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First Monday Mentoring, your writing questions answered

It’s spring already, the ideal time to kick start your writing.

It’s the first Monday of the month (or the first Sunday if you’re in the northern hemisphere). You’re invited to post your writing-related questions here for me to answer. Lots of talented writers read and comment on this blog and your thoughts and writing experiences may help others.

Questions posted ahead of time will be answered during Monday Sept 3.  

Sometimes the questions go past Monday into the week, and that’s okay too.

To kick things off, here’s a question I was asked at the Romance Writers of Australia national conference on the Gold Coast recently:

How much editing should I do before sending my work to a publisher? Won’t the editor fix any problems?

Once if an editor liked your book, they’d work with you to fix any structural problems. Today, they’re so time poor that the closer to publication-ready your writing, the more likely you are to get accepted.

This means you should address all grammatical, spelling and story logic problems before you submit.

There are 5 ways to improve your self-editing:

1. Study books or take a course in aspects of editing.

2. Hire an editor or service. Check their history and ask writer friends for recommendations.

3. Enter writing contests where editorial feedback is provided, especially from publishers you hope to work with.

4. Join a critique group or find an online critique partner who appreciates your field. Reading and commenting on each other’s work helps you both to make progress.

5. Search online for “freelance editor Australia” or “writing coach Australia”. Many will provide a free sample edit of your writing to ensure they suit your needs.

Other useful tips:

– Study any editorial guidelines posted by the publisher. Be sure to follow them.

-If an editor requests your manuscript at a conference pitch session, send it in a timely manner allowing for a thorough last read before sending it off.

-Don’t gossip or run down editors or publishers in social media. Be professional.  Do, however, make the most of their presence to ask questions.

– Avoid posting samples or discussing specific plot ideas online as you may lose control of them.

Is your question related to editing or any other writing issue? Feel free to ask me here, or make a comment.


on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Now writing short fiction for Living magazine

NEW FOR 2012 – “First Monday Mentoring” – Your writing questions and problems answered here

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring.

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.

Happy First Monday, all!


on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Why cleaning the house beats writing something new

What kind of person is eager to clean the house, do the laundry or deflea the cat? Well, writers for starters. There’s something about sitting down in front of a blank screen that makes almost any other task seem attractive. I’d barely written that opening when I found myself getting up to close all the blinds and curtains. Like they couldn’t wait for 30 minutes or so? Yet when it comes to putting butt in chair & fingers on keyboard, the urge to do something else becomes alarmingly strong. Suddenly you crave water, chocolate or the need to line up all your pens by size and color order.

If you stay at the keyboard, you’ll feel the need to check your emails, Twitter, Facebook – even if you were on there seconds ago. You never know what vital update was posted in those seconds. There might be a LOL Cat you have to share with your friends. ‘Scuse me while I go look…No! I’m staying right here till this blog post is done. Just one teensy email? Nope. Not even a bathroom break.

And in that last couple of sentences is the key. If you want to write, you mustn’t give in to the urge to be somewhere, anywhere else. I promised to blog about fear of writing, and this is a major symptom. We feel the urge to get away from the empty screen because we’re terrified we won’t find the words to fill it. Or if we do they’ll be so bad our careers will be over.

In the middle of this fear one thing gets forgotten. Nobody has to read what you write until you’re ready. You can write anything, and it doesn’t  matter. Until you choose to let someone else read what you’ve written, they’re all yours to arrange, rearrange, erase or develop as you wish. One of Nora Roberts’s most useful sayings is, “You can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank page.” You can’t edit what you haven’t written.

Seeing a published book on the shelves or in your e-reader, it’s easy to forget that the book wasn’t born that way. It was written word by word, edited and polished many, many times. When it seemed perfect, an editor starts in, until the final draft looks very little like the writer’s first efforts.

Books are like houses, gradually built from the foundations up then the finishing touches are added. Unless we persevere through all the stages, the house – your book – will never be complete.

Now can I check my emails?


What’s it all about, Alfie? Where do you get ideas?

When I confess to being a writer, I can usually count on being asked one of three questions, if not all three.

1. Where do you get your ideas.

2. How long does it take you to write a book?


3. How much money do you make?

I’ve never understood why people need to know how long it takes me to write a book. When I did a radio interview in Sydney with the amazing Nora Roberts, her answer was, “As long as it takes every time.” Do you think people are hoping we’ll say we dashed the book off in a week? They certainly seem disappointed when I tell them a romance novel takes me around three months to complete. The book may have been germinating in my head for a lot longer, sometimes years, until I find the right characters and conflict to make the story work. Sometimes the act of writing the book is much faster, and perhaps that’s the element most non-writers associate with “writing”. But as I’ve said many times, a writer (ie me) is working when they’re staring out a window. Which leads me to the big question, where writers get ideas.

American novelist, Lawrence Block, said he tried telling people he subscribes to The Ideas Book, a magazine filled with plot ideas from which subscribers could pick and choose. They could reserve an idea they liked and build a book around it. None of this was true, of course, there’s no such publication. But too many people believed there was, and asked Block how they could become subscribers.

What is an idea, really? Is it a grand flash of inspiration? Where does it come from and why does it land on some people and not others? The answer is often simply practice. Writers and artists get more ideas/flashes of inspiration because we spend more time looking for them. We train ourselves to see 2 plus 2 and answer – a pair of swans or 22. And then keep asking the question until we get really bizarre answers like aliens who live and die in pairs, or mirror image creatures called 2 and plus2. You can play this game yourself and I’ll guarantee you’ll start getting excited about at least one of your answers. Maybe enough to want to write about it.

At my website I have a home study course called Free the Writer in You which gives you more tools like this to improve your own creativity. I tutor every students individually, which is why you should probably sit down before clicking on the cost. But you will learn how to handle the hardest part of the writing process – overcoming your fear. I’ll deal with fear in another post, because it’s a big issue and more common than most would-be writers realize.  In the meantime, you now know at least part of the answer to where we get ideas.

As to how much money I make, I can only say that people have a lot of strange ideas about that, too.


Books in my head, inside a writer’s brain

Many years ago a dear friend, Pat Kerry, gave me a poem she’d written called Books in My Head. The last lines have stayed with me because they’re so true –  “books in my head will never get read/ unless I get up and write them.” She was talking about those dreamy times straight after waking, when our heads are full of thoughts and ideas.  Unless we get up and write them down somewhere, these precious words are likely to vanish forever. All we’ll remember is that we had a great idea, but not what it was.  Whether you record your ideas on a laptop, tablet, cellphone or a notebook kept by the bedside – and I recommend you keep something handy for this purpose – doesn’t matter as long as you capture your thoughts. You can edit and develop them later. The main thing is to get them down somewhere.  Our brains aren’t wired to make memories out of the thoughts we have in the time between sleep and waking. That’s when the slower brainwave cycles called alpha and theta waves occur and we’re most likely to have great insights and inspirations. Frustrating when you think it’s also when we’re least able to remember them.

There’s another way of looking at the lines from the poem, too. It’s that wanting to write a book, intending to write one and talking about your wonderful ideas to your friends won’t produce one page of words  unless you actually “get up and write them.” It’s probably why so many people dream of writing a book but the majority never actually do. Writing is hard work. And news flash, it doesn’t get easier with practice. As I’ve found writing 25 nonfiction books and over 50 romance novels, you get better at  putting words down in a readable order and seeing where the work can be improved. But every book is a first book. As one would-be writer asked me, “How do you know when you sit down to write, that you can do it?” The answer is, you don’t. You write to find out IF you can do it this time, with these characters, telling this story. When I sat down to write this first blog, I had no idea how it was going to turn out. All writing is a voyage of discovery. That’s the fun part. And it’s the part which keeps me writing even when the going gets tough. We writers are very lucky, we get paid for doing the very thing that got us into trouble as kids, making things up. Like my next book. And this blog. It’s no coincidence that I chose to write my first post about what’s going on in a writer’s brain. My two great loves are human psychology – what makes us tick, and how we turn books in our heads into worlds for readers to come play in. Whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, I hope you’ll come play here again soon.


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