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First Monday Mentoring May 2017 – how to write while you sleep

Last month I discussed the importance of happiness to your writing. Following that, I was asked why we get some of our best ideas just before sleep or as we’re waking up.

The reason is our state of mind at these times. The floaty time before we fall sleep is called hypnagogic and the time before full awakening is hypnopompic.  These times between sleeping and waking can be rich sources of inspiration.

Writer Robert Louis Stevenson, composer Wolfgang Mozart and scientist Albert Einstein are among the great thinkers who’ve said they produced some of their best ideas during these periods. Writers today can discover the same. The sense of mental and physical relaxation as well as the kinds of brainwaves we produce, may be the magic ingredients.

Alpha and Theta

Measured by an encephalogram, we are known to produce Alpha and theta brainwaves as we sink into sleep, or return to wakefulness. These are the slower brainwave cycles when it’s easier to form new ideas. By practising mental and physical relaxation techniques, you can learn to produce these waves.

Like acquiring any habit, you first use your conscious mind to access the alpha-theta state. Many recorded guides are available to help. You may need to try a few to find one that suits you. I try to do a 30-minute relaxation exercise most days.

When you’re able to achieve a tranquil mood and can sustain it for a little time, you can try using it to solve writing problems or access new ideas.

Drop the problem or question into your mind like a pebble into a pool, then let it go. Don’t try to force ideas to come. Instead, trust your mind to keep working on the problem while you sleep.

Have a notebook or smart phone handy to record whatever comes up at the end of your relaxation period. While the times just before or after sleep are rich sources of inspiration, they’re not good for storing short-term memories. Unless you write your brilliant idea down you’re likely to wake up knowing you had a great idea if only you could remember what it was.

While you rest, information you may not have been aware of gathering can become more accessible. You’re also more likely to experiment with new thought combinations that you might resist if you were fully awake, a process called sleep synthesis.

5 benefits of writing while you sleep:

  1. The times right before and after sleep are rich sources of inspiration not always accessible when we’re wide awake.
  2. Of the four types of measurable brainwaves – alpha, beta, delta and theta – the alpha-theta mix is most connected with ideas and problem solving.
  3. You can teach yourself to produce alpha-theta brainwaves by learning and practising a relaxation technique.
  4. The benefits of these mind states are refreshment, reduced anxiety, creative freedom and better information processing. That’s why when you’re struggling with a writing problem, you may be advised to “sleep on it.”
  5. Keeping a notebook or smart phone by your bedside lets you capture any ideas and thoughts that come to you in alpha-theta meditation. In this state we don’t tend to store memories so you’ll recall having a good idea, but not what it was.

Have you thought of a great idea as you drifted off to sleep, or awoken knowing the answer to a writing problem? I’d love to share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

 

Valerie

 

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

First Monday Mentoring April – why we need to enjoy the writing process

Welcome to First Monday when I open this blog to the reality of being a writer. Not the precious wrist-on-forehead stuff but the challenges, fears and yes, the joys of the craft.

In the movie version of Lost in Space, there’s a great line that says, “If there’s no time to have any fun, why are we out saving the galaxy?”

Why indeed?

Having fun isn’t just goofing off. It’s how our brains deal with complex issues, make new discoveries and solve problems.

Playing helps you to relax and avoid stress-related illnesses. It stimulates the brain to release endorphins and other natural chemicals that make us feel good and boost our immune systems. Laughter quickens the heartbeat, expands circulation, enhances oxygen intake and is such good exercise for your facial muscles that it helps fight wrinkles.

How can relaxing achieve so much?

It comes back to the division between the logical left brain and the creative right brain, though today these are considered more as divisions of function rather than lines drawn down the middle of the brain.

In general the logical brain is concerned with words, science, maths, rules and reason. The creative brain is more interested in ideas, insights, intuition and imagination. In strange surroundings or under stress, the left brain tends to stay in charge. Only when you let yourself relax does your creative brain have the time and space it needs to generate new ideas and concepts.

This is why going on holiday somewhere new can be a bad choice if you hope to get much writing done. Your left brain will be so busy sorting out where everything is that you may well find writing more difficult, at least for most of us.

Having a regular place where you go to write, whether to a designated office, your bedroom or the local coffee shop is more likely to result in stories and word counts you’ll be happy with.

When I conduct writing workshops I’m well aware of how hard our left brains are working to stay in charge. I tell the group that I don’t expect “good” writing from anyone, only that what they write shows a grasp of the principles we’re exploring.

I aim to set up an atmosphere of what psychotherapist Carl Rogers calls “psychological safety” so everybody feels free to explore ideas, knowing they’ll be encouraged rather than judged or criticised.

I also throw in as much laughter and enjoyment as I can. And there’s always chocolate.

A typical example was the new Story Magic workshop I presented last weekend at the ACT Writers’ Centre in Canberra. I wanted to go beyond all the hype of marketing, publishing and social media that goes with writing today and return the focus to the act of writing itself.

Think about it. Putting a few black scratchings on a page or screen is magical. Writing is the original virtual reality without the need for headsets or goggles. You simply put a collection of black markings on your screen or page and they magically create a whole world inside your reader’s head.

Done well, the scratchings conjure up people we care about, worlds we’d like to live in and adventures that take us away from the cares of everyday life.

Think of Game of Thrones, Wuthering Heights, Hamlet, Dr No, Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, The Time Machine. As books they were mere scratchings on a page. Yet they were so successful in conjuring up virtual worlds inside our heads that producers couldn’t wait to turn them into block buster movies and TV.

This to me is true “story magic.”

Taking a more light-hearted approach to your writing isn’t abdicating your grown-up responsibilities. It is giving yourself permission to play which is vital if you are to come up with new ideas and insights that might just turn into the latest best seller.

And if it doesn’t you’ve entertained yourself and many of your friends. You’ve also given your brain a workout designed to keep it healthy while at the very least, staving off some wrinkles.

Not bad for a few scratchings on a page or screen.

As a writer, whatever stage you’re at, do you find laughter and enjoyment helpful to your work? Feel free to share your comments. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy (and I do mean happy) writing!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

 

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring March – 3 ways to get your writing mojo back

This week I was reading Marie Claire magazine, the subscription a generous gift from my agent, Linda Tate. She was skiing in Vail while I slaved over a hot manuscript – literally, it was 44 degrees C in my town – so a touch of conscience? Whatever, it’s a lovely gift that keeps on giving.

One article in the April issue caught my eye: The Confidence Game by Melissa Gaudron. She talks about being overwhelmed, over-scheduled and out of control – feelings shared by many writers. If published you’re working on deadlines, reading proofs, promoting on social media, and planning future projects. Unpublished writers have the added pressure of finding homes for your books, whether with trad pubs or indie.

Nagging yourself, even when your conscience looks like this, doesn't help

Nagging yourself, even when your conscience looks like this, doesn’t help

This quote jumped out at me from life strategist, Shannah Kennedy, “No-one forgets to charge their phone every night, but we’ve forgotten how to recharge our own batteries.”

Many writers I know struggle to cope with a family and a day job, as well as produce new words and keep up with the demands of a writing career.

Some have given up, putting their writing on hold perhaps indefinitely, while they handle everything else. This is a sad state of affairs. In my experience, writers are born to tell stories. Having them in your head and never giving them voice is like cutting off a part of yourself. Yet I understand the temptation.

I’ve often wondered what non-writers do with all that spare time. Even watching TV or a movie would lose some appeal if I couldn’t second-guess the writer, try to spot the foreshadowed plot points, or mentally rewrite the ending more to my liking.

What would I think about in bank and supermarket queues, in waiting rooms or on long flights?

As Shannah Kennedy says, “How can [you] back [yourself] for a promotion or a major work decision, or to make a career change, when [you] have lost who [you] are and what [you] want from life?” Substitute “writing” for work or career, and you have the dilemma facing many writers today.

Have you lost the joy that writing used to be? Has it become another chore on a never-ending to-do list? How do you recharge your personal batteries each day? Here are three ways I recharge mine. You don’t have to use the same ones, but try to think of at least three ways to suit your own needs.

1 – try something different

If you’ve been writing murder mysteries, would you enjoy trying a new genre – science fiction, say, or romance. Or family history. Write exactly what you feel like writing without thinking how it might fit a market. Some of the most successful novels have been those where the writer had no expectations beyond the work itself. 50 Shades of Grey, anyone? My latest project is a book co-written with Dr. Anita Heiss. Neither of us has written a novel with another writer before. It’s a huge adventure and we’re loving it. This book is “grip lit”, edgy women’s fiction with a smidgen of time travel all set in Hawai’i. Go figure. Writing with Anita, bouncing ideas around, is a breath of fresh air for us both. Try something new, something you’ve dreamed of writing. Have fun. See where it leads. That’s what we’re doing.

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2 – stop writing

This may seem odd advice when you’re already struggling to get your writing mojo back. But sometimes taking the pressure off can be the best course. Shannah Kennedy says right now we’re in a constant world of comparison – which affects women more than men. Taking time out to do something different is an ideal way to destress. Would you like to craft or paint? Do that. Read War and Peace? Do that. Walk in the park, sit on a beach or meditate in a corner of your garden. Chakra meditation which I’ve done for decades, is a great safety valve. Don’t try to be “perfect” at whatever you choose; do it for the pleasure it brings. Ignoring your writer voice for a while can have it clamouring for your attention. Two late great writers, Morris West and Maeve Binchy both announced their retirement at one point, then went on to produce new work I’m sure even they didn’t know was lurking in their subconscious.

3 – share the journey

Even if you’re a fairly new writer, you can exchange critiques with someone else at the same stage. If you’re farther along, share what you’ve learned with local groups, at conferences and writing centres. I love to teach, generally gaining as much from the group as I give them. On March 25 I’m launching a new workshop called Story Magic at the ACT Writers Centre in Canberra – details here http://tinyurl.com/gwedj7z I put the focus on the “magic” of writing – bringing readers into your fictional world; making them care about your characters, and stay with you to the last page.

I also mentor the winner of the Valerie Parv Award, held in April each year by RW Australia. I’m excited to see which entry will catch my eye. Winners have written everything from supernatural to sci-fi, historical, crime, fantasy and suspense. I work with the winner for a year, chasing their writing dreams. Nearly all the past winners are successfully published.

Do you struggle to balance writing with other life demands? How could you recharge your creative batteries? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re moderated to avoid spam, but comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie

Check out my shiny new website http://www.valerieparv.com

I’m on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

My latest book, Outback Code, is out now.

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

First Monday Mentoring February – What’s the point of writing anything?

Lately I’m hearing this question a lot from writers, both aspiring and multi-published. They say creating a work of entertainment seems pointless in light of the political upheavals all around us, and shared in confronting detail on social media.

They’re questioning the wisdom of billionaire businessmen as romantic heroes when the paradigm is undermined by world leaders and politicians in the real world.

We have been here before. Waking up to the horrors of 9/11 in Canberra Australia, I first thought it was promotion for a movie. Would that it had been. Instead we all had to deal with the awareness that our world would never be the same again.

As terrorism became an escalating threat, I remember discussing with colleagues whether sheikhs could ever be heroes again, right when I had a romance novel called Desert Justice on the drawing board. Sheikhs have long been a romance staple, along with twins, secret babies and characters with amnesia. Readers enjoy these stories, especially when writers put our own twist on the trope.

I concluded that my sheikhs had nothing to do with reality and never had. They were fantasies I shared with readers all over the world. Mine were mostly reformers anyway, to fit my feminist inclinations. So Desert Justice went ahead.

Then there was the Y2K bug, (for Year 2000 bug) when we feared a worldwide computer meltdown because programmers had routinely shortened dates to two digits – 99 instead of 1999 – potentially causing every system in the world to go haywire or crash when the program spun over to 00. Time Magazine’s slightly tongue-in-cheek cover blared, “The end of the world? Y2K insanity. Apocalypse now! Will computers melt down? A guide to Millennium Madness”

time-magazine-cover-jan-18-1999

Tongue in cheek or not, Time’s publishers set up a bunker in their basement, equipped to produce the magazine in the event of catastrophic breakdowns. None of which, as we know now, were needed. The Y2K disaster never happened.

But most such fears have some basis in reality.

Nor do I mean to make light of our fears right now. In Writing in Difficult Times Kristine Kathryn Rusch blogs about her feelings after 9/11 at http://tinyurl.com/hwq5ke5 and says, “Writing didn’t matter when faced with the loss of life and the outpouring of grief. It didn’t matter in the face of the kinds of horrors human beings can impose on each other.

And the irony was, for me, I had been writing a book that I believed did matter, that it was about things people needed to know and see and understand. I felt passionate about the book, until the world changed.

“…And that was when I had my epiphany. I realized that escape is rest. It’s important. It gets us away from the horrors, the terrible things, the stresses and upsetting moments of everyday life.”644244_605309199480761_1647106081_n

I understand her feelings. Writing has never been easy even when you have a reliable publishing path and keen readers. When you have neither, the journey seems endless. But pointless? Never. I’ve been at book signings where my readers say they’ve stockpiled my books to help them through upcoming surgery. Or that something I’ve written has directly changed their thinking in some way, or given them comfort in a time of struggle. How can this not be valuable? In her blog, Kathryn sets out some sensible, doable steps to help deal with whatever crisis you’re facing. If it’s getting out there and applying your skills to help out, do that. If it’s donating money, or raising awareness, do that. It’s OK to give yourself permission not to write while you handle the crisis.

Then, when you’re able, get back to the keyboard and write your truths in your own way, as novels, movie scripts, articles or blogs. When you write from your own inner truth, your words will affect readers in ways you can’t even imagine. That’s a valuable contribution, too.

By making sense of your own world, you help your readers do the same. As long as you keep writing.

How are you dealing with the world today? Has it affected your writing? Comments are moderated to avoid spam but  appear right away for subscribers, or after you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is OUT NOW,

3 books complete in one volume for summer reading

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

First Monday Mentoring January – 5 things smart writers won’t take into 2017

 

Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring for January 2017. Not too many people are sorry to see 2016 over, as it came with more than its share of tragedy and loss. But focusing on loss is a good way to encourage more of the same. Better to focus on what we do want in the coming year, rather than what we don’t.

Anita in Honolulu with the cocktail that inspired our joint writing project

Anita in Honolulu with the cocktail that inspired our joint writing project

I hope as writers you have exciting plans for the year ahead, and lists of goals you’d like to achieve. I suggest breaking them down into bite size pieces so you can cross off small steps rather than have to wait to cross off one big step. For example, “write a book” is a giant step. A better approach is to list “start a new book” if you’re at that stage. Or if not, “develop book idea” then “outline book” and so on. “Write X words every day” is a good choice. Whether you choose 50 words or 500 matters less than having a measurable number you want to complete every working day.

My big goal for 2017 is writing a novel in collaboration with the much-loved writer, Anita Heiss. Neither of us has written a book with two voices, and we spent a few days in December brainstorming content and how the project would work. In line with the small steps advice, we plan to complete a partial for our agents to shop around, then work with two key characters each, the story alternating between them. Excited? You bet. I’ve already met my goal of writing the first 500 words by New Years Eve. Did another chunk to celebrate New Year’s Day. We’ll tweet and Facebook as we go along.

Anita and I after our brainstorming getaway

Anita and I after our brainstorming getaway

Check out Anita’s blog on the project  https://anitaheiss.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/52-weeks-of-gratefulness-week-50-working-with-the-best/

Now for 5 things smart writers won’t take into 2017:

1 – A cookie-cutter story. Whatever genre you write in, push yourself to write something special, unique to your voice and interests.

2 – Lack of respect for your readers. You need to bring your A-game to whatever you write. Every story is worthy of your best work, for yourself and your readers.

3 – A blasé attitude toward craft. Even if you indie publish your own work, make sure you hire a good editor, cover designer and whatever else you need to put your best work forward. Trad pubbed authors also need to address these concerns in conjunction with your agent and publisher. Never stop learning and developing.

4 – Lack of faith in yourself. Over many years I’ve found that insecurity is a hallmark of every successful writer. Even New York Times’ Bestselling authors feel unsure if they’ve achieved what they wanted for their books. Rather than letting their fears beat them, they push themselves to do better with everything they write, and so can you.

5 – Buying into the gloom and doom. As I said above, it’s better to aim for your highest goals rather than run away from what you don’t want. Writing a book is tough enough without dragging along the baggage of bad news, political angst and fear of the future. What will be will be. If you have to, watch or listen to less news, and focus on the good in your life. Bring that to your writing and I guarantee you’ll see a difference.

Share your thoughts in the comment box below. Comments are moderated to avoid spam but  appear right away for subscribers, or after you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Thanks for your support. Have a happy and creative New Year!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is OUT NOW,

3 books complete in one volume for summer reading

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring December 2016 – a writer’s 12 (auto-corrected) Days of Christmas

On the 1st Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

A voice app to write my story.

On the 2nd Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Two purple loves, and a voice app to write my story.

On the 3rd Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Three French men, two purple loves,

And a voice app to write my story.

On 4th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me

Four balding Sirs,

Three French men, two purple loves,

And a voice app to write my story.

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On the 5th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, three French men, two purple loves,

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 6th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Six priests for laying, five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, Three French men,

Two purple loves,

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 7th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Seven swains a-drinking, six priests for laying,

Five bold young things, four balding Sirs,

Three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 8th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Eight maids a-willing, seven swains a-drinking,

Six priests for laying, Five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 9th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Nine shady answers, eight maids a-willing,

Seven swains a-drinking, six priests for laying,

Five bold young things, four balding Sirs,

Three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 10th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Ten auto-corrections, nine shady answers,

Eight maids a-willing, seven swains a-drinking,

Six priests for laying, five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

409734_298928983485799_198200690225296_921464_1952604955_n

On the 11th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Eleven vipers typing, ten auto-corrections,

Nine shady answers, eight maids a-willing,

Seven swains a-drinking, six priests for laying,

Five bold young things, four balding Sirs,

Three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 12th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

12 nervous breakdowns, eleven vipers typing,

Ten auto-corrections,  nine shady answers,

Eight maids a-willing, seven swains a-drinking,

Six priests for laying, five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, three French men,

Two purple loves,

And a voice app deleted with glee.

As a writer, what gift would you most like for Christmas? Hopefully not this app. Have you suffered from the dreaded “auto-correct?” I love sharing your thoughts here. Comments are moderated to avoid spam but appear right away for subscribers, or after you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Thanks for your support. Have a safe and creative holiday season, and the happiest of new ears…er…years.

Valerie

valerie-parv-outback-code-dec-16

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is OUT NOW, from Harlequin MIRA, 3 books complete in one volume for Christmas giving

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

First Monday Mentoring November 2016 – five ways to start writing when you’d rather watch paint dry

Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring when we discuss aspects of writing not normally talked about.

For instance, the art of watching paint dry. I’m doing it a lot lately, not literally, but in the sense of not wanting to sit down at my desk and write actual words. After being published for four decades, and ninety books, this is a strange experience.

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I’ve found all manner of things to fill the time, from reading to giving my home a spring makeover. Watching too many real estate and renovating programs may make one thing springboard off another. I also wonder, is this how people fill their time when they don’t have stories and characters chattering away in their heads?

After a while you start to wonder if the muse has deserted you for good. Not that I’m a big fan of the muse, believing that professional writers write, inspired or not. Over many years, when I’ve been unable to conjure up the exact words I want, I’ve given myself permission to write any old how, telling myself it will be edited later.

This process has never failed me – until now. But as with everything to do with writing, there are no absolutes. The process of writing is what spy thriller writer, Len Deighton, called “a muddled system of trial and error.” He said the hardest lesson to learn is that thousands of words must be written and then discarded or rewritten before the “keepers” emerge.

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Deighton said he softened the blow by keeping his early drafts for months before throwing them away. If nothing else, this gave him the objectivity which is mostly lacking when confronting our freshly written drafts.

Writers trip ourselves up in dozens of ways. The most common, fear of failure, can lead to making sure we have no time to write that best seller. Spring makeover, anyone? Social media, while being a useful promotional tool, can feel as if we’re writing, without contributing a single word to a manuscript.

So here are five ways to stop yourself watching paint drying – or real estate programs.

  1. Find your best writing time and protect it ferociously

The time needn’t be from nine to five, unless it suits you. If you are most productive in the early hours or late into the night, keep these times free from distraction and interruption.

  1. Have your own writing place

Even if it’s only a corner of a room, or in your car, having that space and associating it with writing can be a powerful tool.

  1. Develop a writing habit

Victor Pineiro, blogged here http://tinyurl.com/zym8cq4 about writing his first novel by working on a laptop during his hour-long train trip to work. He says, “The key was not getting angry at myself for writing pure garbage some days. This was just an experiment — nothing to lose. As you’ve read dozens of times, once you do something for thirty days it becomes habit .” Once his laptop was open, he says, he felt obligated to write and it slowly became a habit.

  1. Use the small chunks of time

Like Pineiro, you can write while commuting; dictate story notes on your hands-free phone as you drive; plot the next step in your book while awaiting an appointment; or read reference material online while the kids play sport. This frees up your writing time to generate actual words.

  1. Write for yourself at first

I’ve blogged here about the critic over your shoulder, the inner voice insisting you can’t write so why bother? Somehow we have to overcome the critic and write anyway. Writing for yourself alone, and not letting anyone see your work until you’re ready, often helps. You can also do what Kate Grenville told me she does – put a sign over your desk, reminding yourself, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.”

What every writer's conscience should look like

What every writer’s conscience should look like

Now all I have to do is take my own advice. Right after I check out this Tiny House makeover.

Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is available from Harlequin from November 21  

outback-code-21-nov-2017

 

 

First Monday Mentoring for June – the joy of series for readers and writers

This week a new writer asked me if he should tell the publisher he was submitting to that his book was the first in a series. This is a fair question, as many books come out in series these days and are enormously popular with publishers and readers.
The answer depends on your relationship with the publisher. If you have a track record, even in other areas of writing, the publisher may be open to considering your book as part of a series. More likely, however, they would want to publish the first book as a stand-alone to see how it does before committing to more of the same.
Of course if you indie publish, you can do as you like, although I advise you to write two or three books in the series before self-publishing the first. Just as online streaming of movies and TV shows has led to “binge watching”, many readers prefer to collect an entire set of books before starting on the first. Recently I read two books in a series only to find I didn’t have book #3, although I did have book #4. I jumped on to Amazon and downloaded the next book to my Kindle so I could read the in-between book before continuing to the final one. Impatient? Who me? But I have a lot of company.
The results can be rewarding, with follower numbers growing as more books come out. Think of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series or Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” books. Characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, and many others have passionate followings.
If you’re writing series characters or settings, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Each book needs to provide a complete story within the pages, even if you have an over-arching story that all the books will span. This leaves readers satisfied but also keen to read the next book in the series. Readers regard your characters as friends, and your settings as places they can feel at home.
2. Filling in backstory in the second and subsequent books needs to be done with a light hand. Too much back story bores the people who read the first book. Too little annoys readers who’ve just discovered your series.

3. Each book should raise the stakes, while introducing new characters and story elements, to avoid any feeling of repetition.
4. If you use familiar elements such as vampires, royalty, small towns etc. you need to give the books your own unique twist.

 

The best aspect of series writing is being able to fully develop your fictional world. My current Beacons series of sci-fi romances is set in my own South Pacific Kingdom of Carramer, which began as the setting for several series of romantic suspense novels. Although frankly, if I’d known I would set eighteen books in Carramer, I would probably not have outlawed divorce. Over the years, getting characters out of marriages that aren’t working has been an interesting challenge.
When I decided to write the Beacons series, Carramer was a natural choice of setting. I’d always wanted to explore the province of Atai and its population of indigenous people. I saw them as very spiritual, making it easy to place a private space program there and include their natural mysticism in the story.

 

The next novella in the Beacon series, Continuum, is out next Thursday, June 9, published by Momentum, Pan Macmillan’s digital-first imprint. The three books in the series span the role my Beacons and their superpowers play in defending the Earth against a massive alien threat. Having two novellas in between let me explore individual characters and their histories.

This is another advantage series have over single titles – readers get to know your characters more thoroughly than they might in a solo book.

Cover Continuum
However you approach your series, readers should want to find out what happens next in your world. From the outset, it helps to have an idea of the overall story arc, as J K Rowling did with the Harry Potter books. You don’t need to know everything that happens. With the Beacons series, I certainly didn’t. But I did know how the story would play out at the end, rather like setting out on a journey with the destination in mind even if you aren’t sure of the exact route you’ll take.

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Finally, here are five Cs to include in your series:
• Characters – real people your readers come to care about and want to spend time with.
• Continuity – also known as Consistency – if you introduce elements in one book, make sure they are consistent with what happens in the next or previous books. Keep a series “bible” of physical descriptions, back story and other elements in file card form, as charts or on a program such as Scrivener, for quick reference as the series progresses.
• Complications aka Conflicts – even characters with superpowers, like my beacons, must have failings and difficulties to overcome, ideally in each book, the challenges growing to almost unbearable level by series end.
• Change – also known as Character Development. Your story people should grow and change as they overcome the obstacles in front of them.
• Completion – unless you want to keep the series going – and readers will love you if you do – you should tie up any loose ends by the final book. It’s easy to lose track of an individual and leave their story hanging, but trust me, you’ll hear about it from readers. In my romantic suspense series, Code of the Outback, I dealt with the stories of a woman and her two foster brothers. In the final book I mentioned a third brother but didn’t give him his own story. I was still getting emails about him years after the series ended, until I finally wrote his story in a novella, so readers could stop worrying about him.
How do you like to read series books? Do you have favourites? As a writer, do you have a series on the drawing board? This blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,
Valerie
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Follow Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT JUNE 9Beacon Homeworld coming June 30
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Where will the leap year take your writing relationships? First Monday Mentoring for March

Last week we wished Happy Birthday to all the leap year babies born on February 29. Thanks to Julius Caesar simplifying the early Roman calendar, the extra day happens every four years and was designed to keep festivals occurring around the same season each year.
In Ireland it’s said that women may propose marriage only in leap years, a tradition that has spread worldwide.
But this is a writing forum, so we’re interested in your creative relationships. In 2016 will you be dealing with critique partners and significant others in your life? Proposing (pitching) work to an agent or editor? What will be your relationship with your muse? With the online world?

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I’m exploring some of these relationships during a 2-day workshop at the Canberra Writers’ Centre on 2 and 3 April, joined by my long-time agent, Linda Tate, who will share her take on the writer-agent relationship. The workshop sold out within days, showing that there’s a need for writers to focus on these aspects of the work.

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Equally important are relationships with family and friends. Writing can make us so inwardly focused that it’s easy to forget there’s life beyond the current manuscript. It’s vital we make time for real people, as well as fictional ones. For without real relationships and a social life, we can end up with little new to write about.

Cat writer

Four questions to ask yourself this leap year:

1. Is this writing project serving the people I care about?
It may bring income, make you a more rounded person – I know when I’m kept from writing, I become very hard to live with – but when my husband was alive, I made sure he knew how important he was to me. After he passed, I was glad I hadn’t put writing ahead of his needs. Keeping a work-life balance is key.

2. Is this project serving my goals as a writer?
Writing reviews or blogs and contributing to social media may feel like work – and publishers do encourage writers to have a strong online presence – but if your real writing work is neglected, it may help to look at your priorities.

3. Is this writing serving my wider community?
This doesn’t contradict point two, because community involvement provides ideas and enrichment to you, as a writer. Serving as a volunteer zoo guide at the National Zoo in Canberra for ten years got me away from the computer, meeting people from around the world, and befriending some truly amazing animals.

4. Is this project the best use of my time and energy?
Only you can write your books. A dear friend talked of a real-life experience she intended to write about “someday.” Sadly, she died with the book not even started. Her experiences were never shared with readers and are now lost forever. A famous meme on Facebook quotes J K Rowling on how she managed to be a single mother while writing her Harry Potter books. Her answer was that she didn’t do housework for four years. Priorities.

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Being a writer – if you’re serious about it – is a nonstop juggling act. If you add in a day job, life gets even more challenging. It’s up to you how you handle it. But look first at the time sucks – endlessly checking Facebook or Twitter; sharing so much of your life via your devices that you forget to actually live it; binge watching TV shows and movies.

There’s no harm in doing some of this some of the time, as long as you make conscious decisions on how to have a balanced life and still get your writing done.

2016 can be your year to leap ahead with your writing, and it doesn’t have to be at the cost of other aspects of your life.

Now over to you. How do you manage your writing and relationships? Will you be proposing (pitching) to an agent or editor this year? A leap year is about growth and change. And getting to that all-important happy ever after. Or happy for now. How will you get there?

Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can skip this step by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing,
Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

When should you reboot your writing life? First Monday Mentoring February 2016

We hear a lot lately about reboots. The powerhouse Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, is considered a reboot because it takes the franchise in new directions with new characters. The recent Star Trek movies are most certainly reboots with much of the story canon amassed over fifty years being replaced with unrelated material credited to an “alternate timeline.” Yes, well…

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The term, reboot comes from computer usage. When a device refuses to perform, the first defense is invariably to turn everything off, wait a short time, then turn things on again. Often, that’s enough to get the device working properly.

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People can reboot themselves, too. I know of several who are in that process now.
One of the most prominent is actor Wil Wheaton (Star Trek the Next Generation, Big Bang Theory, Neverland, Stand by Me, and many others)
Late last year, he announced in his blog that he was rebooting his life. Unhappy with himself, he made a public commitment to change, doing less of habits that harmed him, and more of those that helped, such as reading more, writing more and exercising more.

In an update this week, he graded himself on progress, giving himself an A on some items and an F on only one – writing more, which had been pushed aside by acting commitments. You can read his story on his blog http://wilwheaton.net/2015/10/seven-things-i-did-to-reboot-my-life/

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A writer friend I greatly admire, Diane Curran, announced yesterday on Facebook that she’s rebooting her life starting Monday, including returning to her beloved belly dancing classes.
“I’ve been a bit slack over the last couple of months. While I never returned to the Caramello and Iced Tea, I did take up Lindt extra dark chocolate and I still can’t moderate [my intake]. Adding back in dairy, grains and potato and reducing exercise and I’m feeling the difference in body and attitude.”
Throughout 2015, Diane transformed herself through diet and dance, until we barely recognized her, except for the sparkle that’s there through thick and thin (sorry, Diane, really bad pun). Starting today, she says it’s “back to Paleo, back to physical activity, back to writing a minimum of 500 words a day.”
https://www.facebook.com/chickollage?fref=ts

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Reboots don’t need to be drastic. In the last month, I decided that my writing office wasn’t serving me. I was doing nearly all my writing at the dining table, the room more and more resembling the office I wasn’t using.
It wasn’t rocket science to work out that clutter deterred me from using my “real” office. The big desk I’d had for years was a clutter magnet, unlike the dining table which I had to clear regularly because, well, it beat eating off the floor.
I bought a new, smaller, table in gloss white with chrome legs – the nearest desk I could find to a dining table. Added a gorgeous white file unit with red drawers that could serve as a return as needed, and went to work. With less surface area, paper can’t pile up. I love my new desk and spend almost all my working time there.
Like Diane, I’m also tackling a body reboot, having lost mumble-something kilos in twelve months. While not exactly gym-ready, I move much more, and no longer cringe at photos of myself in the media.
Writing more isn’t an issue since this year I’ll have published 90 books. But I have changed direction. I’m now writing science fiction, a genre I’ve always loved. Naturally, there is romance in there – albeit with a light touch. But the rebooted me is boldly going where I haven’t gone until now, and having a ball.

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Is there an area of your writing life you’d like to reboot?

Here are four ways you can tackle the job.
1. Start from your strengths
Rebooting yourself is a choice. It doesn’t mean everything you’ve written is wrong. Every word is part of your learning curve and will feed into the writing you do next. If exercise is needed, simply move more. Watch TV or make calls standing up. Weed the garden. Every little bit counts. Do workshops online or off. Find a critique partner in your new genre, and encourage each other.
2. See yourself succeeding
Spend a few minutes each day relaxing and picturing yourself succeeding. Visualise your book cover, or yourself in the spotlight, whatever fills you with energy and determination. Then look to your reboot list and start to make it happen one step at a time.
3. Be gentle with yourself
Wil Wheaton called his a “soft reboot”, focusing on the items he felt would make his life better. He didn’t throw out all his previous achievements, or come down on himself for the one area he felt needed more work. Like Diane, you may have Lindt extra dark chocolate moments. Recognise them and gently put them aside in favour of new behaviours that support your goals.
4. Feel the fear and do it anyway
This is a brilliant self-help book I suggest you read, although the title says it all. New always feels scary. If it doesn’t you’re not doing it right. Your reboot should take you out of your comfort zone into uncharted space. This week I’ve taken the biggest leap of my life into that space and you know what? It felt terrifying but exhilarating in equal measures. There are no guarantees of success, but if you don’t take the leap, you’re guaranteed to fail.

Minions take over world
Begin your reboot today. As a writer, choose a new direction or genre you’d love to try, and read in that field. Study the available markets. Then plan how you’ll write in it. 500 words a day is good, but 100 will do if it’s all you can fit in. Even at 100 words a day, you’ll have a novella or half a novel done by the end of this year, and that’s with most weekends off.
Let’s compare notes back on this blog in six months time. Not to beat ourselves up over what we haven’t achieved, but to look honestly at where we are and what still needs work.
Do you plan a reboot in your life? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can skip this step by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing and rebooting,
Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html
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