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First Monday Mentoring Oct 2018 – how lucky we are to be writers

Over the last two First Monday blogs I’ve explored some of the challenges facing writers today. Yes, they are many. Big publishers are amalgamating at a rate of knots. Soon we’ll be down to perhaps three. Rather than taking on new authors, the remaining publishers already prefer to mine their backlists for books they can rely on to sell.

Will we even have a publishing industry any more, or will every person who is so inclined write and publish their own books? This is already happening with Indie publishing. All you need is a manuscript and the money to produce the book yourself or hire qualified people to do the technical stuff for you.

As writers this is our current reality. But there are other aspects to writing that I want to focus on here.  Why we feel driven to share the stories buzzing around in our brains. Why writers who have made significant fortunes – J.K.Rowling, Stephen King, James Paterson and the like – still feel the need to share their stories.

Is it because writers can’t not write?

Maybe we’ll go back to our beginnings. Instead of going into print or ebooks, will we collect followers around whatever passes for a camp fire and revive the oral traditions of storytelling?

Mixed media is very much a thing now. Writers are combining with designers, musicians, painters to bring stories out in very different forms. They are ephemeral but they offer both creator and recipient – is it accurate to call them readers anymore? – the satisfaction of going from Once upon a time, to…and they lived happily ever after.

That may be enough for many storytellers. As a child who thought everybody wrote stories, I printed my own on flimsy paper with illustrations done in pencil. When I was at school in Grenfell NSW I wrote my first book in pencil in an exercise book in response to a class assignment. I may have been the only one in the class who actually produced a book. It was a complete story with a beginning, middle and end and a few very poor illustrations. That book somehow survived the years and now lives among my papers in the State Library of NSW.

Reading it again before sending it to its new home, I was surprised how my writing voice had survived intact. I used a lot of big words I wouldn’t use now, not so much showing off as exploring the sheer joy of language. Back then I’d had no thought of making a living as a writer. I didn’t know what a writer was, and thought everybody made up stories.

Maybe we’ll come full circle back to those innocent times and tell stories for the joy of sharing them. Here are five reasons why we’re lucky to be writers:

  1. We never have a dull moment. Standing in a supermarket line or bank queue, we can free our minds to explore possible stories or solve plot points. Our bodies may be in the doctor’s waiting room, but our minds are away in our invented worlds so that when our turn finally comes, it’s an unwelcome interruption to our thoughts.
  2. Our feelings have somewhere to go. In my indoor bowls group, if they spoil my team’s carefully placed shots, they’re used to being told I will put them in a book and kill them. I haven’t done so yet, but there’s always a first time.
  3. Writers never retire. Even if we develop some physical infirmity, as long as our brains function, we can still write. Stories can be told to someone or recorded via a dictation program or other clever gadget. I dream of the time when I can attach something to my forehead and the words will stream direct onto a screen. Such systems exist for people with disabilities. Properly refined, I’m sure they will serve our purpose in the near future.
  4. Our writing touches other people. This may be the most precious gift of all. We can move people to laughter or tears. We can make them ponder life’s mysteries, or discover invented worlds that become as real to them as to us. Hogwarts, Narnia, Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street, the Star Trek universe, all were born in a writer’s imagination.
  5. What we do is a mystery, even to ourselves. One minute we’re daydreaming, the next we’re scribbling or typing frantically, trying to keep up with our thoughts. We’re often asked where we get ideas, yet none of us really knows. On my wall I have a copy of a Rembrandt painting called The Apostle Matthew Inspired by the Angel. Pen in hand, he sits stroking his beard and staring into space while an angel whispers in his ear. Whispering ideas? It’s as good an answer as we may ever get.

What gives you joy in writing? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course,

www.valerieparv.com/course.html

Sign up for Valerie’s next workshop:  Saturday 27 October 2018

At Canberra Writers Centre  Romance Writing Rebooted

Details and bookings – http://tinyurl.com/ycwbutst

 

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First Monday Mentoring Sept 2018 – where to now for writing conferences?

I’m not long back from Romance Writers of Australia’s national conference in Sydney, having had a great time networking with publishers, editors and writers in all fields and all levels of experience.

In line with last month’s blog on staying open to new learning, I sat in on as many panels and workshops as possible, and spoke at two events. But it was undoubtedly the casual meetings with other writers that were the most informative. Many writers I spoke with were indie published or looking into the possibility; others were concerned at the disruption we’re seeing in traditional publishing. Traditional publishing houses are closing or amalgamating with others, resulting in fewer books being bought for less and less money. Where these publishers have digital-first lines, no advance (the amount paid to an author before their books are published)  is becoming the standard.

There’s also evidence that bestselling books are staying on lists such as New York Times for ever-shorter periods. A book that might have topped the list for sixteen weeks a few years ago can look forward to three weeks or fewer today. This reflects how the industry is changing, with thousands of indie-published books competing for attention, plus the effects of media fragmentation, audiobooks, social media, games and internet streaming gobbling up our limited free time.

A highlight for me was presenting the annual Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia. Regardless of where and how the winner chooses to be published, I find mentoring the winner a unique and special privilege.

The 2018 winner of the Valerie Parv Award, Stella Quinn, accepts her prize

The conference I attended was down on numbers for the first time in many years. With writers striking out in so many new directions,  how does a conference satisfy them all, particularly when a lot of how-to-write content is available online, much of it for free?

Enjoyable as it may be to spend a few days in a posh hotel, networking with friends and colleagues, it’s worth asking  whether attendance is becoming a luxury. As it is, writers increasingly struggle to write while holding down a day job that pays the bills. Many of my friends brought writing or editing work to conference to do between events.

I heard both traditional and self-published authors admit to being pressured by their followers to write more books in less time. No wonder spelling and grammar is becoming so unreliable.

So what’s the upside? Firstly there’s more information sharing than I’ve ever seen before. Where once publishing contracts such as terms and advances were largely confidential, today the details are far more widely disseminated. At the conference I had the pleasure of participating in a “Legends” panel where a group of established authors shared our career insights with the audience.

Authors are sharing their experiences of working with editors, while indies are helping others navigate the hazardous waters of self-publishing. And the best upside of all – books will survive. Perhaps not in the form we’ve known them up till now, but in audio, ebook, heck even holographic form. Interactive game formats suggest readers may “step into” a novel before much longer, “putting on” a character and living the story.

How do you see the future of your writing? What have you, or will you, experiment with? How has it worked for you?  Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course,

www.valerieparv.com/course.html

Sign up for Valerie’s next workshop:  Saturday 27 October 2018

At Canberra Writers Centre

Romance Writing Rebooted

Details and bookings – http://tinyurl.com/ycwbutst

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring August 2018 – waste not, want not for writers

By now regular readers of this blog get that I believe nothing is ever wasted on a writer – good times and bad, frightening or uplifting – sooner or later they’ll surface in our characters. We won’t always use the details as they happened; in fact, it’s better not to lean too heavily on reality. Instead, take the essence of the experience and embed it in your fictional setting.

This is when fiction works at its best. Not every reader has lost someone close to them, but they all experience loss in some form. The saying that nobody gets out of life alive is true, much as we try to deny it. As long as we allow ourselves to love – a pet, a person, an ideal – we open ourselves to loss.

Staying too close to the reality of your experience can actually push readers away. When instead, you give the power of the emotion you went through to a character, your readers will think, “Yes, this is how it is. This is how loss feels to me.”

Your experiences may have been worlds apart, but the feeling, the intensity, is what you have in common.

In thinking how we can translate our experiences into universal connections for readers, I’m reminded of my mother’s saying, “Waste not, want not.”  Like many of her generation, she meant literal waste of food, or resources. She was telling us that such waste might mean we’d go hungry or in need later. In our world of plenty it seems unlikely, but the phrase stays with me to this day.

Last week I had a vivid reminder of how nothing is wasted on a writer. For more than two decades the State Library of NSW has collected what they call my literary papers. Among them are some childhood writings including the first book I ever wrote in pencil in an exercise book, a scrapbook filled with cuttings from my favourite pop group, The Monkees, and what we now call fan fiction, my stories that continued The Monkees’ adventures after their TV show ended.

These  were discovered last year by Dr Derham Groves while curating an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ tour of Australia. I was delighted to be part of this event and travelled to Melbourne for the launch by Marcie Jones whose group, The Cookies, toured with the Monkees.

Afterward I reflected how my teenage passion for the Monkees could be projected into a character, using current technology and devices. For example, my scrapbook would probably be finessed into a slide show album on a phone. Fanfic may well be posted on one of the many such sites online.

When faced with such a task, you need to go beyond what happened to how you felt and responded. Recreate as many aspects of your feelings as you can. Pay attention to how your body felt and what you did physically in response to the event. Fight or flight responses aren’t the only ways we deal with fear, anger, love and the like. How do you know you’re afraid? Some people run toward their fears, others hide or become angry. What do/did you do? Next time you’re in an emotional situation, stop and ask yourself what’s going on in your mind and body. You’ll have far more resources to use when you want to place a character in emotional turmoil. Waste not, want not.

Now it’s your turn. Are there words of wisdom you remember from childhood? How do you identify emotions you can pass on to your characters? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

www.valerieparv.com

 

Join Valerie for her new workshop:

Romance Writing Rebooted
Canberra Writers Centre

Saturday 27 October 2018

You can also check out Valerie’s online course,

Free The Writer in You

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

First Monday Mentoring July 2018 – What’s changed in romance writing?

In life nothing stands still, not even in a genre as well established as romance writing. The changes may happen slowly but they do happen.

Many years ago at an Aussie sci-fi convention I met Kouichi from Japan, the fan guest of honour. I gave him a small gift in welcome and he gave me one in return. I soon learned that gifts are taken seriously in Japan and we’d be giving them for the next three decades.

He became my pen frendo and we exchanged many sci-fi and Star Trek books in our own languages, until I had a collection of books I could admire without understanding a word.  Authors are highly respected in Japan as I found when I sent Kouichi some signed copies of my Japanese translations and Manga, the graphic novels which have a huge following there. My status as a mangaka  was a pleasant surprise.

One of my Japanese translations

After a time I felt free to ask Kouichi what Japanese women enjoyed in contemporary romance novels. The appeal turned out to be the same as for readers around the world. They were uplifting stories that ended happily, in contrast to much Japanese fiction which ends tragically, the reason Japanese readers call we romance writers “happy ending ladies.”

These elements haven’t changed, but other aspects have. Love scenes that once ended at the bedroom door have morphed into the sex scenes of Fifty Shades. Many readers still like sweet romances but options vary widely now.

Length is another big change. My first category romance novels ran to 60,000 words. Even my romantic suspense novels which once were 80,000 words or more now stop around 60,000. Novellas were mostly only found in anthologies. The advent of ebooks and limited reading time has brought shorter novels and novellas into their own.

Graphic novels have taken off in English, too. Recently US book chain Barnes & Noble announced plans to create a dedicated division of graphic novels for children and pre teens.

Content has changed, for the better IMO. Category romance once paired innocent younger women with worldly wise men, the latter often arrogant and forceful. The two worked love’s magic on each other but took time, with much of the power on the man’s side. From the start I’ve preferred more equal pairings with all lovemaking clearly consensual on both sides. I also routinely make secondary characters female, especially doctors, lawyers and the like, so the authority world wasn’t seen as exclusively male. The so-called doctor-nurse romances have become medical romances where either or both characters can be doctors and again, the match is more even-handed.

There’s less of the travelogue in modern romances. Pre Google, readers enjoyed vicarious visits to exotic locales and different cultures. Today most of us have either visited or can visualise a stately home in Britain, a castle in Spain or a Sheikh’s kingdom. The focus is more on the relationship with a few background details adding spice.

Structure has changed in other ways beyond length. With many books being read on phones or other devices, paragraphs and chapters are generally shorter to avoid confronting readers with a solid screen of text. Writers do well to dive into the story at a point of change for the characters, avoiding rambling descriptions or people chatting to their dog or cat.

I remember being told I shouldn’t start a book with a line of dialogue. Lucky for me, I’ve never believed in “rules” for writing – only what works for the writer. I still start with dialogue provided it works for the story.

Dual or multiple viewpoint has also become a thing. Once the whole book would be told from the heroine’s viewpoint, with the hero’s thoughts only shared through guesswork which was often wrong. This kept story tension high but frustrated me – and many readers. When I ventured into dual viewpoint storytelling, sales spoke for themselves.

Likewise, publishers avoided cross-genre stories such as fantasy and romance, sci-fi and suspense with a romantic edge. Today with so many indie writers publishing their own work, almost any mix is possible provided you do it well enough.

What hasn’t changed is the need for emotion-charged, unpredictable stories where both characters have to work for their happy-ever-after, or as it’s become, happy-for-now, with Mr or Mrs Right becoming Right-for-the-moment. We still want them to find their perfect match, as we hope to find our own, the popularity of shows like The Bachelor and Bachelorette proving the point.

Do you still enjoy happy-ever-after stories as a writer, reader or both? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course,

Free The Writer in You

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

 

First Monday Mentoring June 2018 – more ways to unblock your writing

Over the last two Monday Mentoring blogs, I’ve explored two sides of the same coin – how do you generate ideas when your mind is blank, and how do you get your muse to show up reliably.

Recently an American Facebook friend and reader of this blog, Marion, said her muse had been MIA for ages, and she was thinking of firing her. Eating chocolate cake was mentioned as an alternative to writing.

I reminded her of the need to be kind to your muse, really your creative inner self. Instead of firing her, I recommended sharing the chocolate cake with Musie, as Marion calls her.

Not a good idea to leave Muse out of the fun

As an aside, I like that she gave Musie an identity, bringing her to life. Another writer calls her muse Rafe, a name that sounds darkly handsome and heroic, the ideal inspiration for a writer of romance novels.

Musie sounds like fun, someone you can hang out and play with – and share chocolate cake. I’m also curious about the name being one letter away from Music because Marion is a talented musician who plays regularly at historical recreation events. Perhaps Musie/Music serves a dual role in Marion’s creative life.

Well, she was smart enough to go with the notion, “sharing” the chocolate cake with Musie. The two of them not only reconnected, but Marion was sufficiently inspired to make progress with her current writing project.

She says Musie still isn’t talking but has hinted that maybe the heroine knows – and can’t stand – the hero because of something that happened in the past. This creates tension and puzzles the hero who is too busy worrying about the safety of his daughter to wonder about the heroine’s concerns. Some of these ideas were already in train when Marion sat down with Musie. But Marion had seen herself as stuck and, as many of us do, blamed the muse for being uncooperative.

 

Muse loves playing games

As a certain sci-fi villain says, resistance is futile. Being tough on your muse is the least likely way to gain their help. Most people including musae* resist being forced to do anything, or else we do it grudgingly and not give it our best.  *Marion tells me this is the plural of muse

If you want your muse – the creative part of your subconscious mind – to deliver exciting and challenging ideas you can work up into stories, it helps to be gentle. A slice of cake doesn’t hurt, either. Here are some more ways you can encourage your muse to cooperate:

Change how you work

If you usually work on a screen, try writing notes on a clipboard, a tablet or in an exercise book. You can use different backgrounds to suit the story mood – pink for romance, blue for sci-fi, green for something environmental, for example.

Change your approach

Take the pressure off by recording your thoughts. Phrase the content any old way; talking as if to a friend. If recording makes you self-conscious, and I confess it does for me, you might write in the form of a letter, a Facebook post or a series of tweets. Writing in point form helps me. As I work, the points become longer and longer until I’m adding bits of dialogue and description, and before long I’m flying.

Change your location

Writing in a different place can give your muse a fresh start. Last month we talked about working in a coffee shop, but how about in a different room at home, at the beach or in a beautiful park? You don’t need perfect surroundings. Sometimes your creative right brain prefers a familiar place where your critical left brain feels relaxed and comfortable.

Write your thoughts down

This beats staring into space and can help you visualize the material more clearly. Write something like, “This project is a (book, article, novella) about…” and fill in whatever details you have. Ramble on; explore the topic however it comes. When it starts to catch fire, you can switch to a more convenient format.

Change your point of view

If you’ve been focusing on the hero and heroine, switch to the villain’s point of view. Write a scene where he/she is watching the good guys and plotting mayhem. Remember, we are all heroes of our own stories. Your villain feels justified in whatever they plan, believing that the good guys deserve what they get. This can be refreshing to you and your muse, with the bonus of ensuring you develop your bad guys as completely as your heroes.

Choose the options that work best for you, and enjoy the process.

If you try any of these approaches, please share the results with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course,

Free The Writer in You

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

First Monday Mentoring, May 2018 – if you write it, muse will come

Last month my Swedish friend, Agneta Angie Probst, asked about the best places to write. In the comments she wanted advice on getting her muse to show up, a large enough topic to deserve a separate blog and here it is.

Firstly muses are unreliable partners. They arrive when they want and deliver only as much as they choose. But they can be encouraged with the right incentives.

In the 1989 fantasy film, Field of Dreams, an Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner, heard voices telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” Believing that legendary baseball player, Shoeless Joe Jackson, was the ghostly voice, Costner’s character levelled a field of corn and built a baseball field. His neighbours thought him crazy but he was vindicated when the ghosts of history’s greatest players including Jackson emerged from the corn and played baseball on the field. Without spoiling the ending, suffice to say Jackson wasn’t the character’s only muse.

If a voice in your head told you to build a sporting field on your land, would you do it? What about if the same voice urged you to write a certain character’s story? There’s little difference because following your muse is as much an act of faith as Costner’s character ploughing his corn under.

Our stories come from deep inside us, agglomerates of people we’ve encountered, places we’ve been or read about, and events we’ve imagined. It’s said that our brains can’t tell the difference between something real and something vividly imagined so all our experiences end up simmering in the melting pot of imagination, emerging as story inspirations.

Your muse is timid, treat him/her gently

This may answer the question most asked of writers – where do we get ideas? Millions of non-writers have seen Field of Dreams. Few would connect Costner’s response with how we writers react to voices whispered in our ears. Or as I did, see Rembrandt’s painting, The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by the Angel and link the angel whispering to Matthew with my muse talking to me. I was so taken with this idea that I had a copy of the painting made to hang in my home.

Some writers name their muse; others hold that he/she lives in the melting pot of imagination. Or hovers over us, whispering ideas. However you visualise your muse, remember it’s an elusive creature. Here are three ways to coax  your muse to come to you:

  1. Be gentle

Just as yelling at a child tends to escalate a tantrum, mistreating your muse has the same effect. They shrink away and refuse to co-operate. Be gentle instead. When the muse whispers, close your eyes and listen. Be grateful that he/she has come out to play. Even if the muse starts talking when you’re in the shower or at a restaurant,  be welcoming. Keep a notebook or phone app handy to capture whatever you’re given.

  1. Be non-judgmental

As children, we were often told to do our best, fine unless it’s misread as “do it right.” You may automatically add, “or else” as a shadow of some larger person looms. It’s easy to fall into the critical state that was the lot of many children. If they show you a story they’ve written, it takes great self-control to avoid saying, “That’s lovely dear but you could have done this part better.” Thus treated, their fragile young muse may well go into hiding for years or forever. Be strong enough to praise the work without judgment and allow the muse to grow.

  1. Be open

Your muse delivers ideas in many ways. Sometimes the idea is only a beginning. While being gentle, don’t fall in love with the first idea the muse presents. Without criticism be playful and open to where the idea might lead. Look at it from all angles. Ask yourself, “What if?” What if the characters in this idea were children, or very old people. Or very old people who looked like children? What if the first part of the idea was given a different ending? Or happened on an island instead of in a city? Your muse loves to play mental games and may well surprise you when given a little encouragement.

 

Your muse loves to play mental games.

As we discussed in the April FMM Blog, setting yourself up to write at the same place, whether in a cafe or a corner at home, is one of the best ways to get your muse to show up, especially if you aim for the same time each day. As the habit strengthens, the muse gets the idea that this is “writing time” and will show up more reliably, keen to be part of the magic.

For more on muse magic, I recommend Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris at http://tinyurl.com/yc853uer Ruth Harris calls a muse visit a gift to yourself, “tapping us on the shoulder or bopping us on the nose just to make sure we’re paying attention.”

How do you pay attention to your muse? How and when is it there for you? Please share with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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

www.valerieparv.com/course.html

 

Link

First Monday Mentoring April 2018 – finding the write surroundings for you

Today’s First Monday writing question comes from my lovely online Swedish friend, Agneta Angie Probst. It’s actually a cluster of related questions that concern most writers. What surroundings work best  – a quiet office with no distractions or a busy coffee shop? As Angie says, the first offers few disturbances, while the cafe has easy access to coffee and cookies. Connected issues include a suitable chair, handy writing tools (whiteboards, sticky notes) and scheduling your writing.

I could take the easy way out and say, “whatever works for you.” But this doesn’t help you decide what works for you. Bear in mind that one answer may not fit all, or even one, all the time. Angie may find she works well on fiction writing in a cafe environment, while a research project may require more peace and quiet.

Music preferences can also change with the project and you can assemble playlists to suit different writing needs. Good headphones will help you manage ambient sound, and are useful when you travel or work at home.

As for the best location, I find cafes good for people-watching and sorting out plots. J K Rowling famously wrote much of Harry Potter in an Edinburgh cafe called The Elephant House. Other bestselling authors who’ve worked there include Ian Rankin (the Rebus novels) and Alexander McCall Smith (The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency). 

Even Shakespeare was said to have worked in pubs because candles were expensive and the pub lighting suited him better.

Libraries are another place to get into your writing groove, though they are far from the silent places they used to be. Last year I presented a one-day writing workshop at the Canberra City Library. The mezzanine where we worked wasn’t fully screened off and I felt for other library users below us because my workshops are usually noisy. I was told afterward that the staff found our writing exercises entertaining, especially one on where to set love scenes other than bedrooms.

I also find that taking day trips with a local group is brilliant for scribbling ideas, while hotels suit me because I’m away from domestic distractions. Last October I was in Hawai’i when I awoke with a new book idea in my head. I got up and scribbled pages and pages of notes which I’ve just finished developing into a new series. I’m sure being away from home, exposed to new experiences, helped to kick-start my imagination.

Part of the appeal of cafes and other new places may be getting this fresh input. Whether you write part-time around a day job, or full time at home as I do, your writer brain needs new materials to fashion into stories. Even taking your notes out into a garden or on a balcony can provide this vital change of scene. If you have small children to mind, perhaps you can exchange babysitting time with another writing mum so you both get writing time. Or there may be a group you can join for inspiration or to get more writing done. Romance Writers of Australia is currently trialing writers’ retreats in different locales. Some focus on writing, others on sharing critiques, or a mix of the two. Contact http://romanceaustralia.com/ for details.

As for having the right chair and handy writing materials, you can either outfit a carry bag with basic needs, or – as I do – draft your pages in a notebook or a tablet and edit them later. I find cafe chairs comfy for a limited time, maybe by design so we don’t outstay our welcome. If you find a cafe that’s both comfortable and happy for you to linger, buy lots of coffee and reward them with a  credit in your book.

If you’re serious about writing, it’s vital to have a comfortable ergonomic chair wherever you work most. Mine has everything from a pump-up lumbar support to arms that lift up or down as needed.

And if you want a take-anywhere cafe ambiance, there’s a site called Coffitivity https:coffitivity.com where you can download an app that provides cafe noises with choices like Morning Murmur, Paris Bistro and University Undertones, described as “the scholarly sounds of a campus cafe.” According to the site, “being a tiny bit distracted helps you to be more creative…this is why those AHA moments happen when we’re brushing our teeth, taking a shower or mowing the lawn,“ a sentiment I fully endorse. Coffitivity cites a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago as proof their product works.

Scheduling your writing sessions depends on you and the other demands on your time. I recommend experimenting with different times to see what suits you best. I used to do most of my writing before the rest of the world was awake. These days I tend to be more creative in late afternoon and evenings. Writing around the same time every day trains your muse to deliver at that time. Even if you only write a couple of hundred words a day, you’ll have a book written in under a year.

Where do you do your most productive work? What tips would you suggest to Angie? Please share with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

The 2018 Valerie Parv Award run by

Romance Writers of Australia opens April 9 and closes April 30

Details http://romanceaustralia.com/contests/aspiring-contests/the-valerie-parv-award/

First Monday Mentoring March 2018 – making unexpected writing discoveries

Whether you plot your stories out in detail, or prefer to let the story unfold as you write, it’s a good idea to leave room for serendipity to play a part.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines serendipity as “making happy or unexpected discoveries by accident.”

These happy, unexpected discoveries are the ideas or story twists coming seemingly from nowhere – the dog you didn’t know your character owned; the plot twist you didn’t see coming; in short, anything you didn’t know was going to be in your story until it popped up.

I’ve been making these discoveries for years and know enough now to let them come. Even if I don’t know why a character acquires a dog, I leave it in. As Kate Grenville says, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.”

If you don’t find a use for that dog, it can disappear as quickly as it showed up. Just don’t be too hasty. I’ve had pets, sisters, plot developments of all kinds arrive, apparently from nowhere, but really from something my subconscious has been mulling over. I leave the reference in until I find, perhaps many chapters later, that it’s exactly what the story needs.

The dog may rescue hero or heroine, or alert them to some bad thing about to happen. The surprise sibling may be a character’s saving grace, downfall, keeper of vital family information…unknown to me until they’re needed.

In my Beacons sci-fi series , I wrote two novellas linking the three books of the series together. The first novella, Beacon Starfound, concerned a character called Guy, the genetic twin of Adam, one of my alien beacons. When I conceived Guy I had no idea of his role. Gradually he became more mysterious and interesting, until by book three, Beacon Homeworld, he proved essential to resolving many story threads.

Having Guy develop as he did was pure serendipity. Or was he?

I think these “happy and unexpected discoveries” are far less accidental than they seem. When a story stalls and I can’t get past the block, it’s almost always because I’ve taken a wrong turn. Once I would have been tearing my hair out. These days I let my subconscious figure things out.

If I try to force the story to go my way, the result invariably lacks a spark. So I wait. Frustrated, anxious, but telling myself I’ve been in this place before and always found my way out.

If I don’t have time to wait, I fall back on my trusty “twenty options” process from The Art of Romance Writing. I’ve blogged about this here and at workshops because it’s such a reliable tool. It’s best done with pen and paper. You can on screen but paper feels more freeing, somehow. Up to you.

Down the left hand side of the paper write the numbers one to twenty, leaving a line of space between each number. Then you pose the story problem to yourself – for example, why does the heroine go to meet the bad guy without seeming too stupid to live.

Then without stopping, you write twenty ways you could solve this problem. For example, he could be the identical twin of someone the heroine trusts. He could blackmail her in some way, holding her dog hostage, perhaps. Or he could fake a message to her from the hero.

Keep going until you’ve listed at least twenty options. I’ve listed over a hundred in some cases. There’s no right or wrong number but twenty seems to stretch you a little while getting past the obvious answers. Generally the first ones you think of are those everybody comes up with. Around the middle you get a little silly, the hostage dog being an example. Force yourself to keep going until you’ve listed at least twenty, or however many more suits you.

When you’re done, read over the list. Is there a germ of something workable in one idea? Could some be combined? If your list gives you nothing useful leave it for a while and try again next day. Persistence pays with this one.

In my current manuscript, serendipity has already struck. My hero owns a valley I plan to use in several books. As I was writing, the hero’s brother-in-law mentioned some additional land for sale adjoining the valley. Hero can’t afford the land because…reasons. BIL suggested a partnership. So far I don’t know why this extra land exists but I’ll go along until my brain works it out and lets me know.

The only thing I know for sure is that the land will have a purpose in relation to the story. In writing, that’s how serendipity works.

Have you ever had a random element jump into a story, only to prove essential later? Share your thoughts in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post appears right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing and may serendipity bless you work,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s book, Desert Justice in Her Hot Desert Fantasy

Anthology – out in ebook and print now

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Birthright

Beacon Novella Starfound

Beacon Earthbound
Beacon Novella Continuum
Beacon Homeworld

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

First Monday Mentoring February 2018 – give your writing a Valentine!

As a romance writer I’ve spent many a Valentine’s Day doing press, TV and radio interviews. Once I was involved in the whole 7 Sunrise weather, each half-hourly cross coming back to see what we were up to. Having a mischievous mind, I dreamed up a romance novel plot using all the presenters on the show as characters. This was true “flying by the seat of one’s pants” as I had no idea beforehand, what they were likely to want.

Another Valentine’s Day was with Denise Drysdale and Ernie Sigley on his show, talking about aphrodisiacs and whether canned oysters were as effective as fresh ones. FYI they’re not. We only used canned ones because fresh oysters and scorching TV lights are not a good mix.

One Valentine’s week, I was away on tour for my nonfiction book on real-life romance, I’ll Have What She’s Having. Since I’d be away from my own romantic hero, I arranged to have a Valentine’s card delivered to him every day until I got back. Gotta practice what you preach!

So how does this fit in with your writing? Whether you write romance novels or other forms of fiction, relationships are bound to be in there somewhere, even if they’re not the focus of the story. I’ve taken four elements out of I’ll Have What She’s Having, adapted for writers.

  1. With love goes respect

You can’t have a relationship, far less write about one, without this crucial element. And respect applies not only to the characters you bring together but also to your readers. Writing tongue-in-cheek always shows on the page. I’ve lost count of the writers who’ve told me they’re going to write a romance because they need to make some easy money. I don’t try to dissuade them, figuring they’ll find out soon enough. Some of the most demanding editors I’ve known have been in the romance genre.

  1. Let your lovers work out their own problems

Just as the best lines and scenes should go to the stars in a film or TV show, your characters should solve their own problems, whether romantic or otherwise. It’s a cop-out to have a wise old figure give the characters the advice they need to resolve their conflicts. Just as in real life, you don’t want the in-laws telling you what you should do, it’s better to have your literary stars arrive at their own solutions and really earn their happy-ever-after.

  1. Don’t make your characters read minds

Just as we shouldn’t expect a partner to know that we love them unless we say the actual words, we shouldn’t expect characters or readers to read minds. If your character is afraid of heights, show it early in the story, so later when he’s goaded to the top of a cliff, we’ll understand his fear. The reader can only go by what you put on the page, not what’s in your mind.

As writers we know where the plot twists are, and how and why everything comes together at the end…well, most of it, anyway. Sometimes we surprise even ourselves. But the key elements of the story need to be planted well before they’re needed- a process known as foreshadowing. If your character can click the heels of their magic red shoes to get back home, you’d better mention how they acquire the shoes long before the story climax. Be subtle so we don’t pay much attention at the time. In one of my sci-fi novels, Beacon Homeworld, the hero finds a black spot where his cell phone doesn’t work many chapters before he needs that black spot to resolve a big dilemma. Be sneaky in foreshadowing the elements you’ll need later on even if you have to go back and plant the details, but play fair. Make sure everything the character (and reader) needs is foreshadowed well in advance.

And finally…

  1. Send your favourite author a Valentine

These days it’s easy to connect with authors on social media. Most have a Facebook page or a Twitter or other account. If you liked their book, go online and let them know. Obviously sales are a good indicator, but it means a lot to a writer to hear that a character moved you emotionally, changed your thinking  or gave you comfort at a bad time in your life. Of course, the best Valentine to give a writer is a good review on Amazon or Goodreads. They need not be long or literary. A sentence or two of honest appreciation is fine. Authors have bad days and struggles too. Your review might be the difference between them giving up or continuing to write.

What’s your Valentine’s Day writing tip? Would you rather spend the day reading or writing? Please share with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy Valentine’s Day and happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook (come say hello!)

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT JUNE 30

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

 

 

First Monday Mentoring January – one way to help your writing in 2018

When you start out as a writer – and even after you’re established, you’re bombarded with more advice than you can possibly use. At conferences and workshops you’ll hear about the ‘rules’ of writing. If you’re in a critique group, every member will have a different take on your work.

Many books on writing give conflicting advice on how best to tell your story, manage your career and handle social media. No wonder many writers end up confused, or worse, change the writing until it’s hardly recognizable as theirs.

On this blog you’ve read my belief that there is no one way to write, only what works for you as a writer. I recommend trying various methods to see what you’re comfortable with. Experiment with different writing times and places. Some writers work well in cafes away from other demands. Others prefer a dedicated writing space at home. Again, go with whatever works for you.

The one piece of advice I seldom hear or read is probably key – trust yourself.

Learn your craft and keep up to date, but above all listen to the small voice in your head struggling to be heard over  the clamor coming at you.

Share your work with a group if you like, but decide for yourself which suggestions to take on board. Where are the suggestions coming from? Are they from editors or agents who’ve been in the publishing business for years? Or are they from writers at the same stage as yourself?  Worst of all, are they from those who find it easier to criticize than to write?

Believe me, there are plenty of wannabes eager to undermine your confidence. And you also know from this blog that in writers, self-confidence is already in very short supply.

Over the dozen years I’ve mentored emerging writers through Romance Writers of Australia’s Valerie Parv Award, the greatest compliment I’ve been given is that I encourage my minions, as they call themselves, to develop their own voices. Every suggestion from me is offered on the basis that they should use what they like and discard the rest.

Unlike writers, kittens are born knowing what advice to ignore.

Many years ago my London editor suggested a different way some aspect of my story might go. I agreed, saying that I’d considered this approach but hadn’t gone with it. The editor then asked, “How often do you follow your own instincts when you write?”

Food for thought indeed. Truth to tell, sometimes I’d gone with what I thought the editor would like, rather than what I felt was right for the story. From then on I resolved to trust my instincts and write what worked for the book. It’s a course I recommend to any writer.

Last year I worked with the talented Joel Naoum, then publisher of the digital arm of Pan Macmillan, as he steered my Beacons sci-fi series through to publication. Every editorial suggestion came with the assurance that I could veto anything not working for me and my stories.

Even then I had to constantly remind myself that I had the final word, and really consider how each suggested edit would best serve the books. The result is a series I’m very proud of. The five Beacons books and two novellas are my stories told in my voice, with the added benefit of other eyes to see where aspects could be improved. Without doubt  it was one of the best publishing experiences of my career and I wish Joel much success in his Critical Mass consulting service for authors and publishers

Even if the people you invite to comment on your work persist in wanting you to make changes, always give yourself the right of veto. Carefully consider their suggestions then decide for yourself which ones best serve your book.

Take ego out of the equation. Look at the writing as objectively as you can. This is why writers are advised to put the work aside for a time after completion, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

Then consider how the changes will benefit your book. Try to pin down what is being asked of you. Is it to streamline the ‘through story’; strengthen characters; make the writing tighter? Every one has merit, and few writers get all of the elements together in early drafts. When you work out what needs doing and why, is there a better way to achieve these goals while staying true to your voice and vision? A good editor should be more than happy to let you fix a perceived problem your way.

This New Year make one of your resolutions to trust yourself as a writer. You won’t regret it.

How do you deal with comments on your writing. Please share with us in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy New Year and happy writing…and trusting yourself.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

I am honoured to be appointed Australia Day Ambassador 2018

to the Gundagai NSW community.

Look for Valerie’s ‘Desert Justice’ in ‘Her Hot Desert Fantasy’ anthology,

Dec 2017 on Amazon.com as well as K-Mart and Big W.

Find my Beacons sci-fi series –

Beacon Birthright, Beacon Starfound
Beacon Earthbound,Beacon Continuum
Beacon Homeworld
via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

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