Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Welcome to First Monday mentoring, when I open this blog to your questions and discussion about the writing life. This Halloween weekend , I’m looking at some of the scary aspects of the craft, and how you might deal with them.
If you’re dealing with any or all of these bumps, you’re not alone. Every writer, from the beginner to the multi-published encounters them at some time.
So cue the Twilight Zone music.
1. The fear that never goes away.
Writing is a voyage into the unknown. You’re digging around in your subconscious, dealing with elements of your humanity – and that’s just to create believable characters. If your writing explores darker elements, they may stir reactions in you as a person. While researching my masters, I looked at how writers do narrative therapy on ourselves (rewrite our personal histories for more satisfactory outcomes) through the stories we choose to tell. Any and all of these aspects bring up our own fears. No wonder we sometimes skim over the surface of scenes. The solution is to force yourself to go deeper, write what you’re most uncomfortable writing. There you’ll find your greatest truths, and perhaps your own healing.
2. The facts that trip up your story
These are myriad. From seasons that don’t cooperate with the story you want to tell to distances that your characters can’t have travelled in the time your story allows. These bumps, while scary, can be dealt with. Not by fudging the details, as you may be tempted to do, but by being less specific, changing the parameters. What you don’t do is leave things alone and hope readers won’t notice – they will.

3. Carry around dead bodies
The “bodies” are the books you’d love to write, or have spent countless hours developing, but that aren’t working. Dr. Frankenstein could use lightning bolts to animate his monster, but he was still a monster. Stories with monster qualities are the same. You can check by stripping the problem story back to bare bones: Character wants (goals) because (motive) but (conflict). Do the same for each key character including the antagonist. This should expose any faulty reasoning holding your story back. If you can’t reanimate the story, it might be time to write something new that does work.
4. The ghosts of Christmas past
Charles Dickens nailed this one. Often the scariest things in our writing life are the things we didn’t do. Have you been promising yourself you’ll write that book “this year?” But this year has less than two months to go. Sit down today, right now if you can, and write the opening sentence of your book. The words don’t have to be great or even good, just start. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, the greatest books ever written all began with a single word. Start now.

Credible Hulk
5. The self-doubt demons
These are perhaps the scariest of bumps in the writing road. You look at other writers – in your critique group, online buds, in the news – and think they all have it together. You are the only one struggling. News for you: you’re not. Every writer struggles with self-doubt demons. Rejection is part of the job. Editing, seemingly the chain-saw massacre of your work, is actually a cleansing process, identifying inconsistencies, logic flaws and other elements the writer is too close to the work to see. Sometimes the person wielding the chainsaw is yourself. Just don’t be too quick to attack your words. First write them for yourself alone, only after you have a coherent draft (or several) let the world in to add their comments.

Writing is a scary process but it is survivable once you learn to expect these bumps. What haunts your writing life? How do you deal? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear  right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing,
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You

*** With thanks to friend and colleague, Jennie Adams ***

Teaching master classes and mentoring new writers is a great way to shine a spotlight on your own writing process.
Focusing on how you construct a story reveals what works and – crucially – what doesn’t. The alternative, sadly, is learning by trial and error and many wasted words.

AORW cover
A few days ago, my agent, Linda Tate and I were working through a detailed outline of a new book.

It’s sci-fi, not a field she normally reads. Her feedback was invaluable for precisely that reason. She took nothing for granted, asking the “why” questions that someone more into science fiction might not think to ask.
During our talk I had one of Oprah Winfrey’s “light bulb moments” when a metaphorical light goes on over your head.
I knew why the bad guy was acting as he was. The key characters had to find out the hard way, as is proper. You should never make things easy for your characters. Far better to “get your characters up a tree and then throw rocks at them.” The rocks being the difficulties you put in their way so they have to fight for every bit of progress.
I’d done all that. In my story things go from bad to worse, and then to catastrophic. But I’d overlooked one thing I’d learned from teaching –

What the writer tells the reader does not have to be the same as what the characters tell each other.
Sure, you want to stay inside their viewpoint as much as you can, so readers feel as if they’re living the story rather than being told about it.
But an element called “reader superiority” lets readers in on information your characters don’t have yet. By sharing secrets, you heighten your readers’ enjoyment of the story as they wait for the characters to catch up.
A good example comes from Where Are the Children by Mary Higgins Clark. Her heroine may have murdered her children and gotten away with it. The woman has started afresh under a new identity, when the children from her new relationship mysteriously disappear.
If we thought that she’d actually killed her children, we’d have little sympathy for her. So Ms Clark sets up an opening scene where someone sinister is watching the heroine. At first, we don’t learn what he’s about, but we know the heroine is not the villain. However, the other characters only know her kids have disappeared twice under suspicious circumstances. They believe she’s a killer who got lucky the first time, and they want her to be caught.
Had we, as readers, not known she was being stalked, we might feel the same.
You don’t have to step outside the book and tell the reader. As Ms Clark did, you can show us what’s really going on, so we empathize with the character. Knowing she’s innocent, we want the truth to come out while fearing it will come too late to save her. The result is a real page-turner.

My lightbulb moment:

Rather than springing the truth on characters and readers at the same time, I need to reveal my bad guy to my readers before the characters work it all out. This can be done with a scene where we meet the bad guy when the leads aren’t present. It’s a multiple-viewpoint book so it’s perfectly legitimate.

I just have to remember to take my own advice.

Valerie as first Writer in Residence at Young NSW Library . Photo by Maree Myhill.

Valerie as first Writer in Residence at Young NSW Library . Photo by Maree Myhill.

The 3 things I’ve learned from mentoring and teaching –
1. Giving advice is easier than taking it
2. Knowing why something works means you can do it again…and again.
3. Say yes to every teaching opportunity; you never know what you might learn.
Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing,

Sydney Oct 17, join Valerie at the Australian Society of Authors’ special event:
When Worlds Collide

adding romance to your speculative (and other) fiction.
Discounts available for participants attending from out of Sydney.

Click on car icon with $ sign on it.

To book phone: (02) 9211 1004 or go to

Welcome to the first Monday in September when I answer any questions you have about writing, and invite you to share your experiences as a published or emerging writer.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual conference of Romance Writers of Australia in Melbourne, among a record 400 attendees, about 100 being first timers. The enthusiasm level soared. Reunions were loud with much hugging, and we were blessed with outstanding keynote speakers including Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect), New York Times bestselling author of historical and contemporary romances, Mary Jo Putney, Dr. Anita Heiss (novelist and social commentator), American romance writer, Patricia McLinn and many, many more.

At the awards dinner I announced the winner of this year’s Valerie Parv Award – incidentally named by RWA, not by me, I suspect as a good way to make sure I keep turning up. Congratulations to all the winners and place getters. The winner couldn’t make the conference but we had a long phone chat later to welcome Canberra writer, Carly Main, to the ranks of the minions – as past winners dubbed themselves long before the movies.

Carly’s winning book is a Roman-set women’s novel with romantic elements. I’ll mentor her while she holds the award, and we plan on exploring the world of ancient Rome together. Coincidentally, one of my current projects has a similar background.

A key conference theme was that writers are also readers, or should be. And we need to put ourselves in the reader’s place just as we put ourselves into the POV (viewpoint) of key characters including the villains. These “book boyfriends” and “book girlfriends” as they’re called on Facebook can become as important to readers as their real life partners. No greater compliment can be paid a writer than to take our characters so much to heart.

A case in point is Graeme Simsion’s character of Don Tillman, the socially inept hero of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

To enable this process, we need to provide vivid character descriptions , not only in terms of eye colour, hair, height and build, but who they are as people. The old ‘show, don’t tell.’ By showing us their thoughts and interactions with other characters, you draw us as deeply into their world. The success of Graeme’s book – soon to be a major film – speaks for itself. I’ve just finished The Rosie Effect, and am awed by of how vividly he brings Don and Rosie to life.

As Graeme does, we need to take readers on a journey with our characters – soaring with them, sobbing along with them – living with them through the story so that if the character dies, we mourn their loss. These are tall orders but they are what draws readers in to our fiction again and again.

I remember as a young reader being heartbroken at the end of the Narnia stories, not wanting to leave that magical world. Likewise when I reached the end of H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain series, the final book supposedly “written” by another character following Quatermain’s death.

When Leonard Nimoy – Star Trek’s unemotional Mr. Spock – died in February this year, millions around the world mourned, marking the passing of a beloved character who will live long in fiction and film.
My dream – and it should be every fiction writer’s dream – is to create a character as enduring as any of these. To blur the line between fiction and reality in readers’ minds.

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

That means you’ve gone beyond characters to tell stories about people who live on outside your virtual play, even inspiring readers to write their own fanfic (fan fiction) about them.

IMO there’s no greater goal for a writer, and no greater achievement when you pull it off.
Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You

A meme that’s been around since the cave days – i.e. before Facebook – says if you can’t be a good example, you’ll have to be a horrible warning. Like it or not, we are all role models, but especially as writers and custodians of our society’s stories.

This week I served as the first Writer-in-Residence at Young Library and I found myself talking about the role models who influenced me as a writer. The first, of course, were my parents.

Valerie at Young NSW Library July 2015. Photo by Maree Myhill, used with permission.

Valerie at Young NSW Library July 2015. Photo by Maree Myhill, used with permission.

Few of us think of our parents as role models. Mostly we think they were the worst people ever to have children. It takes many years before we can admit they have a few virtues. And whether they were role models or horrible warnings is seldom clear. Usually we come to accept – particularly if we’re parents ourselves – that they did the best they could.

Mine gave me the means to become a writer. First, they introduced me to the library before I was even school age. Borrowing books, reading them, being read to were a natural part of our family life. As I began to create my own stories, again very early, I was never told it was “bad” or “a waste of time” to make things up. My father was dead set against lying, yet he was untroubled as long as it was clear I knew the difference between lies and stories.

This aspect resonated with the audience at Young Library. Many people came up to me between talks and said they would pass this information on to their children or grandchildren. Most who had a creative child in the family, had seen that child told to do something more “useful” or to go outside and play. Good advice in its way, unless you have the writing gene.

My father taught me to think before speaking, a habit still with me decades on. And by extension, that thinking itself was a skill worth mastering. How many of us get impatient with ourselves for daydreaming? Yet daydreaming is a vital precursor to writing, and while working on a story or novel.

I encourage new writers not to go with the first idea jumping into their heads, but to explore more story possibilities, and then still more, until they arrive at something excitingly original. You can’t do that without spending time staring out a window.

Member of the Order of Australia medal

Member of the Order of Australia medal

If you’ve visited my website, you know that in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, I was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). While overwhelmed by that recognition, I was delighted that the citation referenced my work as a mentor to emerging writers.

Mostly done through the Valerie Parv Award, run by Romance Writers of Australia, mentoring is about the most satisfying work I do. I’ve just finished reading the finalists for 2015, to choose my new “minion” – what previous entrants dubbed themselves long before the movies. I mentor the minion while they hold the award. The VPA has existed in its present format since the year 2000.

It’s a joy to see each minion blossom throughout their year. One former minion, best-selling author, Kelly Hunter, said she was pleased I hadn’t tried to change her voice. My job, surely, is to help them make the most of their voices and considerable talent.

Writers are also role models through story. What kind of morals and ethics do you share via your characters and plots? I aim to make the good guys noble. This doesn’t mean perfect, but at least striving to be better than they are.

My villains do bad things, but I give them reasons (motivation) for their evil, so they’re understandable, rather than simply evil for my convenience.

As a writer, what kind of role model are you? Do you describe yourself as hard working, or “lucky.” Luck may come in when submitting work to a publisher or agent, in that you may have just what they’re looking for at that time.

Inborn talent also needs luck, to win the genetic lottery. But do scientists or mathematicians call themselves lucky when their talent leads them to some great discovery? Not in my experience.

Likewise, luck seldom comes into play in writing. You may be born with the talent but without commitment, application and hard work, the talent stays hidden, like unmined gold.

What kind of role model are you and the characters in your stories? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I open this blog to your thoughts and questions on the wonderful, scary, maddening and exhilarating craft of writing. To start us off, this week I was asked how to handle author intrusion, sometimes called author convenience.

As the heading suggests, I see it as a crime that’s serious enough to get a book rejected.

Basically, the question comes down to whose book this is, yours or your character’s?

Since you’re doing the hard work, it’s tempting to say the book is yours, but you’re only the means by which the story reaches readers. They want to know what happens to the characters and how they feel and act as a result. Readers want to share the journey and forget they’re reading words on a page or screen.
Author intrusion is a bit like photobombing a photo – you stick yourself into a scene where it doesn’t belong. On social media, photobombs can be hilarious but in a book, they’re more often an unwelcome distraction.

Here are a few ways an author can photobomb a book:

Give characters opinions that belong to you, instead of to them.
Their politics, religious beliefs or opinions may differ from the author’s, and should agree with the way you want us to see them. Creating characters to get your own beliefs across is a huge mistake and will almost certainly read as if you’re lecturing the reader.

Dump every bit of research into the story:
However fascinating your research, it only belongs in the story when it suits the characters’ experiences and knowledge. Say your story is about a farmer who’s had a meteorite come down on his land. Unless he’s a former scientist turned farmer, he shouldn’t know everything about meteorites, except as they relate to him and his experience.

Put modern thinking into your historical novel:
This can be a failure of craft as much as author intrusion. You haven’t researched the time period of your story sufficiently to notice when you have characters use modern expressions or act in ways that don’t fit the period. It’s okay if you’re writing about a time travelling character who would bring his/her own views and speech to the period, and would notice the differences, but the other characters must behave appropriately for their time.

You can also photobomb a contemporary, sci-fi or fantasy story by having the characters comment on settings and technology they would use every day. How often do you marvel at your tablet or smart phone, or even notice yourself using them? Characters should treat their world similarly.

Give characters skills or history that conveniently fits the story needs:
This is very common. Your mousy secretary is confronted by the villain and somehow knows how to fight him off. If you need her to defend herself convincingly, then go back and write in how her office had offered their staff self defense classes and a workmate had talked her into going. That way, when she’s attacked, we already know how she’s learned to handle herself.

Sharing her thoughts, fears and struggle to remember what she was taught will take us right inside the situation, as if it were happening to us. You can also share more of her character with us by showing how she acted in the self defense class.

Putting yourself in the character’s place, writing much of the story in dialogue and through their eyes helps avoid author intrusion. Descriptions are limited to what that person would normally notice, depending on who they are.

A fabric designer walking into a room may notice the fabulous curtains, whereas a sportsperson is likely to see the expensive fishing rod propped up in a corner.

Story analyst, Michael Hauge, says you need to ask whether your characters would behave the way people with their background would normally act in this situation.

Say a business person stumbles on a dead body. Would they proceed to investigate the crime? As one of my editors said, too often the character fails to contact the police, the first thing most people would do. If the character is an undercover cop, however, their reaction will be different depending on the story.

Remember, the book belongs to the characters. Tell their story, rather than imposing yours on them. As movie mogul, Samual Goldwin, was reputed to have told his writers, “If you’ve got a message, send it Western Union.”

Now over to you. How do you avoid photobombing your story? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
Order Valerie’s Beacons’ book, Birthright, at

Over coffee recently, another writer – I’ll call her Mandy – admitted a bit shamefacedly, that a cousin of hers had had his first book accepted and she was having trouble dealing with his success.

Pressed a little more, she said she was frankly jealous. She’d been attending conferences and workshops, learning her craft, writing several manuscripts which had all been rejected. He’d written one book, and been accepted.

Did this admission make her a bad person, she wanted to know.

Of course it didn’t. Jealousy is one of the most basic of human emotions. In writers it covers everything from feeling inferior after reading someone else’s dazzling words, to Mandy’s bitterness that her hard work wasn’t being rewarded as swiftly as her late-blooming cousin.

Social media doesn’t help, either. Not only do we hear about others’ successes more quickly, we’re faced with many more unwelcome comparisons.

Adding insult to injury, we’re expected to “like,” “favourite” and “share” our friends’ achievements around the net. Anything else looks mean and petty.


I’ve published many books, won awards and been on best-seller lists. Yet when a friend IMed me to say she’d won a major book award, I felt the green-eyed monster stirring, even as I told her how happy I was for her. “That’s so nice,” she wrote back. “Some of my writing group are having trouble with this.”

At the heart of many of these bad feelings is fear – are we as good as we’d hoped? Will we ever achieve our dreams? Even when you have a substantial body of work behind you, the monster lurks. You did it before, but can you do it again?

These feelings trigger the age-old scripts of “the child within” of being excluded, not good enough, thinking everyone else has the answers to life’s mysteries except us.

There are only two things you can do with feelings of jealousy:
1. accept them as normal, because they are.
2. use them as material for your writing, as you use other universal truths

Expressing your support for the other person also serves as an antidote to giving the green-eyed monster too much importance. This is not to say you should bury or ignore the monster.


Holding your feelings up to the light lets you examine what may be hiding behind them. Disliking another’s success can be linked to the fear that others may resent your success – therefore, you’d better not succeed, hardly a thought you want to encourage.

While writing this, I came across a fun website called “I Write Like” created in 2010 by Russian software programmer, Dmitry Chestnykh. You cut and paste a passage of your writing onto the site and the program compares keywords, vocabulary and style, returning the name of a popular author the sample resembles. I got Dan Brown, not too shabby in my opinion.

While comparisons can be odious, if you’re going through a jealous patch, this site may lift your spirits. They’ll remind you that jealousy and other feelings are neither good nor bad. They just are.

Then you can use the feelings, not the actual circumstances, to create characters who are as believable, as fallible and as human as the rest of us.

Now over to you. How do you deal with jealousy of other writers or their work? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
Order Valerie’s Beacons’ book, Birthright, at

When I was a young writer, I leased an office from a friend who’d written several novels, although none were published. He had all kinds of systems such as writing a certain number of words per paragraph, allocating so many paragraphs to different aspects of the story, and so on.
I suspected this wasn’t a good approach, but he’d written books and I hadn’t, so I kept quiet. Then he said there was no point in writing “just another novel.” I should aim to write a best-seller. Nothing less was worthwhile.
Now I knew we had a problem. I’d published my first paid article in the Australian Women’s Weekly when I was 14, and studied dozens of books on writing craft. Some I agreed with, some I didn’t, but I knew a best-seller wasn’t something you could write. All you could do was write the best book you could at the time. The rest would be up to readers to decide.
Eighty-five books later, I stand by this belief. My friend never did publish a novel, and no wonder. There are simply some aspects of this business we must accept as being out of our control. Here are four of them:
1. The state of the publishing industry
As long as I’ve been writing, publishing has been changing and this will continue long after we’re gone. We can’t stop editors from moving on, however much we loved working with them. Nor can we stop lines closing, publishers merging, or Amazon from changing the rules for indie publishers.
We most certainly can’t make readers want our zombie angel books when they’re clamoring for Regency westerns. Or whatever is in vogue at a given time. All we can do is write books we love, and hope others will love them, too.
The rise of indie publishing has opened new doors when more traditional doors are closing. Even so, there are plenty of trad-pub houses wanting submissions, agents seeking clients, and editors you can hire, no matter which way you choose to go.

2. How long it takes to “make it”

This is a purely subjective measurement which also changes frequently. If you’re unpublished, you want to see your book in print or ebook. Then you want your second book out. And your third ad infinitum. If friends are published, you’re envious of them, especially if you’ve been plugging away for years and they have their first submission accepted.
No matter where you are on the career ladder, there’s always another rung ahead. New York Times’ best-selling authors want to be number #1. Then they want every book to make the list. And preferably be optioned by Hollywood. There’s really no end to the stages until they prize your stylus from your cold, dead hand.
Your career is yours alone; your books written at whatever pace suits. As the Desiderata says, “Never compare yourself to others, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.” For every high-flyer above you, there are many more writers on the rungs below, envying you.
3. What other people think

This applies to everyone from editors and agents, to your mother and your bestie, particularly if the BFF is also a writer. Many factors affect how they read your work. For editors and agents, it’s the commercial nature of the work. Will it fit their house’s publishing program? Have they accepted something similar already? Does your book compete with their lead author?
Families will read your work looking for themselves within the pages. Having found themselves (they think), they wonder how their friends will react. If your book is sexy, will your community be shocked? Writers may envy the fabulous job you’ve done, or drown you in suggestions to make the work better. None of these people is unbiased. Their opinions are exactly that, opinions.
Have the courage to listen to the input then decide for yourself which suggestions you take on board. You don’t want your book to read as if it were written by a committee because you tried too hard to please everybody.
4. How old you are before you start writing

If you’ve had a career in another field, you may not be able to write until retirement. If you’ve raised a family, you may have put your dreams on hold while nurturing theirs. There are many reasons why your books remain unwritten. None of them matter. If it’s in you to write, you will write as soon as you possibly can. Perhaps you’ve scribbled in journals for years, or have a file full of ideas waiting for you to attend to them, so in a sense, you’ve already begun.
Sensible writers start when they can, doing as much as life allows. Remember the woman in her fifties who told a friend she’d like to study law and become a lawyer, but she’d be over 60 before she qualified. Wisely, the friend asked her, “How old will you be if you don’t study?”
Two inspirational people who blog at Marc and Angel Hack Life said this week, “Never let someone’s opinions become your reality”
Likewise, don’t let your opinions become your reality unless they align with your dreams.

Now over to you. Do you lose sleep over any of these beliefs? Share your thoughts in the comments box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Order Valerie’s Beacons’ book, Birthright, at
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

Yesterday I discovered I’d been driving an unregistered car for who knows how long. I hadn’t overlooked the paperwork. My car was registered until the middle of this year. Unfortunately, the car registry computer had been told otherwise. A missed key stroke or other error had fooled it into thinking my license plates had been handed back to an office in Sydney, five hours’ drive away.

The only solution was for me to take my car to the nearest registry and have them physically verify that the plates were still on my car. They did, and all was well, but to sort the problem out, I had to risk driving unregistered.

I don’t usually catastrophise but even my positive outlook was shaken by all the things that could have gone wrong.

The first was that I could have delayed opening the letter, worried it contained a traffic fine I’d been unaware of incurring. Or I could have been so confident my registration was OK I’d left the letter for later.

Luckily, I didn’t fool myself into leaving the letter untouched. I took immediate action and all was well.
I realized that the habit of not fooling myself works with writing as well. I’d dodged the first two of the ways many writers fool themselves. Check to see if you recognize any of them.

1. I can write it tomorrow.

None of us is guaranteed another breath, far less another day. This isn’t gloom and doom; it’s simply a reality check. Even if you do live to tomorrow, and I pray you will, tomorrow brings its own issues. You could spend half a day fixing a problem you hadn’t expected, like me with my car. There went the precious hours I’d planned to spend writing. Luckily I’d kept my bargain with myself and written the day before, and the one before that. Losing a couple of hours wasn’t a disaster, but what if today had been the only day I’d set aside to enter a competition or meet a deadline?
Good writers don’t put off writing. They write today and every other working day, even if it’s only a couple of sentences.

You may fool others, but never yourself

You may fool others, but never yourself

2. Someone else has already written my story.

They may have written about the same events, but they haven’t written “your” story. A very dear friend talked a lot about a story she wanted to write about what she called the battle of Sydney, when Japanese mini submarines invaded Sydney Harbour. Working for ABC Radio, she’d had a box seat to see the events of that night unfold. Her perspective was unique; her writing style very much her own. Yet she passed away with the book unwritten for a whole stack of reasons, I suspect mostly 1. and 2. here.
Good writers tell their own stories in their own way.

3. I don’t have time to write.

If we let excuses make the running, the joke is definitely on us. Nobody ever has all the time they need to write. In my book, The Idea Factory, I supply a long list of reasons not to write, from the weather to kids being home on holidays, to broken technology (there’s still paper and pen) to other demands on our time. There will always be reasons not to write. Writing is work. I tell others that I’m working rather than writing, because we’re hard wired to respect work. Writing is often seen as a hobby, something to be picked up or put down on a whim. Wrong, so wrong.
If you have a love affair with words, and stories you long to tell, you make time to write them. Good writers don’t fool themselves with excuses.

4. I’m not good enough to write this.

This is the saddest April fool’s joke of them all. Someone in your life – perhaps even you – made you think that you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. The real joke is that nobody knows what makes a writer.

You may be the worst writer in the whole world, although I doubt that, but how will you know what you can achieve until you try? No writer thinks they’re good enough, even those most of us regard as the greats. In my career, I’ve found the opposite to be true – the writers most strongly plagued by self doubt are usually those whose words make the sweetest reading. The story in your head is shining, perfect gold, but turns into base metal as soon as you start to write. Accept this as the way things are. Be glad of your fears because all the best writers have them.
Write your story in spite of your fears. Do the best you can at the time.

Now, over to you.


Do you resist these April fool’s jokes? Can you think of other ways writers might fool themselves? Share your thoughts in the comments box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Order Valerie’s Beacons’ book, Birthright, at
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring for March.

As most of the world knows by now, the American actor, Leonard Nimoy, died on Friday. By early Saturday morning Australian time, the hashtag #RIPLeonardNimoy was one of the top trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, and his likeness dominated the world media on and offline.

Even if you aren’t a Star Trek fan, you probably recognized him as Mr. Spock, the logical, pointed-eared Vulcan from Star Trek’s original series which premiered in the 1960s. After Trek, Nimoy starred in series including Mission Impossible and In Search of, and was also a notable stage performer, director, poet, photographer, philanthropist and family man.

Nimoy's last live convention appearance. Photo by Maria Jose Tenuto, used with thanks.

Nimoy’s last live convention appearance. Photo by Maria Jose Tenuto, used with thanks.

I knew him only slightly from my long involvement with the show when I helped organize conventions for fans, fund-raising to bring people from the show to Australia. Some, I’m still friends with today.

Writing eventually took me away from active fandom but my passion for Star Trek remained part of my life in many ways.

When I set up Australia’s first conference on romance writing, I brought Susan Sackett out to talk about the US market. The author of many Hollywood-related books, she co-wrote episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation and worked with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, for many years.

A younger me with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry

A younger me with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry

I considered Gene Roddenberry one of my writing mentors. The technique he used to create the character of Mr. Spock is one I still use and share with the writers I mentor. Gene said he drew a line down the centre of a page, writing his questions for Spock on the left-hand side and the character’s “answers” on the right.

He said the answers may seem forced at first, but if you persevere, the character starts speaking back to you, often surprising you with insights you didn’t know were lurking deep in your subconscious.

When I talked with him about writing for Star Trek, Gene recommended creating my own characters and their universe rather than limiting my options to Paramount Studio’s requirements. It was many years before I fully took this advice, creating my alien Beacons and a series of books starting with Birthright (Corvallis Press, USA).
Even then, Star Trek hovered around the Beacons, challenging me to create my own technology and “world” – not easy considering Trek has a fifty-year head start, showcasing technology which was unheard-of back then, but is commonplace today.

Technology was far from Star Trek’s only appeal for me. At heart I value the show’s inclusiveness and sense of wonder. The stories seek to understand and celebrate our differences, shown most clearly in the character of Mr. Spock. The message is – whoever you are is OK; women can be anything; alienness is to be understood not feared. I’m glad to say that we Trekkies appreciate this spirit even more 50 years on.

Previously I’ve blogged here about how William Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, inspires my personal and professional life with his energy, enthusiasm and resilience into his eighties.

In my non-fiction book, The Idea Factory, (Allen & Unwin, Australia), I quote Leonard Nimoy on what he called the “goodies box” that actors – and I believe, writers – all have.

“You come into town with your box of goodies…that is you, and you start to use it and sell it and eventually the box of goodies gets used up, and then you must go back to something else to fill up the box with new goodies.”
Nimoy was describing the need for creative people to soak up input from as many sources as possible. Also called absorption trips, they can range from travelling, reading and watching movies, to meeting people outside your normal circle, whatever gives you fresh material to write about.

What is your passion? What fills your creative goodies box? Is it Star Trek or something completely different? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone else.

Vale Leonard Nimoy. And as Spock might say, live long and prosper in your creative work.

on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You

Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring for February 2015, when this blog is open to any and all questions about writing and related subjects.

One subject writers rarely talk about is what I call WOSA – writers’ office stationery addiction, also dubbed a stationery habit by historical writer, Anne Gracie. WOSA is surprisingly common among people who work with words. They’re the ones recognising instantly that blue dragons, purple ice creams, pink butterflies and orange cats are all shaped paperclips.


I found I had WOSA years ago, during the Incredible Shrinking Exercise Books affair. At my first school in Australia at age eight, I was called by the teacher to explain the disappearing pages. I had to confess that I couldn’t resist the allure of the fresh, clean lined pages and had been carefully opening the staples and removing pages I was sure wouldn’t be missed, so I could fill them with the stories I made up even then. Luckily she was understanding and promised me a supply of gorgeous new paper if I stopped vandalizing my exercise books.

“Happiness is new stationery,” said romance author, Rachel Bailey, who posted a photo on Facebook of her shiny new purple polka dotted clips. In under an hour she had over 150 responses in an atmosphere that I can only describe as confessional.

When I posted about my lion-shaped clips that hold the papers between their butt cheeks, Rachel said there’s “something strangely fitting about clipping draft work that way.” Not something I’d considered but must concede, she has a point.

As more and more writers ‘fessed up, Alli Sinclair described meeting her husband, “Our eyes met in the manila folder section; we shyly glanced at each other over the post-it notes, and fell in love in front of the sparkly gel pens.” A match made in stationery heaven, obviously.


Nicki Cavalchini Strickland asked, “Does the fact that I hunted stationery in Tokyo, and search for refills online constitute an obsession?”

Savannah Blaize says, “I could happily stay in a stationery shop. Just give me a blanket and pillow.”

Names kicked around as favourite sources include in no special order, Typo, Sweden’s Kikki K, Smiggle, Officeworks, Riot and Daiso, as well as Warehouse Stationery in New Zealand and Ito in Japan. Rachel Bailey adds, “How did I not know Daiso existed? Or that electric erasers are a thing? Three levels of stationery? I might just faint.”

Tracey O’Hara also admits to a pen habit. “My favourites are the pilot erasables, like using a pen but you can rub out mistakes.”

One of the most popular ideas, other than a stationery stand at the Romance Writers of Australia national conference in Melbourne next August, came from Sandi Antonelli. “Why isn’t there a perfume called Stationery or Eau de Officeworks?”

One thing quickly becomes clear – there’s no cure for WOSA and no real desire for one, despite one call for a Stationery Sniffers’ Anonymous group. The addiction is seen as enabling the writing process as much as it satisfies the needs of the sufferers. “Just ask my credit card about my pen and notebook weakness,” says Mel Scott.

Here are 4 ways you can tell if you have WOSA:

1. You take a day job at Officeworks to feed your addiction on a staff discount.
2. You have more than a dozen of any stationery item, staplers in several colours, or clips in purple polka dots.
3. You have a shelf full of beautiful blank notebooks that are “too good to use” that you’re saving for special projects.
4. You keep drafts of your work clipped between the butt cheeks of small yellow lions.

Over to you. Do you have WOSA and how does it impact your writing life? What’s the best stationery item you’ve found recently?

Share your thoughts in the box below. I moderate posts to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on the ‘sign me up’ icon at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing and stationery shopping,

on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You

Tag Cloud


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 591 other followers