Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

It’s First Monday of the month again, your invitation to ask questions and discuss any aspect of writing that concerns you, whether to do with publishers, writing craft, or the rarely talked about demons besetting every writer.
To start, here’s a question that arose this week. How can you be sure to have a productive 2015? The answer is to place these invisible gifts under your tree.

1. Faith in yourself
Self-doubt is one of the demons haunting many writers. Sadly, the ones least likely to doubt themselves can be those least talented. The rest struggle along, wondering if our success to date has been a fluke.

An award-winning writer I know said in a speech that she believed her publishers would knock on her
door one day and demand their money back. Of course her success wasn’t a fluke. She wrote stories millions of people wanted to read.

The best way to deal with self-doubt is to be what a motivational speaker calls part Clint Eastwood and part Mr Spock – hard-nosed and logical. Do you have a body of work you’re proud of, even if it’s not yet published? Do you write on most days? Do you study your craft through books, a writing group or online? Do you finish what you start? By all hard-nosed, logical reasoning, you are a writer and self-doubt has no place under your tree. Replace it with faith in yourself.

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2. Determination
This is the twin of faith. Determination…okay, sometimes called stubbornness…keeps you going when the going gets tough. Critique partners can tell you the work isn’t there yet; agents and publishers can reject you. You can stare at your writing and wonder why you ever thought you could do this.

Determination is what makes you stay at the keyboard and keep writing. You are in love with your characters and can’t wait to tell their stories. You know you still have plenty to learn about writing craft, but the only way to learn it is by doing. Determination knows that. Fill a huge stocking with this vital quality, and hang it by the chimney with care. Or at the foot of your bed. But make sure it’s there to unwrap any time you need it.

3. Excitement
Every child knows about excitement. It’s what has them scrambling awake before dawn to see their gifts. You can admire your gifts, too, even though they’re invisible. Talent is your gift and you’ve known it was there since you were a child yourself.

People ask me when I became a writer. You know, I honestly can’t remember. I wrote before I knew what a writer was. I thought everyone made up stories to entertain their siblings on the way to school, or lay in bed at night rewriting the ending of a movie because it didn’t end the way I thought it should.

Sometimes those stories turn into real, publishable work. But first, the excitement must be there before I can spend the weeks or months needed to turn an idea into a story for others to read. Excitement is what gets me out of bed in the early hours of the morning, eager to share the wonderful people and events in my head.

Right now I’m hatching a series about three people who didn’t exist until they started talking to me. So far they’ve told me their names, their histories and how they want to relate to each other and I’m savouring every minute of this stage. Anything is possible. It doesn’t even qualify as work. Soon, however, I’ll have to start the real work of getting words down. For that, you need fuel. Excitement is your fuel.

4. Resilience
Writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to train yourself to survive the long haul of writing and rewriting your words until they transmit the message (story) to your readers as accurately as possible. The story will always fall short of the visions in your head. Expect this. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting the words down then editing them until they’re close to your vision.

Expect to fail in other ways, too. More books are rejected by publishers than ever see the light of day. Not all are bad books. Sometimes they’re similar to something else the editor has in production, or not right for the market at that time. Even if you publish your work yourself, there are no guarantees. Indie publishing is not only acceptable these days, it’s eating into the numbers of manuscripts publishers are seeing, and they’re fretting over this.

Nor are all indie publishers beginners. Many are hugely successful with traditional publishers, and see self-publishing as a way to retain control of their work and incomes.

You still need to package up a huge does of resilience and place that under your tree to open when your faith and determination run low. Successful writers need skill, persistence and a little luck to succeed. As NASA says, failure is not an option. You only fail if you quit. Don’t quit.

Can you think of other essential gifts writers should give themselves these holidays? Share them with us in the comments below. I moderate comments to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on the “sign me up” box at right to subscribe. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy holidays to all, and to all – a good write.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
See the new cover of Valerie’s Beacons book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You
at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

It’s First Monday again, when I open this blog to your thoughts and questions to do with any aspect of writing and publishing. With Halloween just over and even the Australian shops still full of treat-sized chocolate and witchy products, I’m looking at our characters, the weird things they do to us – and why it’s okay.

1. Characters spring surprises

Long ago, I learned that a good character takes on a life of their own. I’ll do all the preparatory work, know their hair and eye colour, and what they want from life. Then I’ll be writing a draft and that same character will quietly let drop that they have a sister, a pet dog or an unusual hobby I didn’t know about.

Experience has shown me that this is part of my mind telling me what the story will need later on. The sibling or the hobby will turn out to be a vital part of that character’s story. I leave it in place with a side notation to check it again at the editing stage, and keep writing. Almost always, that detail will be essential to the story development.

2. Characters talk to you
A fully realised character will have their own thoughts on their world. How do you find this out? By asking them.
I learned this method from Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek universe. He took a sheet of paper – it doesn’t work as well on a screen – and drew a vertical line down the middle, creating two blank columns. On the left-hand one he wrote a question he wanted to ask the character, then wrote the character’s answer in the right-hand column.

At first this will feel forced and you’ll be aware of playing both roles, but if you persist over however many pages it takes, a spooky thing happens. The character starts to answer in their own voice, giving you insights that you hadn’t considered. Or more accurately, weren’t aware of knowing.

This process isn’t metaphysical. It’s your own subconscious revealing itself through the character, but it feels as if you really are in touch with this person, and you’ll find out far more than their physical description. Sometimes “their” insights will astonish you.

Gene Roddenberry said he used this process to create the logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock, so it’s definitely worth a try.

One caveat – writing is hard work. It’s common for a minor character to insist that you write their story as well, and you may start to imagine a series featuring all these people. Whether or not this ever happens doesn’t matter. The competing ideas are your brain’s way of dodging the work ahead. Make notes on whatever comes up, then finish the current book.

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3. Characters know what they want
Woe betide the author who doesn’t listen. You’ll end up with cardboard-cut-out people who do your bidding but have no life of their own.

In my Beacons science-fiction series, my three main characters are all aliens living on Earth. Elaine Lovell is a Watcher who can see whatever she chooses, wherever it may be. Her day job is media psychic. Garrett Luken is the beacon’s Listener, a former US Air Force pilot, now a best-selling sci-fi writer. Adam Desai is the team’s Messenger, a scientific genius who doesn’t know his alien history until he meets the other two.

My romantic side wanted them all partnered by series end. Elaine was the easiest, and found herself a Hawai’ian multimillionaire. Adam could only ever love the capable governor Shana Akers, who is more than his match mentally and physically.

My problem child was Garrett, gorgeous, talented and single. In three books and two novellas, I tried matching him with several other characters and he’d have none of them. Naturally, the only woman he fell for was the one I’d considered the least likely.

No spoilers, but when Garrett did let this person into his life, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of her. He knew who he wanted; I just had to take notes.

There it is, three spooky ways your characters will – like Pinocchio – become real, if you let them. Now it’s over to you to share your experiences.

Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but if you want your post to appear right away, click on “sign me up” to subscribe. I don’t share your details with anyone. How do you develop characters? Do they talk back to you? How does it affect your writing?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
See the new cover of Valerie’s Beacons book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

It’s First Monday again, when you’re invited to ask me anything about the writing life from craft issues to working with publishers.

Right now it’s spring in Australia, when we think of freshening up our homes, possessions and gardens. This week I was asked how you can spring clean your writing life. Here are 4 sure-fire ways:

1. Let go of old, tired projects
Many writers have pet ideas and half-finished manuscripts we hope to sell “some day.” As you know, some day never comes. If you’ve worked and reworked an idea, chances are you’ve also drained it of what Hemingway called “it’s juice.”

How do you know when an idea passes its use-by date? Look at the idea itself. Is it still current or has life overtaken the concept? Have the characters lost any resemblance to real people? Are you simply tired of the project? Look at the date on the pages. You may be surprised how many years have gone by while you tried to make this book work. Give it a decent burial and move on. A truly good idea will resurface in a new way, or you’ll free up your mind to take you somewhere fresh and exciting.

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2. Let go of critique partners who no longer suit you
This is a tough call. When you got together as a group or online critique partnership, you were probably at the same stage. Are you now? Have you moved on while they’re still at the gunna stage – gunna write their best seller any day now, except they’ve been saying so for several years. On the other hand, you’ve written steadily and can see progress. You may be getting good feedback from editors and agents, perhaps had your first acceptance.

Two things can happen here. The left-behind CP may be jealous and seek to keep you at their level. Or their advice may conflict with your new editor’s. Can you stay friends with your CP or group while acknowledging that your work has moved on? Of course, if you’re the gunna, all the above applies in reverse.

3. Be honest with yourself about what you want from writing
If you’ve told friends, family and co-workers that you’re writing a book, do you feel obligated to keep going? Do you watch them having a life and feel jealous because every hour outside your day job is spent writing, thinking about writing or on some related activity? These shackles are entirely optional.

Why not take some time away from writing to test your commitment? This works as mental decluttering, and can make a huge difference to your words. Either you’ll find that you enjoy exploring other interests, or you’ll miss the act of storytelling so much that it feels like a physical loss. As I’ve said here before, writers write. We can no more stop spinning stories than we can give up breathing. Taking time out, maybe doing some real-life spring cleaning, will tell you what you want from writing. You’ll return to your projects with fresh ideas and hopes, or at the least, with a nice clean house.

4. Stay current with your writing
The publishing world is changing before our eyes. If you’re clinging to outdated writing methods and content, you may need to declutter this area of your life. Step away from your projects and take a big-picture look at where you are. Are you writing what you think the market wants? Life is short. Should you move on to that project you’ve always wanted to try, but were afraid wouldn’t sell?

Indie publishing, once derided as vanity publishing, is today’s big thing and getting bigger. Bestselling writers are reinventing themselves as hybrid authors, published by both traditional houses and under their own imprints. Others are going small-press to keep more control over their work.

The only book worth writing is the one that sings to you, keeps you awake at night and won’t let you go. If your pet book doesn’t grab traditional publishers, can you publish it yourself? Look up indie publishing, Smashwords, Amazon and the like to see what’s out there. You will need to pay for professional editing and a first-rate cover, as well as do tons of promotion including social media to give your book a real chance of success but after that, the sky’s the limit.

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What is clutter to you? How do you manage it in your writing life? Comments are moderated to avoid spam. Click on “sign me up” at right if you want your comment to appear right away. I don’t share your email details with anyone. Questions? Thoughts? It’s over to you now.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
See the new cover of Valerie’s latest book, Birthright at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

Welcome. It’s first Monday again, when I answer questions about any aspect of the writing life.

Recently I attended the national conference of Romance Writers of Australia, one of the largest gatherings of writers in the country. Headliners included New York Times’ best-sellers, publishers, agents and writers of all kinds. I presented a workshop on drawing readers into your fictional world.

In the breaks, talk ranged around contracts, submissions and other professional concerns, but also about lesser-known aspects such as the courage needed to write, and how hard it is to diet in such an unpredictable business. This made me think it was time to look at what this crazy business really means.

If David Attenborough wanted to make one of his celebrated documentaries about writers, where would he start? Would he find us in herds like gazelle, or stalking alone like tigers. Would we be fearful or confronting? Do we use protective coloration or can you spot the breed from a distance?

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Confusingly, the answer to all the above would be yes. Writers – call us Scribblopithecus – do gather in herds such as the RWA conference. But more commonly, they hole up in their writing caves, struggling to deal with the real world.

Protective coloration goes by the name of jammies, short for pyjamas, the species’ unofficial uniform. In writing mode, Scribblopithecus can stay in this camouflage for days.

While Scribblopithecus doesn’t actually hibernate, they frequently enter a torpor, a state where they are unresponsive to family and friends, reluctant to initiate communication, and focused entirely on their internal world.

Locating Scribblopithecus is challenging because their habitats are so varied. You find them in every country of the world, existing like cuckoos in a range of settings known as “day jobs.” In these, you may be hard-pressed to spot the writer, so well do they disguise themselves. They’re wonderful mimics, copying the calls and behavior of their day-job counterparts.

But in their natural surroundings they spend hours mesmerized by computer screens and tablets on which they make their characteristic scratchy markings. They’re fussy, though. The markings must be just so, or they will be removed and Scribblopithecus will start over, sometimes dozens of times.

Despite this preoccupation, Scribblopithecus also collects objects called notebooks, the more stylish the better. They seldom defile notebooks with scratchings, but will treasure and fondle them as their collection grows. An environment such as Office Works or Kikki.K can induce an ecstasy state as the species rushes to acquire every object around them.

Scribblopithecus is an omnivore but has a particular fondness for chocolate, despite its effect on their generally sedentary lifestyle. If anyone raids their stash, they can become aggressive, although few specimens engage in physical confrontation.

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Interpreting their scratchings can be confusing. The amount of mayhem, death and destruction represented can lead one to assume that aggression is a natural trait. In fact, Scribblopithecus tends toward shyness, preferring to communicate via its screens rather than face to face. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter are their natural homes and #amwriting is one of the latter’s more distinctive calls.

So what is to be concluded about this species? No two are alike, they alternate between herd and solitary behaviour, experience long periods of torpor and express their aggression passively, through their scratchings. They are also an enduring species, their scratchings being found on cave walls throughout the ancient world.

Should you encounter Scribblopithecus, it’s advisable to offer chocolate and back slowly away lest you find yourself represented in their scratchings and killed off in an unpleasant manner. This symbolic violence is characteristic, along with talking to themselves, mock aggression when they wish to be solitary, and a complete lack of time sense.

It’s safest not to try to placate an aroused specimen. Misuse of apostrophes and terminology such as, “there, they’re, their” has been known to induce an attack frenzy which few outsiders have survived.

So there you have it. Have you met Scribblopithecus? Are you one of the species yourself? Please leave a comment here, moderated unless you click Sign Me Up at right. Or better still, leave chocolate to avoid being killed symbolically.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

Welcome to the first Monday in August when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative issues or business, such as dealing with agents, editors and publishers, or anything to do with the writing life.

Next week I’m presenting a workshop at the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference in Sydney, and I’m bound to come across one or more writers who intend to start writing “as soon as…” I don’t expect to be reading their books any time soon if at all, and here are three reasons why.

1. “As soon as…” never comes

What these writers mean is they will write as soon as everything in their life is under control. And guess what? Life is never that co-operative. If you truly want to write, you need to start now, no matter what state your life may be in.

Writers are good at what Oscar-winning screenwriter, William Goldman, calls, “putting off doomsday.” Yes, writing is hard. But it will never get any easier while you tap dance around the process.

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2. You will always have an excuse not to write
Do you recognise any of these? I’ll write when:
I have more time
I know what I want to write about (you find out by writing)
The weather is not so hot/cold.
Christmas/New Year/School holidays are over
I finish my research
I’ve defrosted the fridge
The world becomes perfect

Nobody ever has all the time, money or clear head space to start writing. Some of the most successful books were written under the most difficult conditions. I’ve written while moving house, when family members were sick, and when writing was the last thing I wanted to do. Writers write.

3. Writing is like housework. It expands to fit the time you have.
A meme going around the internet says that we get the most housework done in the five minutes before unexpected guests drop in. The same can be said of writing. Have you noticed how you can fiddle around all day trying to get something written. Then as soon as you know you have to be somewhere else at a set time, the words seem to flow?

If only you didn’t have to leave now.

This is your creative brain tricking you into thinking the writing is suddenly easier, knowing perfectly well that you have no choice but to leave it soon.

One solution is to pretend you have to leave the desk an hour or more before you actually do. If this spurs your writing brain, you’ll get as much done as if you’d been there all day.

Another trick is to set a kitchen timer. Tell yourself you’ll write for the next thirty minutes then you can stop. But don’t stare at the blank screen. Write something. Write garbage. But write words. This act of starting is almost magical, making it easier to keep going. You may not even notice when the timer goes off because you’re already caught up. And if you are ready to stop by then, at least you’ve put in a solid thirty minutes at your chosen task.

Remember, the world doesn’t care whether or not you write. You are the one who’ll feel you’ve let yourself down by not writing the project burning inside you. And unless the words are burning inside you, you may never write at all.

Set deadlines for yourself. Even writing one page a day (about 250 words) every day for five days a week will give you a 65,000 word manuscript – the length of a genre novel – by the end of a year. And that’s with weekends off.

How do you get past the “as soon as…” challenge? Comment using the box below. I moderate posts to avoid spam. If you want your comment to appear right away, sign up using the button at lower right. I don’t share your email addresses with anyone. Happy writing.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s first Beacons novel, Birthright, at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

It’s the first Monday in July, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. For starters, here’s a common question: what happens after you finish a book?

As I write this, I’m in the best possible place – at the end of a new book. Even more importantly, I’m at the end of a 300,000 word trilogy, my Beacons series for Corvallis Press, Oregon.

As of last night, all the tales have been told, the loose endings wrapped up, and the big finish I wanted for the series is definitely there.

Fittingly, it’s also just after the Fourth of July for my American friends. Although I’m in Australia, my book had fireworks and lots of celebration. As it should be. As suspense writer, Lawrence Block, put it in his excellent book, Writing the Novel from Plot to Print, no one brings your manuscript a squeaky toy, as they do when a baby is born. More often, you finish in a haze of exhaustion and surrounded by catch-up work screaming to be done.

Yet writing “the end” doesn’t mean the book is truly finished. There’s anything from a few months to a few years’ worth of work remaining. Sometimes a book is never done. Among the 83 books I’ve written, one still niggles because of a glitch in the opening chapter.
The title is among my most popular, although no reader has noticed the issue and I’ve had no emails, but the niggle bothers me to this day. I’m in good company. Hemingway was said to hang around the presses as a new book came off, wanting to make changes even at that stage.

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So what are the four things you need to do after writing the end?

1. Step away from the manuscript.
Perfect though it looks now, there will be flaws. Sometimes continuity issues, questions, typos, facts to check, and the writing to polish. Now is not the time. Bathed in the beatific glow of having written, we’re too close to the work to be objective. Give yourself all the time you can to separate yourself from the material, then put on your editor hat and revisit the work. You’ll be astonished what sneaked through in the interim.

2. Catch up with everything you neglected
I once asked the amazing Nora Roberts what she does between books. She told me she ploughs through all the tasks that piled up while she was writing, catches up with friends and family, then she wanders around the house, wondering what people do with their time when they don’t write. And she starts writing again.
I won’t depress you with how fast she goes through this cycle, but it’s obvious from the quantity and quality of her output. Some writers need more time between books than others. Take what you need, and start writing again only when you’re ready.

3. Get a life
William Shatner made this phrase famous when he did a comedy skit on Saturday Night Live, reminding Star Trek fans that it was “only a television show” and they should get a life outside their favourite program. The same can be said of writing. Unless we have lives outside writing, sooner or later we end up writing about writers. You need balance in your life. I’ve seen the areas recommended as work, family, spiritual and personal wellbeing. Between books is a good time to assess where your life is and what needs more attention.

4. Start dreaming
Most writers have more ideas than we know what to do with. Between books is the perfect time to let your imagination run wild. What book calls you to write it next? What marvelous idea fills you with excitement? It isn’t enough to start writing because you feel you must, or you’ve goofed off long enough. Your idea should drag you to the computer, desperate to capture the lightning. Play with your ideas. Read, think, explore, scribble notes. Scribble more notes. When the scribbling won’t stop, you’re ready to start again.

What do you do between projects? How do you know when a new book is ready for attention? Comment using the box below. I moderate comments to avoid spam. If you want your comment to appear right away, sign up using the button at lower right. I don’t share your email addresses with anyone.

Meanwhile, I have a life to catch up on. Happy writing.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s first Beacons novel, Birthright, at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

It’s First Monday again, when you can share your thoughts and ask me any questions to do with writing, editing or publishing your work. Today isn’t so much a question as sharing what I’ve discovered about writing in the last week.

Mostly I want readers to have the best possible experience through my books. Then there are the writers for whom I write this blog, and the entrants in the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia.

Each year I mentor the winner of the award, and feel like a kid at Christmas when one of my minions (their own name for themselves as former VPA winners) lands a new publishing contract, wins a book award, or makes a bestseller list as they frequently do.

I see this as giving back to an amazing profession where I sometimes have to remind myself that this is work. So imagine my excitement when The Australian Society of Authors awarded me the ASA Medal 2014 in Melbourne last week.

Here’s what was said about the medal, and some of my response. As more and more people at the presentation, and many hundreds of online friends, offered congratulations, I was reminded again of why I write – for the joy of telling stories. That my stories and work with other writers should bring me such an extraordinary honour as the ASA Medal, I consider the icing on my writing cake.

Valerie with Executive Director of the ASA, Angelo Loukakis, after the presentation

Valerie with Executive Director of the ASA, Angelo Loukakis, at the presentation

“The ASA Board awards the ASA Medal bi-annually to honour members of Australia’s writing community who have contributed significantly to our literary culture. Your contribution has been judged outstanding across the board, from the quality of your writing to your hard work in support of other authors, the principles of authorship and this organization itself.”

“This is one award that has to be earned” – Angelo Loukakis

In accepting the medal, I said in part:

“As one whose first books were chiselled on cave walls, I am honoured to be given this award and would also like to congratulate my fellow honoree for 2014, Nadia Wheatley.

My first published book, Growing and Using Herbs (Ure Smith), caused little fanfare in my family, not being a blockbuster or even a novel.

It took joining the Australian Society of Authors to make me realise I’d done something that mattered, I’d written a book and had it published, the first of more than eighty novels and non-fiction titles. I’m proud to be that rare breed, a writer supporting myself through my writing since my twenties.

In the Australian Society of Authors, I had great mentors, not only in matters of craft but also in the importance of giving back to a profession that has been good to me.

As well as the ASA executive and membership, I’d like to thank my agent of twenty years, Linda Tate. She not only has my back, but my front and the top of my head as well, even if I’m still waiting for that body double I asked for.

Receiving such an important award decided by your peers has to be as good as it gets. Thank you so much.”

Now it’s over to you. Why do you write? What gives you the greatest pleasure in your work? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Valerie

About the author:
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

It’s First Monday again, time to share your thoughts and ask me any questions you have to do with writing, editing or publishing your work. Today’s first question was inspired by a discussion I had on Facebook with Serena Lockwood Dorman, so thank you Serena for the tip.

She said, “I just thought, Valerie, since you do the monthly advice blog for newish writers, you should do a post on what makes you stop reading a story. I’ve been reading a lot of stories on Wattpad and when I come across certain things I click out of the story right away. It would be helpful to know what instantly turns seasoned authors off.”

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I thought for a minute. As a reader, I’m fairly forgiving as long as the story grabs me. But here’s the list I gave Serena:

1. Bad writing. If the story has too many mistakes, spelling, grammar and the like, jumps around from one character’s point of view to another – known as head-hopping – or otherwise pulls me out of the story, then I’m not likely to keep reading.

2. Too much description not relevant to the story, so I skip. As Chuck Wendig blogged recently, we don’t need to see every sip of coffee the character takes. It becomes a distraction. As a reader, I want the words to disappear and have the story run like a movie in my head. When a character enters a room, I want to see what they see, not every stick of furniture as a judge on The Block sees it, but what’s relevant to that particular character. Put yourself inside their head and show us what they notice and why, as it relates to the story, and I’ll keep reading.

3. Good character doing bad things, even if for good reason. For example, a hero is broke and needs medicine for a child. He stumbles across the proceeds of robbery and decides to keep it – this still makes him a bad person IMO. He may be sorely tempted to keep the money. Another character may think he has – there’s a story in that – but ultimately, torn and tested, a good person will do the right thing.

4. One character out to despoil the environment the other character loves. For some reason this conflict appeals to new writers. Apart from being predictable, someone has to lose. There’s no solution where one or the other doesn’t have to give in. Think of another conflict.

5. Any story where the ending is obvious early in the book. Writers are your toughest audience. If you can keep us reading and wondering, you’ll keep any reader.

I’m also not fond of a heroine taking up with her late husband’s brother, or issues like spousal abuse, miscarriage or loss of a partner not treated seriously. They can provide powerful motivations, but do your homework and have a care for readers who’ve been there.

Now over to you. What stops you from reading or finishing a book? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Valerie
About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

It’s First Monday again, time to share your thoughts and have me answer any questions you have to do with writing. Today’s first question comes from a panel I was on at the last GenreCon event in Brisbane: Think Like a Pro. It was about crossing over from hobby writer to professional, so I added “writer” to “pro” to head off the smart comments I was getting on Facebook and Twitter

They reminded me of being interviewed by Ray Martin,when I said in all seriousness, romance is the root of everything. The studio audience erupted with laughter. Ray waited, then added quietly, “You said it, Valerie.” So pro writer it is.

Writing is often about aptitude, being born with the storytelling gene, as I believe nearly all successful writers to be. Professional writing is about attitude. It involves learning to see yourself differently, and training others in your life to see you the same way.

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I started out writing everything from press releases to non-fiction before progressing to novels. My first mentor taught me to value my time, setting myself a nominal hourly rate. If I could get non-writing work done for less than this hourly rate, I was better off hiring someone while I wrote new words or developed a submission for a publisher. I still hire computer help, lawn care, book-keeping or whatever else I need so I can focus on my core business of writing.

Working with an agent – or freelance editor if you plan to indie publish – should be seen as an investment. At a minimum, a good agent covers their fee and then some by gaining better deals for you. Mine certainly does.

Writing may be a labour of love but to succeed long term, you need to treat it as your job. Hearing friends say, “I’ve finished writing for the day, now I’m off to work” makes me want to throw things.

Writing IS work. It may not be your day job for now, but as a pro writer, that’s your goal. It helps to tell friends and family, “I’m working” rather than “I’m writing.” Which makes you sound more like a professional?

Here are my four tips for thinking like a pro writer –

1. Put a value on your time. As soon as you can afford it, hire help to leave yourself free to write. Sometimes committing yourself to an expense such as child care or computer advice can spur you to work harder to cover these expenses.

2. Schedule your writing as work. Even if you can only set aside half an hour a day, or commit to writing 250 words, regard it as inviolate and hold yourself accountable to produce results.

3. Make writing a habit. Keep a diary of the words you produce toward your target. If you miss a day, make it up as soon as you can. Don’t worry if writing full time seems a long way off. The discipline of writing around other commitments can mean producing more work than if you have whole days available. The saying that work expands to fill the time available is especially true of creative writing.

4. Allow yourself thinking time. Find a writing place where you don’t feel compelled to “look busy.” Thinking and pushing your ideas to the limit IS important if you’re to create something new and exciting. We writers are working when we’re staring out of windows.

Now it’s your turn. What beliefs and practices turn you from a wannabe to a pro writer? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Valerie

About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

It’s First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. Today’s question has to do with who I regard as my mentors? There are quite a few, writers, philosophers, motivational psychologists. But today I want to talk about one role model in particular, and the reasons why he is such an inspiration, probably not the ones you expect.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’ve been a Star Trek fan as long as the shows have been around. My collection of original series books numbers in the hundreds. Dozens more sit on my Kindle. Once upon a time, when I helped to organize Star Trek conventions in Australia, I had enough Star Trek memorabilia to stock a store. Some of my earliest fiction, now living among their collection of my literary papers at the State Library of NSW, was set in the Star Trek universe, and I number its creator, Gene Roddenberry, among my writing mentors.

But my greatest inspiration comes from actor and director, William Shatner. Not only because of his iconic portrayal of Captain James Kirk, but because Shatner himself is such a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm that it’s dizzying trying to keep up with everything he’s doing.

From his memorable portrayals of Kirk to Boston Legal’s Denny Crane, his career spans Emmy-award winning roles, directing, writing many books, winning international horse riding events, charity fund-raising on a grand scale, even crowd-funding his own watch design late last year. Did I mention he’s doing all this and more at age eighty-two?

Still that same killer smile.

Still that same killer smile.

Here are 5 ways he inspires my writing life:

1. PASSION
Everything William Shatner does is fueled by this powerhouse ingredient. It’s obvious that he lives every day with passion for whatever he undertakes. Whether it be breeding Dobermans, riding American Saddlebred horses, writing or directing movies, he puts his whole being into the task, and the passion shines through.

2. ENERGY
When he was in his early seventies, he starred in the Star Trek movie, Generations, working horrendously long days in arduous desert conditions, filming the death of his best-known character, a huge milestone for any actor. In an interview, he was asked how he kept going. He said he simply told himself he wasn’t tired. I took that to heart and whenever I feel pushed to the limit, I tell myself I’m not tired, and the energy flows back.

3. SENSE OF WONDER
Shatner is never afraid to try new things, to experiment, to grow. Far too many people stop growing and learning in their teens. He has explored every kind of acting, written a wide variety of books, spoken to huge convention audiences in countries around the world, been a spokesperson for NASA, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And still he’s developing new ideas and new projects.

As the saying goes, growing old is unavoidable, but growing up is optional.

4. LOVE OF LIFE
Shatner has had dark times, recorded in his various memoirs, beyond anything most of us have to deal with. But he has always picked himself up and gone back to living life to the full, setting a shining example for the rest of us.

5. RESILIENCE
For a writer, this ingredient is key. As with acting, writing involves putting yourself and your work out there, dealing with rejection and finding the will to keep on going. William Shatner has endured pretty well every tragedy that life can throw at a person, while still wringing the most out of every day.
These qualities are not exclusive to a Hollywood legend. They are available to each of us, every day of our lives. How many of these qualities do you make sure you have? If you’d like your comment to appear right away, please click on “sign me up” at right, to subscribe. I don’t share your email with anyone else.

Valerie

About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

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