Smelling the roses

Hello, all you lovely people. I hope today is a good day where you are and that you get a chance to stop and smell the roses. One of the upsides of my current writing spot is that I get to watch passersby literally doing that. I want to tell each of them how much I love that they stopped to appreciate a Just Joey or a Mr Lincoln, but that would be creepy and annoying so I restrain myself. Fortunately, there is also a window between me and them, so I have help in the form of a physical barrier.

Anyway. Thank you so much to those of you who have asked for an update on THE WRITING! (Also to those of you who did not lest I fall into a pit of despair and proclaim that it was all too hard! It is hard, but that’s okay and expected.) It’s been a while since I blogged because, frankly, I’m not sure how interesting I could have made numerous posts about waiting. Huh. How interesting that only one letter in that word is different from ‘writing’.

I did promise I’d share the up and downs, so I should have filled you in on my grumpy, what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life days – which there have been some of and it would be dishonest to tell you otherwise. But, generally, I continue writing furiously and with great joy and am learning to live with the realities of the creative world.

I am lucky enough to be working on three projects at the moment. Two of my Young Adult manuscripts and a new adult contemporary fiction novel. Squee, I’m really enjoying writing in an adult voice again! (Haha the ‘squee’ is so very adult!) I am 50 000 words into the first draft and it is a ride! There’s a lot of autobiographical aspects to the story. The protagonist is a teacher turned writer. She is dealing with a heap of loss at once and is in a long marriage to a good man. However, the story is set around a twenty-five year school reunion on the NSW Coal Coast, there’s a dead body involved, an old mystery and an ex-student with a crush. I hope one day you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I am enjoying writing it. Of course, there’s been tears too, as comes with writing about grief, but that is life, is it not?

In the meantime, I also continue to put some final touches to my YA manuscripts Treehearts and Paddling. The former is my story about a 17 yo trying to save the remnant banksia woodland next to her family’s dog shelter while trying not to fall in love with a Deaf boy who doesn’t date hearing girls. It covers a lot of themes very close to my heart: how we learn to communicate when we don’t share a common language; how we can’t fix everything but we can impact our immediate surrounds; how sometimes, when it matters, we can be braver than we thought we were.

I have chosen to employ a sensitivity reader for Treehearts, to be sure I portray the deaf/Deaf elements of the story as accurately as I possibly can. The feedback is beginning to come in and so far I haven’t made any major blunders so phew! Also, my reader is ‘loving’ it. Woohoo! I don’t want to name her until she has formally okayed associating with the book, but it has been lovely getting to know X through our email exchanges. (She is a West Australian living overseas.)

I’m also continuing to work with the amazing Kristina Schulz through my mentorship via the FAWWA Four Centres Emerging Writers Program. She is the perfect foil for my inevitable insecurities, so kind and complimentary about my writing. With her I am tweaking Paddling, the first YA I wrote about feisty, ambitious Year Twelve Ellie Bennett. Ellie is horrified when the smartest boy in the school thinks she’s romantically interested in him instead of just trying to improve her chemistry grade. And yes, there is a reason her name is Ellie Bennett, if perhaps not the reason you might expect!

On a more philosophical note, writing these stories and others has helped me finally understand all that stuff about life being best lived in moments. It’s taken me a while to get here, but maybe, at last, I am making a reasonable fist of it. I am as active and concerned about the world as always. However, I am better at focusing my energies and that, in turn, gets the books written! Most days!

In other news, another lovely writer, Karen Hollands, recently asked me to respond to some questions for her blog. She is interviewing writers who have been at it for a while, had some success but are not yet published. The questions were quite wide-ranging, so I will link to that post when it comes out for those who are interested. Meanwhile you can see her interviews with Lisa Kenway and Tina Cartwright here.

I will finish today by wishing you all access to books any time you want them. Happy reading everyone…and writing if that’s your thing. But, most of all, happy living. Many are going through difficult times and I sincerely hope your obstacles today – or in this moment of today – are well and truly manageable. x

What I’ve learnt about writing novels – so far

Words: I like them a lot, but that’s cheating because I actually knew that before. I now know I need about 80 000 of them to claim I have a novel-length manuscript. This can change between genres; fantasy is longer, Middle Grade fiction (for 8-12 year olds) shorter.

First Drafts: Best thought of as ‘word vomit*’ or you telling the story to yourself. It is a starting point and you just need to get it done. Do what it takes. Bribes can work. Make yourself sit at the computer when it’s not coming easily. About 35 000 words into my last manuscript, I ran out of steam even though I knew where the story was going and wanted to write it. I gave myself a couple of days off, but it didn’t recharge me. So, I simply had to make myself write for however long it took to get 2000 words done, every day. I wrote whatever came into my head, just to keep going. It looked awful on the page and I had to keep dragging those sentences out of myself for about two weeks. Like, seriously, dragging. I can honestly say it was the hardest work I’ve done while sitting in a chair. But it worked. At around the 50 000 mark, the words began to come easily again and the very end was written joyfully in a sweet 6000 word flourish. Best of all, when I reread it, the words I’d despaired over were better than I’d believed at the time. Go figure. Wading on through seems to work.

Other Drafts: Necessary. Mostly very enjoyable. But naming them is misleading. Some sections get rewritten 4352 times. Other parts, maybe once or twice. Like everything to do with writing, it’s not simple to explain. Apart from the seat of the pants thing, there’s no arguing with that.

Other Writers: Such a good bunch. Find some. Make them your friends. Have regular meetings (if you want to write yourself that is – otherwise that would be kind of weird πŸ˜‰ ) Read their manuscripts when they ask, ask them to read yours. The technical term for this is beta reading. (The first MS I ever beta read was top notch and the author, Karen Whittle-Herbert, will have her first book, a crime novel called The River Mouth, published in September. Buy it. She’s a star on the rise.) Also, the writing community on Twitter is supportive and friendly. I believe some of the action is moving to Instagram now, but this may only be a rumour. I’ve learnt a lot from links and news shared on the bird platform. #AusWrites is a good place to get started if you’re Australian.

Finished Manuscripts: 1) A misnomer. Very hard to ever definitively say, “That’s it, I’m done.” I’ve heard authors say they never read their published book because they know they will want to change parts. But, at some point, one must send it out to the wide world. 2) Satisfying. Celebrate the moment. Whatever happens from here, I have finished three books. Yay, me. 3) Must be formatted properly before being sent off to agents/publishers. REMEMBER to do this. Who knew a title page was necessary and that chapters are best started twelve lines down the page? Everyone except me, maybe?! I think I’ve got it sorted now πŸ™‚

Final Thoughts: I always imagined satisfaction from writing would only come with getting published. I can honestly say, I no longer feel this way. Having a serious writing habit has enriched my life more than I can properly explain. All you book people, readers and writers, are MY people. Wrestling with language in the written form and talking/reading about it is my happy place. I still plan to continue sending agents and publishers my work until someone cracks/ sees it for the brilliantly insightful work it is/wants to print it. However, meanwhile, I’m having an excellent time. (Except maybe when I was writing the middle bit of that book just finished, but let’s not get bogged down in details…)

All this is to say, if you’re living with that feeling that you’ve got a book or three in you, get to it. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll learn an awful lot about things you didn’t know that you didn’t know, and, if you play right, meet some great people. Also, I’m available to beta read if you get in quick πŸ™‚

*I don’t know who came up with this brilliant way of describing a first draft. If you do, perhaps you could let me know?

P.S. I promised to share the roller coaster. I don’t think I got an ASA mentorship this time around and I haven’t yet heard anything back from the publisher or agent who asked to read my first Young Adult novel. It’s to be expected. I am alternating between sulking mildly and pulling up my big girl pants. I have another pitching opportunity next week and more publishers to try. I’m learning Auslan (loving it) because of a Deaf character I’m writing. I’m thinking of pulling the first manuscript I wrote out of a drawer and revamping it. Either that or continuing on with my half-complete third Young Adult story. The first draft of my second YA novel ( the one I’ve just finished) needs to percolate for a bit before I can read it with a clear mind.

Are you writing?