list on Goodreads is becoming increasingly lengthy and I fear it may take me the rest of the year to complete.

But when I'm lazing about the house or I'm unwell, a lot of the time I like nothing better than to read something that I've already read. Sometimes I wasn't even too keen on it the first time around. I just like to read without thinking too hard. Part of the problem is that I'm a very fast reader. One of those tiny category romances takes me a couple of hours so I can read four or five of them in a day when I have the flu and if I were to buy new ones each time I'd go broke.

I also like to re-read novels I loved. I've read the Count of Monte Cristo about 10 times, I've read all of Georgette Heyer's Regency novels and the Rumpole books at least twice and I've read all the Jane Austen novels more times than I can count. I think that this is actually really helpful. Each time I read through I pick up different things - bit of language I hadn't noticed before, how sentence structure is used to convey a particular emotion, depths of character that I may have missed before. As a writer, I think re-reading is a very useful exercise in that it helps us look at the words and not just the plot.

Plot is great. It's what keeps the story moving. However, when you boil it right down to the essentials almost every plot has been done before. It's the writing that keeps it fresh, the way the writer weaves the words to create the picture. And that's what re-reading teaches - the ability to look beyond themes and witty dialogue and fast-paced action and see the structure lying beneath.

What do you think? Do you re-read? And why/why not?

Word count - 147

Friday, May 13, 2011

Days 250 to 251 - Writers v Publishers: Are you playing to win?

Imagine, if you will, a high-level amateur football game (whatever code you want, I'm not fussy) being held in front of a group of selectors. All your players are supposedly on the same team, and yet they all want something more - a bigger slice of the pie. The chance to shine, the chance to get a call from the big leagues with all its associated fame and money and fast cars. And when everyone is out to become THE greatest, where does that leave the team?

I think that in the writing business we are beginning to see a similar problem to the above. Writers, publishers, agents - we're all on the same team, and yet we come into the game with vastly different philosophies, goals and expectations.

It's only natural. Publishers want to grow their brand - they're focussed on marketing. The agents attract bigger clients by selling to the publishers, so by necessity they too need to think about whether your book is "marketable". They know what winning is, and in order to win they want their writers to be a marketable commodity and sell lots of books - to fight hard and win big.

Marcus Brotherton, guest blogging over at literary agent Rachelle Gardner's, talks about whether your writing is a competitive sport or a backyard hit-up. He says:
Winning, in the most ferocious sense of the word, frustrates us if our main goal as writers is getting the highest score possible and crushing our opponents.
More and more writers are expressing dissatisfaction with the strongly commercial nature of publishing. It's not that writers don't want money - they do! (Well, lord knows I do in any event.) But writers are by nature creative, they want to try new genres, new forms, to push boundaries and to spend their time writing. Publishing, even self-publishing, pushes us to create a brand, growing our reader base by focussing on the one genre and marketing ourselves as authors of [insert genre here] fiction.

I understand the reasoning. Would the romance community flock to buy the new Stephen King regency historical? Stephen King makes maximum profits writing horror, because there is a solid public conception that Stephen King writes excellent horror. But are the publishers underestimating the readers?

Scott Sigler, also guest blogging, at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, talks about how he managed to do better for himself by changing the goal posts. He had a publisher - one whose marketing plan didn't have room for his cross-genre experiments - so he made his own success. He podcasts his stories free of charge, and has been doing so for years. And that idea of wanting to share the story has bought him a lot of fans. Those fans pay him money for his work, even though the content is available for free online.

To quote the brilliant XKCD:
You don't become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process. 

Word Count - 1,788

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Days 242 to 248 - Baking a Book

I spent this evening making a dark chocolate mint slice for my fellow court minions. Happy Birthday, section overlord!

The interesting thing is that, while I didn't get any actual writing done, all the mixing and washing and stirring gave me plenty of time to think about the novel I'm in the process of editing. I think it was Agatha Christie who said that the best time to plan a book is when you're doing the dishes, but it's never really hit home for me how true that is until now.

Probably exercise has the same effect (I must try that one day!), but the soothing, monotonous motions were really good at letting my brain forget about my body and drift in its own direction - which luckily happened to be my book. I've come up with a whole new opening that is a lot more interesting, and at least two characters are going to drastically change.

Also, it's a pretty darn tasty slice.

Word count - 787

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Days 237 to 241 - I Believe in Harvey Dent

When I read Pride and Prejudice it was always strange to me how interconnected everyone was. The gossip got around so fast it made your head spin, and even if you did manage to marry off your scandalous kid sister who had her heart set on social destruction, everyone KNEW it was just a cover. 

In a way the internet has taken us back to those days. There are no secrets you can keep - and while you can live two completely separate lives online you have to be damn sure you keep your house of cards straight because it can all be knocked over in an instant.

In the last weeks, two people have had their barriers crumble between lives. On the funny side, Scott Adams was caught out using an alter-ego to tell everyone exactly how much of a genius he was. And then when he was caught out he interviewed himself using his own sock puppet

All good for him. But what about poor Judy Buranich? The English teacher with a night job writing racy romance novels who is now being investigated for having the temerity to teach kids about Camus while she writes erotica. In her author persona, she did a YouTube video and now there's no shoving her lives back in their separate boxes. 

Sarah at Earful of Cider put up an interesting (if somewhat annoyingly voiced) video on this, but it makes me wonder whether we aren't going backwards as a society. Goody Buranich has been denounced, and if she doesn't disown the Devil's writing she can kiss her teaching career goodbye. 

Personally, I hope she tells them to go teach their own kids the difference between a noun and a verb and goes on to become an extremely famous full-time author. But that's not the point. 

We all do things in the privacy of our own home that we wouldn't want children to see or emulate. You know all the teachers in your children's school? They've had sex - more than once. They don't tell your kids about it. A lot of them have probably tried drugs. They don't tell your kids about it. Some of them moonlight as horror writers, or erotica writers, or bloggers on the evils of religion, or activists for abortion centres. They don't tell your kids about it. 

And the above also applies to your dentists, doctors, police officers, firemen, military, politicians, librarians, dog walkers, waitresses, nurses, lawyers and judges. 

Even before the internet, we all had two faces. Only now we're more reliant than ever on people's ability as a crowd to keep perspective and think things through rationally because when the barriers get knocked over it's the whole world who can see.  

We're so completely screwed. 

Word count - 1,754

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Days 231 to 236 - Thor romance fail - or why feminism equals better romance.

The Man With No Shirt FTW
There aren't enough superlatives in the universe to describe how much I loved Chris Hemsworth as the golden-haired God of Thunder. I even did that girly giggle thing every time he came on screen.

How could you take someone with THAT much raw appeal, throw him in with Natalie Portman, and end up with less chemistry than Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte?

The answer is characterisation. Natalie Portman's character Jane Foster was bland to the extreme. There's almost nothing there - just a bunch of "traits" thrown together with some sidelong glances and an interest in hearing about the world beyond ours. It's not enough to say "Look at my whacky character! They have to shave every three minutes or they go crazy!" Why do we care if they go crazy? Why is it shaving that calms the beast within?

And why do we care about this research she's doing? Why does SHE care about what she's doing? What does she see in Thor beyond killer abs and blue, blue eyes? By the end of the film, all I really knew about her was that she didn't like men in black suits stealing her life's work and she had a crush on Thor.

If men in black suits came and took my computer and equipment, I wouldn't be annoyed. I would be FURIOUS. If I were a character in a book, I would MAKE them give it back.

Jane Foster decides to take a buff but possibly crazy man she almost ran over to the centre of the desert and hope he does it for her. She is never the protagonist, she never makes anything happen. She is a hazy marker that reads "Love Interest Goes Here".

So why bother putting her in? After all, Jaimie Alexander as Sif was loads more interesting. Heck, even Kat Dennings as the kooky, uber-cute hanger-on was a better character. It all comes down to what Hollywood thinks we want, and what we want our women to be. It all comes down to Hollywood relegating female leads to the status of "Love Interests" in traditionally male-dominated genres.

Hollywood thinks Love Interests should never express a blatant sexual interest in the hero. It's left to Kat Denning's character to point out the blindingly obvious point that Thor is hot. Jane Foster just gives another side-glance and looks away.The Love Interest must control herself, keep her emotions in check until the male has declared his hand. What's wrong with our women having strong sexual emotions and proactively expressing them?

Hollywood thinks Love Interests should leave the heavy lifting to the male protagonist. She can be moderately angry, but heaven forbid she cry or scream with rage, or lash out in fury. Even when the male protagonist is injured, she must content herself to running over and exclaiming. What's wrong with our women having powerful rage and grief, and what's wrong with showing it overwhelm them to the point where they lose control?

It's a problem that's endemic in modern superhero and action films. Too many awesome battles with Frost Giants that won't impress "the ladies"? Throw in a love interest and you double the market! We're seeing too many cynical attempts to cover all market segments without any concern for quality or what adding those elements does to the overall balance of the film. And the female characters they're throwing in are restrained to the point of blandness, devoid of any strong emotion or will to act.

I'm certainly NOT arguing that Thor should not have been the driving force in the film, or that Jane Foster should have stolen the show. I'm saying that strong, awesome male protagonists need strong, awesome women to fall in love with. Like Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious. 

Word count - 1 504

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Days 224 to 230 - Texting Joy

Normally I am one of those horrible anti-Earth, petrol-guzzling fools who spend their whole day in the car. The problem is, it takes me an hour to get to my son's day care, and then another 40-odd minutes to get into work. Then double it because I like to go home sometimes.

But now my husband is looking after our nerdling, there's no reason for me to take the car. I have to take.... THE BUS!

It's horrible! I get car sick, so I can't read. It's too bumpy to write. The person next to me always sticks their elbows out. And this morning my Creative was out of battery. All I had left was my old phone and the ability to text my friends at ridiculous hours.
The bus goes forward.
Industrial wasteland - right.
Where is my music??
I woke up my friend Greg, who retaliated in kind:
It is 8 AM. 
Bad haiku makes my phone buzz.
Is Julia drunk?
 I couldn't let that go unavenged!
He lazes in bed,
and calls my haiku awful.
Public transport sucks.
I also woke my sister Penny up. She was apparently dreaming of me in any event:
In the dream I just had, you married Godzilla and me and the rest of the world had to run away from your wedding because he tried to eat us - seriously, why marry him? 
It's not my fault you people don't understand ambition! Bloody Tall Poppy Syndrome, that's what it is.
He ate Russia!
Pft. You say that like it's a bad thing.  

It was nice to be reminded of the joys of texting. Though I feel weird having nostalgia for something that I only really started doing when I was 17.

I want a HTC Desire so I can Tweet on the bus. What do you do to make it through the commute?

Word count - 1, 116

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 223 - After pushing a truck, a car seems easy!

Momentum is great - once you've got it. My problem is getting that ball rolling. I sit down and open my romance or my YA and the first sentence takes forever.

But I think I may have found the answer. I wrote a haiku before I got started. It took about 15 minutes, but something about forcing myself to write in a restricted format made my writing afterwards much easier - the flow just came really naturally.

I'm wondering if it works moving from short fiction to novel length as well?

Word count - 468

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Days 216 - 222 - And then, like, he said he was a director and could get me into films...

When a person wants something really, really badly it's almost impossible to observe it with the keen and impartial eye of the detached.

Hence the phrase "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client".

For example, when I was 19 I convinced myself that it was a brilliant and sound financial decision to buy a Ford Falcon a year older than I was. To make it worse, I had no job and I bought it using money I got from a compensation payout. But I loved that car and there was no telling me about insurance and leaded (!!) petrol and registration. (His name was Lurch, he was crud-brown and you could run him into a brick wall and he'd bounce - I still miss that car even though he cost me a small fortune)

And when I was thinking about self-publishing my picture book I was the same way. I made an emotional attachment through a website and a phone call, and just glossed over all the little niggly things that kept pushing themselves forward. I wanted it to be all good so badly that I MADE it all good by just ignoring the bad things.

And by bad things I mean things like over-priced services that didn't (in the fine print) really deliver what I needed.

It took a serious dose of maths for me to straighten myself out.

Here are some random figures from a couple of self-publishing sites all mushed up:

Lets assume a $3000 publishing package with a print on demand service. It involves some very basic "editing" (spelling, grammar), about 35 copies of your book and all the formatting help you need to be able to sell e-books and print on demand books.

So you've laid out $3000 up front. Then you'll probably want to spend a little extra cash on publicity, maybe some petrol to wander around to some book-signing expeditions. Let's throw on a grand - if you're having trouble spending it in your head just buy yourself an awesome ad in a big city paper.

Your print on demand service charges, say, $7.95 per book or $1.50 per ebook. I completely made those figures up just for examples, so don't go expecting them to industry standard or anything. Let's say you sell your print books for $19.95 and your ebooks for $5.99.

Selling only print books you would need to sell 333 copies of your book just to break even.
Selling only ebooks you'd need to sell 899 copies of your book to break even.
And this is before you make a profit.

That's not too bad! There are BILLIONS of people on the planet!
But what kind of sales can you expect? Figures are hazy, but averaging out the different numbers, it seems the average self published book sells about 400 copies. If all those copies are print books, on the numbers above you'd make $800. If they're all ebooks, on the other hand - you're out of pocket.

What I'm trying to say above is this - make sure you do your math before you sign anything. Be realistic, read everything and be smart. It's the only way to be successful.

Word count - 958

Friday, April 8, 2011

Days 212 to 216 - Hi, I'm a writer, and I suffer from MPP

MPP. Multiple Project Paralysis. The bane of many a writer's existence.

I have three projects waiting for editing. I have four manuscripts that I've started, but not gone past about 4,000 words on. And yet when I sit down to work I can't think of what to do! I start writing, and my editing projects beckon. I start writing, and think there's not much point just piling more on my editing to-do list.

So I've come up with 4 Rules to help me decide what to work on:
(NB. This is based on my specific word goal and 5 year plan, so it may not work for you if you're more focussed on immediate publication.)

1) Is it editing?
  • If no --> Go to Question 2.
  • If yes --> Have you had a partial request from a pitch and want to fix it up?
    • If yes --> Get out your red pen baby!
    • If no --> Is your Critique Partner waiting on it?
      • If yes --> Edit. Don't keep the overworked and unpaid help hanging.
      • If no --> Is it for a competition ending in the next month?
        • If yes --> Do it. Gives you time for a beta reader.
        • If no --> It can wait. Go to Question 2.
2) Do you have a manuscript, let's call it Manuscript A, that you are working on for a competition?
  • If no --> Go to Question 3.
  • If yes --> is there another competition coming up sooner that needs you to work on Manuscript B?
    • If yes --> Work on Manuscript B.
    • If no --> Work on Manuscript A.
3) Is it your passion project - the thing that struck you in a flash of inspiration that you just can't put out of your head?
  • If yes --> Get writing!
  • If no --> Why not?
    • I don't have a passion project --> Go to Question 4.
    • Another MS is my passion project --> Go work on that then!
4) Make a very quick list of your current work-in-progress writing projects. Do you know how to play Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo?
  • If no ---> How on Earth did you ever manage to resolve anything as a child? The rules are here.
  • If yes ---> Random pick! Which ever manuscript you end on is the one you're working on. Get those fingers typing!
Don't ask how long I spent coming up with these rules instead of actually doing anything...

Word count - 682

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Days 210 to 211 - Upcoming Australian Writing Competitions

For me this month is going to be fairly hectic. I'm planning to enter several competitions, and each of my entries needs some substantial work!

Romance Writers of Australia is holding the Valerie Parv Awards, the entries for which are due on Friday 8 April. It's a competition for unpublished writers and you don't need to be a member of the RWA (though why you would choose not to be if you were a romance writer I don't quite understand - such a brilliant organisation for opportunities and networking!). You need to put in the first 12,500 words of your manuscript plus a 1000 word synopsis.

The Penguin/Varuna Development Scholarship 2010 is looking for "new and emerging writers of fiction and narrative non-fiction" and the prize is spectacular enough to compensate for the $55 entry fee:

The scholarship recipient will receive the following:
  • $5,000 cash prize.
  • One year (20 hours) of editorial assistance from Penguin Books Australia, comprising a preliminary discussion, quarterly discussions on progress and an editorial report on the final manuscript. Penguin will also consider the writer’s manuscript for publication.
  • A two-week residential fellowship at Varuna, the Writers’ House. The fellowship must be undertaken in the period January to mid-April 2012, depending on availability. During the residential, a Varuna writing consultant will support the writer through discussions about the project and the writing process. There is a fee of $500 for the residency.

And finally there's the Text Prize for best unpublished YA manuscript! Once again, an absolutely spectacular prize bundle - a publishing contract with a $10,000 advance against royalties. Entries will be accepted between 2 May and 3 June 2011.

Have you seen a competition that just gets you so excited you absolutely must enter it? List it below!

Word count - 1,511

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 209 - Author Tansy Rayner Roberts On The Road To Publication

There and Back Again, by A Fantasy Author

The question to spark off this guest post (hi, thanks for having me!) was “How you got where you did, and how long it took?” Which of course means I have to actually stop and think about where I am!

Where I am is pretty good right now. I have the second book of a HarperCollins trilogy about to hit the shelves, with the third due out before the end of the year (and, most importantly, I have done almost all the work needed on that book), I am starting to write a new series thanks to a couple of major Arts grants, and I appear on the shortlists of both the Aurealis Awards and the Ditmars. This is a very good year.

But the thing about being a writer is that it is by no means a linear path. I know from experience that a great sale to a big publisher does not guarantee career progression, and that troughs come after peaks.

Twelve years ago, I got the call that I had sold my first novel. I was nineteen years old, and had posted my manuscript off to a competition which was open for unpublished SF and Fantasy novels. I won! That was an amazing year, which included me learning to edit a book for publication in a fortnight, having to keep my amazing news secret for months, attending my first SF convention, meeting famous authors, and (most important of all) actually earning enough from writing to live on.

However... by the time the second book came out, a year later, things were not looking so rosy. Sales had not met expectations (and because of the prize money, the expectations had been rather higher than would be usual for a debut author). The books, which were humorous fantasy and might have been marketed as YA five years later, failed to find much of an audience. I lost my publisher, my agent, and my confidence.

I kept writing, and studying, and picked up casual work teaching creative writing (kind of ironic considering my track record, but I like to think I was quite good at it). I was mentored by some great people, got involved in indie press, and wrote short fiction. I sold a children’s novel as part of a packaged series with my writing group - mine was the first in the intended eight book series - but we only got three on the shelves before the series was pulled for - say it with me - sales not meeting expectations. That takes us up to 2007.

But a writer’s career is never linear - did I mention that? Back in 2004 I had started writing a novel I was really excited about, which was sometimes called Creature Kings, or Creature Court, and was later to be named Power and Majesty. I wrote it through most of that year, and only stopped at the three quarter mark because I was pregnant, and desperate to finish my doctoral thesis before I had the baby. I didn’t.

So the next two years were a blur of new baby and academic dramas and hunting footnotes, and getting back to writing was a lot harder than I imagined. My life had turned upside down, and none of my old methods and techniques made sense any more. I retaught myself to write creatively with a 100 word a day for 100 days challenge (you miss a day, you start back at day 1) and finally, eventually, finished that novel. I workshopped it, rewrote it, took it apart and put it back together again. All of this took time. Marianne De Pierres, one of the writers who had mentored me through the decade, posted my first chapter on her website, and it attracted interest from a Big Publisher (who eventually passed on it) and an Agent, who took the project on and sold it to HarperCollins.

That takes us up to late 2008! The book was with HC for a good 8-9 months before they decided officially to take it, and then when I signed the contract, it was for a long time in the future, because they wanted to ensure the other two books (the ones I hadn’t written yet!) were close on its heels. So I had to wait a whole year and a half after signing the contract to see my book in print.

In between signing that contract and the release of the book, all I had to do was write two more novels in about 18 months. I could manage that, easy. I was a stay-at-home mum, and my daughter was at school age. It made all kinds of sense, except for the part where I had another baby on the way. The next 18 months was a blur of deadline extensions and very understanding editors (thank goodness!) and, looking back, I’m not sure how I did that at all. The first book took, with many stops and starts, six years from beginning to end. The next two only had 9 months each, plus a little editing time where it could be squeezed (and editing time almost always squeezed the writing time, because there was no other time).

It’s been a long road to get here. I know so much more about this industry now than I did back when I got my first “break” and I have made contacts and friends along the way. Next year might not bring as many professional highs as this one, but that’s okay. I’m ready for whatever bumps and curves come my way, and in the mean time, I have books on the shelves, and there’s really no better feeling in the world!


Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty (Creature Court Book One) and The Shattered City (Creature Court Book Two, April 2011) with Reign of Beasts (Creature Court Book Three, coming in November 2011) hot on its tail. Her short story collection Love and Romanpunk will be published as part of the Twelfth Planet Press “Twelve Planets” series in May.

This post comes to you as part of Tansy’s Mighty Slapdash Blog Tour, and comes with a cookie fragment of new release The Shattered City:

It was still raining blood, and the sky was full of colours and shadows and bright, blazing moments of light. Delphine kept her head down as she hurried through the streets, ignoring it all. It was not her world. It was not her problem.

She kept thinking that right up to the point that she reached the yard behind her house, and found it full of monsters.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 208 - Can't Query my Dedication!

When I was in university, I would regularly pull all-nighters to play video games, dance, read books, study or just because it was a nice night and who could sleep? But working full-time with an exuberant toddler has taken its toll and I find myself crawling into bed most nights around midnight with a relieved sigh.

But not last night! Last night I researched, wrote and sent a query letter!

I actually feel better about this one than I did the last one. I gave the manuscript a couple of tweaks, which I think improved it, and the agent had very specific guidelines so I knew exactly what I had to do. After I'd finished, I took a deep breath, checked it one more time and hit send.

Five minutes later I had an email back! But before I could get too excited about getting the quickest agent response in history...it was an out-of-office autoreply email. ^_^

Still, I know these things can take weeks and weeks, so I'll put it out of my mind for now and go on with my other projects. The main problem I'm having is that I'm working on a Regency romance, but my SF Space Opera keeps beckoning me to come back and do a second draft. Leave me alone, space pirates! Can't you see Lady So-and-So is about to go into her confinement? Stupid space pirates.

And I'll apologise for the dad joke in the title. All work and no sleep makes Julia something something...

Word count - 1,030

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 207 - All the Wonders of the Universe

We live in a time of seeming unlimited possibility. The more I hang around writing blogs, the more I realise there are chances by the bucketfull to get your novel out there, to get it seen by the shining editor/agent/publisher of your dreams who will rescue it from the slush pile, throw it over their metaphorical steed and ride off with it into the publishing sunset.

If you want to help someone out at the same time as helping yourself get ahead, Operation Auction 2011 is raising money for a woman widowed in tragic circumstances by auctioning off signed books, advertising space and critiques of your work by agents and editors. You can also get your work ripped apart (in the nicest possible way) to help Japan with earthquake recovery - here for genre fiction, and here for kid-lit/YA.

On the other side of the wall, if you write historical fiction Irene Goodwin, of the eponymous literary agency, wants to hear your pitch. Authoress at Miss Snark's First Victim holds regular competitions that result in partial and complete requests from agents. And Savvy Authors has pitch days for different agents which look brilliant.

With pitching opportunities in particular, it's easy to get SO excited about a particular opportunity that you decide the jump the gun. To send your novel in as-is and hope for the best. My YA romance SF (oh, I need a shorthand for that) was not ready on the weekend, but I was oh so very tempted to just pitch it regardless. After all, how bad could it be?

The problem is that once an agent has seen your MS, it's going to be harder to get them to look at it a second time. They already took a chance on you once, spent their time and energy looking over your stuff and it wasn't up to scratch.

My mantra for the week is this - Finish it. Polish it. Sub it. In that order, dammit.

Word count - 1,320

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 206 - Official Romance Writers of Australia 5DI Participant!

I believe the universe works on balance, and so I was looking forward to some good news while I lay around the house wishing my belly didn't feel like it had just been cut open and organs removed. I would have been happy with a $20 lotto win, but what I got was even better.

I made it into the 5DI!

As one of 12 lucky people selected to be in the 5 Day Intensive Manuscript Development Workshop I get to go to Queensland and have Sophia James tell me exactly what I'm doing wrong for an hour a day! I seriously feel like the luckiest girl alive ^_^

The thing I'm worried about now is the opening night novel report. Specifically, I'm worried I'm going to shriek like a banshee when I'm told my dialogue is stilted, declare passionately that I'm never going to make it is a writer and go throw myself on my bed for a good cry. I know the whole point is honest, thorough feedback, and I know I'd be disappointed if she pulled her punches, but I used to be a bit of a wuss when it came to even the slightest criticism so I'm worried I'll let myself down.

I guess I'm worried I'll regress to a teenager without a toddler around reminding me I'm an adult now! :-)

Nevertheless, I'm so terribly excited. Anyone else had any good news?

Word count - 0 (but I got to watch Wrong Side of Town "starring" Rob Van Dam and Battista - yay!)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 205 - 16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber

I found this book really weird and certainly not what I was expecting. It follows the love lives of several women linked by circumstance and friendship in an idyllic medium-sized community. It starts when Cecilia, who is trying to get a divorce after less than a year following the death of her baby, is told by the presiding judge that she will have to go to a hearing, and in the meantime they should try mediation. The Judge, Olivia, is falling in love with the local newspaper editor, a newcomer with a shaded past, while her daughter Justine dates a creepy older man and pretends not to be love with (oh I love you so much!) Seth just to spite the whole dammned world and their obsession with family.

On the positive side, Macomber's characterisation is beautiful. I really fell in love with several of her characters, especially the uncomplicated Seth and the haunted Cecilia. No one was exactly as you expected, and the same went with the plots - in particular the plot line involving Olivia's friend Grace, which was really well handled. The pacing was something I had to get used to. The plot didn't move in a linear progression, it was more a meandering stroll through a park than an action-packed motorway.

But what really bugged me was the constant use of passive voice. Now, I don't mind some "telling". It gives writing a feel of oral tradition, you sit down there and I'll tell you how she felt, acted, what she thought etcetera. But really parts of the writing were so text-book bad in terms of passive voice that I just burst out laughing.

It was obvious that the writer was very conservative, but honestly most romances are. Marriage is THE goal, regardless of whether you think it is or not, and divorce is not for 35 years of unhappiness, only for 6 months of desertion. (Sorry, I get a little bitter thinking about that plot line.) However it doesn't really ram your face in it, it's more just a story about people with conservative views.

This book is like a warm cup of home-made cocoa on a cold, grey day. For technique you'd probably do better going to a cafe, but that doesn't change the fact that it's warm, sweet and really, really comforting.

Word count - 0 (but I have made friends with almost all the villagers in Old Bowerstone)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Days 188 to 204 - Gah! My Internal Organs!!

Have I been blogging lately? No.
Have I been writing lately? No.
Have I been on a lot of drugs? You betcha!

Last Wednesday night I went into the hospital waiting room at 5.30 with SEVERE abdominal cramping. I was in bucket-loads of pain. By 9.30 I had morphine (ahhh....), by midnight I had a hospital bed and by Friday I had no appendix.

I've spent the last week slowly recovering and wishing I was back in hospital where all I had to do was sleep and keep taking injections. In hospital, the lovely nurses kept all the cats in the world from jumping on my stomach (to be fair, I only have to worry about one at home, but that's still one too many when you're talking about surgery wounds) and my toddler was too short to jump on the bed in the morning and yell "Hi Mummy! You're all better now!" and throw himself on me.

But aside from my loved ones and pets trying to kill me, I'm actually a lot better now. I did try doing a bit of writing in hospital, but I was groggy and in a lot of pain, and it didn't work out well.

I am going to get back into the habit of every day - it was good for my writing because I hated having to write 0 next to word count when I'd been lazy!

Word count - 1,149

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Days 185 to 187 - The Other End of the Rainbow

Kiersten over at Kiersten Writes has put up an excellent post about the processes you have to go through to be published - or should that be Published? She says she queried 50 agents to finally get one, and then went on to write three more books in the time it took that agented book to be ignored.

It really puts my one little rejection in perspective. ^_^

I had to think a minute about whether I was writing to be published, or wanted to be published because I loved writing. I had to think because I didn't understand the question. Finishing a novel was hard enough loving writing - how the heck could you do it if it wasn't a labour of love?

I want to write for a living because I have, at present, 15 books I want to write, and I have time for perhaps 2 a year working full-time. Oh, the wonderous brilliance of being able to write ALL DAY! My editing wouldn't be piled up 1 and a half books deep. I could finish my current draft in weeks, not months. *blissful sigh*

So, if you're reading this, what make you want to be published? Or do you at all? Is it enough to sit on your manuscripts, warm in the knowledge that you're awesome?

Word Count - 1,410

Monday, March 7, 2011

Days 175 - 184 Too busy for words

Quite literally things have been far too busy for writing. I'm doing a Masters at present and I'm really behind on my reading, I've had job applications to do and I've still got my baby to take care of.

I just got a rejection notice for one of my submissions. It was expected, but it still hurts a little. Like when you know the boy you like doesn't like you, not like that, but you still can't help but get your hopes up when you ask him out.

I think what I need is a little more organisation and routine. I'll have to work on that.

Word count - 0

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Days 174 and 175 - Agent submission!

I know that I said that I was going to rant more about the publishing industry, but yesterday I took the plunge and submitted something to an agent!

I've never been so absolutely terrified, hopeful, cautious and obsessive about checking my email all at the same time. Of course, it might take months to hear back, but I can't help the fact my heart beats a little faster every time I see I have new email. Then I have to remind myself that my chances of being accepted are small anyhow given the sheer number of submissions they get and not to get my hopes up.

I'll be trying to work on my job application (...sigh - I hate selection criteria) and my mind will just be whispering "But what if you get accepted? What if THIS is the start of everything? You'd be a published author! You'll make thousands.. well, HUNDREDS of dollars! You could totally buy some cool stuff with that money..." And then by the time I stop daydreaming lunch is over and I have to go back to work.

And while I have a problem with the fact that while I'm daydreaming, I'm not writing, I love to just spend half an hour pretending I won $32 million at lotto. I'd buy my husband a mini (he wants one with a British flag painted on the roof...I know.) I'd build my own house that has a 50m swimming pool and a library that goes up three floors and has those awesome sliding ladders around the walls. And then I'd get all my friends to take leave with pay and take them on a world tour in our own private jet (or maybe cruise ship) - stopping at Venice for Carnivale, Cannes for the Film Festival, Los Angles for Disneyland, the beach for fun etc.

Gah! I just did it again! See what I mean? Living out the future in your head sounds nice, but I've got to stop letting it get in the way of, you know, actually doing things. Tomorrow I have a nice full day of writing and studying planned! Should be excellent!

Word count - 0

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day 173 - Who you gonna call?

There are a couple of real problems with the way authors are treated by the industry, and it's one where most of the people who could do anything to fix it see it as firmly ensconsed in a Somebody Else's Problem field.

Picture books are something everyone thinks they can write, mostly because the very best picture books have text that is deceptively simple. It's like poetry, but it has to jump the hurdles of making some kind of sense, being interesting to a toddler and not being patronising or pedestrian. As a consequence, agents and publishers are innundated with tidal waves of slush to sift through in order to find the next Maurice Sendak or Pamela Allen. (I love Pamela Allen - I really get into reading Bertie and the Bear to my son and Who Sank the Boat? is still one of my favourite books)

And so these people build walls and barriers and hoops and hurdles, all designed to discourage the idle wannabes who wrote a story about their kid going to the shops. The problem is that, looking at it from the other side, the wall they've built sometimes seems inpenetrable.

In Australia at present, as far as I have been able to discover, there are two publishers who accept unsolicited picture book manuscripts from unpublished authors. One of those has a waiting list of four months, and the other has a list of documents you need to send through that make it feel like you're applying for a bank loan. On the agent side of the fence, there is ONE registered agent who currently accepts picture book submissions, and I'm not even 100% certain about that.

So what are you supposed to do? You've written an excellent book, you're sure it's great - you go to the publishers, and none of them will even look at it. Most of the publishers have something akin to "Sorry, we're not accepting submissions at present, but you can contact your local writer's centre for information on how to get published." The problem is, no where else is accepting either, so what are the writer's centres supposed to tell you?

At the moment I've got two options, and I'll give those my best shot first. But at the end of the day, there is a real problem with how the industry deals with aspiring writers. I'll say more on that in my post tomorrow.

Word count - 550

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Days 159 to 172 - Second Draft - Complete!

I have worked so hard over the last few weeks, all I really want to do is curl up and fall asleep! But instead I sit and pretend to write while I'm really chatting to people on the Romance Writers of Australia forum :-)

The 5DI competition entries closed last week. I took two days off work to get my entry done in time, but even then I was pushing it. Not to mention that I stuffed up and sent the wrong file through when I did enter! That was a bit of a nightmare - I accidentally sent in the draft where my henchman was still called by his placeholder name of Genghis!

Nevertheless, I got a lot of writing done and I'm really happy with it. If I don't get into the 5DI (the more likely scenario) then I'll just do a third draft, a polish and start sending it through to agents. Either way, it's going to be a very exciting second half of the year!

At the moment I'm working on a Regency romance between a woman in debtor's prison and one of the guards. It's really started well, but I'm rapidly approaching the part where I'm going to have to start winging it. That's fine - sometimes I write absolute gold when I have no idea what happens next. Sometimes, however, it just means I have to rewrite half the novel in the second draft!

Word count - 28,169 FTW :-)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Days 146 to 158 - Argg! (And cute kitten photos)

Why is it so hard to get back in the habit??

Well, back to keeping on trying.... And be distracted by cute kitten photos!

Word count - 1,973

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Days 125 to 145 - First you have to find the horse...

It's been 20 days and all I've done is muck about. It's all well and good to say "Just get back on the horse", but where's the damned animal gone?

The 5DI entries are due on Monday. It's my dream prize - five days of intensive critique on my novel manuscript. I was working towards it at the end of last year until I completely lost interest in the whole project and moved on to something else. I've refound my enthusiasm for that plotline (with drastically altered characters and turning points) and I have until Monday night to get it into shape. I'm sure I can make that deadline, I just have to find, saddle and finally mount that darn steed!

Word count - 761

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Days 123 and 124 - LibraryThing = Awesome Evil

Sometimes I just get sucked into something and, carried away with a boundless enthusiasm and passionate desire to be THE BEST at everything, I end up spending hours planting crops (damn you Farmville), killing 10 of various creatures and delivering virtual messages to virtual people (damn you World of Warcraft) or.... entering every single ISBN in my house onto the computer (thrice and double damn you LibraryThing!).

Yes, my husband and I are nerds of the saddest variety. We spent all last evening passing books back and forth, entering ISBNs, talking about our recommended reads and arguing over whether or not it mattered that the cover art provided wasn't identical.

I can't quite remember now why I thought it was so important that I do as much as I could as fast as I could, but I now have over 1,000 recommended reads - hopefully enough to keep me going for a while!

On a separate note, I'm concerned that none of the stories I'm working on are really firing my enthusiasm at present... I'll have to think about what to do next.

Word Count - 695

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day 96 to 122 - Indulging in Christmas Spirit

Oh, I had such a good break!

I made an agreement with myself that I wasn't going to write anything for the rest of December. It was hard. In fact, as the month went on I found myself getting some really good ideas and it took an awful lot of self-control to go and play World of Warcraft instead of sitting down and writing.

But I think the break has done me good. I'm looking forward to the new year with boundless enthusiasm, and I have some great ideas that I'm dying to write.

I've made it my New Year's Resolution that I am going to send something to a publisher this year. Now all I have to do is write something, then edit it, then edit it again, then polish it and I'm away!

Word count - A blissful 0