Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring for March.

On the first Monday of every month (or the first Sunday if you’re in the northern hemisphere), I invite you to post your writing-related questions and I’ll  answer them here. Lots of talented writers read and comment on this blog and you’re also invited to contribute a question or your thoughts on an answer, or a writing experience that might help others.

There’s another reason I decided to hold First Monday Mentoring.

The 2012 Valerie Parv Award named in my honour by Romance Writers of Australia now opens April 23 and closes May 4 or earlier once the 80 available places are filled.

Note, the award is now limited to the first 80 entries received.

I mentor the winner of the VPA for the year they hold the award. With only one award and entries now being limited, I created a program called MentorXpress, where you can have a short experience of working with me as your mentor.  Details and cost are on my website

Between the limited number of entries RWA accepts and the fact that there can only be one winner a year, means First Monday Mentoring gives you somewhere to post writing concerns and questions, or share experiences. You can post your questions ahead of time if you like and answers will go up during Monday February 6.  I’ll monitor the blog and post answers throughout the day.

The current holder of the Valerie Parv Award, Michelle de Rooy, posed a question on Twitter that deserves answering here. She asked, “Why oh why do you get a GREAT story idea when you have no time to fly with it?”

It happens for the same reason an idea for a brand new book strikes the minute you want to work on your current project. Developing an idea is mental play for your creative right brain. Turning the idea into a readable story is the hard work. We instinctively look for something more entertaining like a shiny new story idea. Ideas also come when we stop trying to force them. As soon as we relax or give up, say to get ready for some other activity, the resistance vanishes and the ideas flow. Next time you feel this resistance as lack of progress, do a relaxation exercise, play soothing music, light a candle or whatever works for you. Tell yourself the ideas/words will come in their own time…and they often will

Happy First Monday, all!


On Twitter @valerieparv

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Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring, your writing questions answered" (16)

  1. fabbo idea VP! What would you say to writers about to prepare for their first contest? Do you think contests work in terms of landing a deal or an agent or should they be used more for feedback and opportunity?

    • I’ll get a head start answering this while I’m rain-bound, Bronwyn. Contests are so important to writers that I’m doing a workshop on them at the Romance Writers of Australia conference on the Gold Coast next August. Links are on my website . I feel they serve all the purposes you mention, putting work in front of agents and editors, and getting feedback, depending on who is judging. Editors I know have asked to read more of work from entrants who didn’t necessarily win. If a writer does win, they can quote this when submitting to that editor: “You gave me excellent feedback when I entered the XYZ contest etc.” or put on their submission “requested material” to bypass the slush pile or email equivalent. Published authors like my friend Bronwyn Parry have built careers following success in contests such as RW America’s Golden Heart awards for unpublished authors.Even if you don’t win, a sideline benefit is the discipline of doing a set amount of work by the contest closing date, great practice at working to a deadline.

  2. Is there ever a point in one’s writing career, however successful, when one stops feeling like an impostor?

    Julie (the impostor)

    • Excellent question, Julie, and sadly the answer is ‘no’. There’s a great book called The Imposter Phenomenon by Pauline Rose Clance dealing with just this problem. Highly intelligent and successful people seem to suffer most from lack of confidence in their own success, thinking it’s all a fluke and they’ll be found out soon. We (yes me, too) ascribe our success to luck, timing, anything but talent. Family issues, education and background are all factors and there are ways to deal with the negative feelings – one I like, not from Dr Clance – is the “Spock and Eastwood approach” – logical and hard-nosed. Can I trace the work involved in my success and identify what I keep doing to stay there? (logical) and can anybody do what I’m doing (hard nosed ie Clint Eastwood). The answer is yes to the first and no to the second. I hope this helps because you deserve to enjoy your achievements.

  3. Excellent idea, Valerie! And delightful questions, Bronwyn & Julie!

    Congratulations on having the award named for you, Valerie! Could be that shelf-full of your novels that inspired it…

    My question is in regard to characters. How do you know when you’ve dug enough into their personalities to get across to readers who the characters really are? (And how DO you translate that to the page?)


    • Thanks for the kind words, Hope. I could write a whole chapter about revealing character in your writing – in fact, I have done LOL. Basically, I think you need to know what makes them tick, more than what colour hair and eyes they have or how tall they are. I start with their childhood: what core decision did they reach about themselves from how they were treated by others. For example, did they learn that they only get love when they don’t make waves? Which leads to a character who might avoid conflict. Pit them against a character who might have learned to put all their anger out there. How will the sparks fly? Then create a variety of story scenes that enable you to *show* these traits in action. Have the first character learn that she can express her anger and not drive the other person away. Knowing what formed each person in their early years, and why, gives you great story material to play with and builds in the change (character arc) they need to make by the time they reach their happy ending. I hope this helps. XX

      • It helps bunches! Thanks so much! I think a little more pre-planning before jumping into the actual novel might help, too! 🙂 I’ll go do some character digging tomorrow, DV. XX

  4. Hi Valerie

    is it usual to reach a point where you plateau at ‘very good’ (based on contest scores etc) and have you any suggestions for how to make that seemingly impossible jump to the next level?


    • That’s a tough challenge, Jane. It would help if your contest scores and other feedback, such as from critique partners, gave you some idea of what’s keeping you from making the leap. Are there any areas where your scores are down compared to other aspects – such as characterization? Pacing? This info would help you see where you might make improvements. You can try asking a friend or another writer to read the work as a reader, asking them to note where they feel they lose empathy with a key character, or where they feel the pace slows, or any other aspect that pulls them out of the book. One of the biggest challenges in my experience, is sharing emotion with your readers. Are they able to get inside your character’s skin and feel what he/she feels? Have you provided enough clues. When something happens – do we know how the character responds emotionally and do we experience this emotion at a deep level, rather than observing from the outside? Backing away from sharing deep emotion is very common, as is stepping outside a character’s viewpoint and writing “they”. Sharing raw emotion is hard, but it does bring characters to life. Making that jump may seem impossible, but once you get a handle on which area is letting you down, the sky’s the limit.

  5. Michelle de Rooy said:

    Hey Valerie!

    Congrats on a great post. That and the imposter thing are real problems sometimes. You read something and think, “I could NEVER write like that, what I write is crap.” Then, if you are successful, you fear that success, so you dont do anything that puts you where you might be successful. We’re a mess, all right! *vbg*

    Now I have a legitimate reason for the ‘bright, shiny new idea’ syndrome. it’s my right brain screaming to get out, LOL.


    • ROFL Michelle. I don’t know any writer, however successful, who entirely escapes these issues. They acknowledge them, then write anyway. When that bright, shiny new idea beckons, you make a few notes about it, file them, then get back to the project at hand. Boring but it works.

      • That’s what I have to do with bright, shiny new ideas, too. Corral them so they don’t escape, and then get back to the work at hand. 😀 Best wishes!

  6. Some great questions and replies. I have so many, I haven’t been able to narrow them down to one question yet. LOL. The insecure writer still prevails.

    • You’re welcome back anytime, Tori. From what I’ve seen, you’re doing pretty well as it is. When are you going to write a how-to book on succeeding as an indie-published ebook author?

      • LOL. Probably not ever. I’ll leave that to the much more successful authors. I have sequels and new stories demanding my attention.

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