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First Monday Mentoring Dec 2019 – 7 ways to reboot your writing for 2020

What with gift shopping, decorating, cooking, and catching up with family and friends, writing during the holiday season can be a challenge. Instead, here are seven ways to reboot your writing for when you return to the keyboard. Exercising different parts of your brain is not only fun but aids your creativity.

  1. Try a new craft to decorate your home or to give as special gifts

Giving something you’ve baked, preserved or crafted by hand will be valued far more than store-bought gifts. My friend Ruth, makes gorgeous mini Christmas trees out of recycled magazines. Some are plain, others decorated with tiny lights as shown here. Even her grandchildren have put in their orders.

  1. Meet new people

Much of life has moved online, limiting the people we meet face to face. Why not widen your social circle by attending a holiday event. Whatever your beliefs there’s bound to be something that suits. Carols by Candlelight can be religious or secular. Go along and sing your heart out. Chat to people around you every chance you get. Even better, volunteer to help at the event.

  1. Try new foods

Most of us have our holiday favourites, be they mince pies or roast turkey. You can still enjoy them on your festive day but beforehand, why not see how others celebrate? Chances are there’s a multi-cultural group in your community. Check with your council or local paper for what’s on. Take your traditional foods along and be prepared to sample new and interesting dishes from other cultures.

On a cruise of Sydney Harbour with a group of readers from Japan, I found an instant connection via the foods we liked to cook and eat, breaking down language barriers and causing much merriment as we tried to figure out recipes to share.

  1. Find some littlies

Many people say their best celebrations are in the company of small children. I decided to write books instead of having children, choosing to have rent-a-kids and these days, rent-a-grandkids, instead. This December one of my rent-a-grandkids turns one and I can’t wait to give him his first football, truly, it’s marked “my first football.” He and his mother can play with it together until he’s old enough to run and kick. Then who knows, the World Cup?

  1. Spend time with animals

Not everyone lives in a place where they can have pets. I travel too much to have my own, so as with children, I have rent-a-pets. Currently my rent-a-dogs include a precious teacup-sized poodle, a sooky English staffy, and a sweet-natured Cavoodle who is also a service dog assisting her owners. As well I have a rent-a-cat called Jessie. When I visit her house she jumps onto the back of an armchair to be within patting distance. Over Christmas I’m spending time with the staffy and her owner, and already have my furry friend’s “Christmas dinner” of roast duck, vegies and cranberries. It’s still dog food, but don’t tell her.

  1. Set yourself a reading project

Last January I challenged myself to read my Complete Works of Shakespeare, all 1200 pages, each 2 columns of 7 point font. I finished the task in September, adding a few Shakespeare-related movies as well as re-reading  the signed and annotated script of Two Gentlemen of Verona which belonged to William Shatner. He was part of a stellar cast including Sir Paul McCartney, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, presenting Simply Shakespeare in aid of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. I won the script in his Hollywood Charity Horse Show auction which supports children’s and veterans’ charities. Your reading project can be anything that appeals to you. Dive into your To Be Read pile; re-read a childhood classic or book-of-the-movie you’ve been meaning to check out. Audible books are also a way to enjoy reading while doing holiday chores.

  1. Visit a new place

Whether the place is in your own neighbourhood, a park, a holiday market, museum, church or gallery, go with an open mind. A local group near me runs gingerbread-house-making classes, another has an exhibition of Christmas trees. Sit by a river soaking up the scenery. Soon after I was widowed, I spent one of my most rewarding holidays with friends who ran a large motel in a tourist destination. They were too busy to think about celebrating, which suited me, and I spent the time helping out wherever I could. We’d planned to work on making the perfect Margarita. We didn’t get to it until 10pm Christmas Day but it gave us a fun focus.

What does all this have to do with writing? I see it as refilling your well of story resources. Like any well, it can run dry if not replenished, ready for when you finally get time to create.

Can you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. This blog won’t be back until February, as I take a break to refill my own creative well.

Seasons greeting and happy writing!

Valerie Parv

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

Save the Date
Saturday, 14 March 2020
Valerie Parv AM and Literary agent Linda Tate
present  – Getting Back the Joy of Writing
for ACT Writers Centre

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring November 2019 – do you always write from the heart?

This week I was reading The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker the second novel by past Valerie Parv Award Winner, Joanna Nell, when I found in the acknowledgments, her  appreciation for encouraging her to follow her instincts and write her book from the heart.

She’d certainly done that. At one point I was reading in such an emotional mess I didn’t think I could finish the book because I was feeling all the feels. Thankfully I did finish and the ending was totally worthwhile.

Joanna’s acknowledgment made me think about how important it is to invest yourself in your writing. Years ago an editor at Mills & Boon, London, proposed a change I’d already considered and rejected. When I told her so, she asked me how often I followed my instincts. I’d was forced to admit that I’d been second-guessing myself , trying to give the editor what I thought she wanted.

Nobody knows what will sell until it’s out there. Ask J.K. Rowling about her many rejections before Harry Potter became a publishing phenomenon.  Far better to follow your writing instincts and tell the story you passionately want to tell.

With so many books being published, the biggest challenge to readers is discovering your work. Joanna’s first book, The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, also published by Hachette, was launched with a national book tour. Her delightful humour and focus on love in older years meant she had a keen readership waiting for her second book.

Joanna Nell signs her much-anticipated new book

Some years ago when I wrote a book on creativity, The Idea Factory, published by Allen & Unwin,  my late husband drew a cartoon of a person being X-Rayed, the doctor indicating an actual book showing up on the screen. “Yes, there is a book in you.” These days it seems not only does everyone have a book in them, they can’t wait to get it out.

This can be at the expense of thorough editing and overall presentation, particularly if you’re self publishing. When it comes to basic grammar, story structure, spelling and the like, standards are slipping everywhere. The internet is full of memes showing the difference between their, they’re and there, which your spell checker doesn’t always recognise, although they’re (they are) improving all the time.

A useful rule for editing, coined by sci-fi luminary, Theodore Sturgeon, he described as “matter vs manner.”

Matter is what you write about – the stories of your heart. IMO these are non-negotiable. No editor or critique partner or group should tell you what stories you can tell, although you may have to wait for the readership to catch up.

Manner is how you tell your story and it’s here that beta readers, editors and critique groups are most helpful. If you have a wonderful story but it’s getting lost in turgid prose, excessive adjectives, typos and spelling mistakes, these are craft issues you can fix.  As far as possible I want readers to enjoy the story without  distractions, and I welcome having structural issues pointed out. The story is mine but how it’s told is an editor’s province, ensuring my message comes across as I intend.

For example, if the problem is the common one of repetition – the author repeating the same information in a different way or in another scene, it should be fixed, no argument. All writers have pet words we use unconsciously until we edit them out in successive drafts. Common examples are just, only, well, in fact, etc.  What must remain is your message, your reason for writing a particular story. In this I urge you to follow your instincts and always, always write from your heart.

How often do you follow your instincts and write from the heart? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie Parv

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

First Monday Mentoring Oct 2019 – writing in the fast lane

In previous blogs I’ve looked at how many words you “should” write in a day, the answer being whatever suits your style and life commitments. Everyone is different and whether you write 200 or 2000 words in a given period is up to you.

Just as there are marathon runners and sprinters, there are those who happily write huge word counts. Others write more slowly, perhaps editing and polishing as they go. International best selling writer, Dean Koontz admits this is his style and it hasn’t done him any harm.

There’s another kind of pacing to consider, and that’s the pace of the story itself. It’s great when readers say they couldn’t put your book down, and even better when they say they didn’t want the story to end.

Most writers, including me, are avid readers and I’ve found myself slowing down near the end of a wonderful book, reluctant to part company with characters I’ve come to love. But just as many readers are turned off by thick, dense-looking narratives.

As we move into the final quarter of the year, we’ve all heard – or said ourselves – that we don’t know where the year went. Wasn’t it Christmas only a couple of months ago? Possibly the perception is due to how much entertainment we now pack into a year.

We order online for same-day delivery. There’s speed dating for everything from partners to publishing. Dating shows like “The Proposal” show the lovelorn “meeting and marrying” in an hour. Big life changes happen on screen in an hour on “This Time Next Year.” Even irascible chef, Gordon Ramsay, fixes a restaurant’s problems on fast forward. In movies, transitions are almost instant. Watching the movie “Yesterday” I was impressed how scene changes were shown by running huge translucent headers like LA or LIVERPOOL across the screen.

The need for speed has revived short stories and novellas under 40,000 words. Print and ebook page counts are shrinking. US analyst, Zach Obront, studied dozens of New York Times best sellers and found the average hardcover novel in 2011 was about 500 pages. By 2017 it was under 300 pages and still dropping.

Average word counts have gone from 80,000 words to 60,000 or even less. American retailer, Walmart, told my publisher, Harlequin, that aging customers were asking for larger print sizes. This is easily handled on eReaders, of course, but for print books it meant reducing word counts. My book, “Desert Justice”, was ready to be published and I was tasked with removing 10,000 words from an already-edited book. At first I cut back all descriptive details. Readers now Google anything they want to know more about. Then I made sure every word worked. A tough job but the book was the better for it when I was done.

It’s great to fit in

Modern books need to get in and out of scenes as quickly as possible. Dive straight into the first chapter as close to the action as you can. You may have to write and delete a couple of chapters of set-up. In my current project I wrote 2,000 words of flashback then deleted them in favour of a scene where the heroine sees the hero run off the road on his motorcycle and stops to help.

In general I’m writing only enough description to bring the scene to life. Then it’s on with showing the story through dialogue and action.

Shorter paragraphs and chapters can save those reading on devices from a solid screen of unbroken text.  Putting a hook at the end of each chapter has always worked, keeping readers engrossed. Likewise I like to set love scenes in unexpected places, not only bedrooms. In writing workshops where I’ve challenged the group to come up with interesting settings for love scenes, we have inadvertently entertained people within earshot of our efforts. I hope we’ve given them some new ideas as well.

Technology is a given; have characters use it even in remote locations.  If not, have reasons why not. Avoid repeating information you’ve already given. Readers “get it.” They want the story to move along at a fast clip while we compete with streamed TV, movies on Netflix and endless memes of cute cats.

What changes have affected your writing lately? What pushes you out of a book? Share your thoughts in the comments below. It’s moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie Parv

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

SAVE THE DATE

My new workshop is Making Your Book Work

Saturday Oct 12 in Canberra for ACT Writers Centre

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/making-your-book-work-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-61205601602?aff=Enews

 

 

First Monday Sept 2019 – do you need a muse or only coffee?

Dating back to classical mythology, the idea of a muse as a source of creative inspiration is with us to this day.

Accounts vary but the original nine muses, said to be the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, were credited with inspiring everything from epic poetry to music, dance and astronomy.

I’ve had many sources of inspiration coming to mind recently as my agent, Linda Tate, and I presented a session called Getting back the Joy of Writing at the national conference of Romance Writers of Australia.

Linda and me at RWA conference 2019

The conference spanned enough late nights and early mornings that I was yawning as our presentation approached, definitely not a good look. Coffee was the obvious answer. Now caffeine and I don’t usually get along. I even drink decaffeinated diet coke, known to my friends as “why bother?” On this occasion I was able to grab a cup of “real” coffee  and kick start my share of the session with nobody the wiser.

In our presentation, Linda talked about the need to set up a time and space to write, showing a graphic which said, “But first, coffee.” I’m sensing a theme here. Not that I support the idea of relying on stimulants. The downside is too risky, as everyone from Oscar Wilde to Stephen King found to their cost.

anton-hein-004_reasonably_small

But first, coffee?

In truth it’s better to be your own muse, as most writers know deep down. But there’s no harm in personifying your creative inspiration if it works for you. I’m not averse to having Chris Hemsworth turn up on my doorstep. Not sure how much writing I’d get done though.

Let’s face it, when I met my muse, actor, writer and philanthropist, William Shatner, I was hard pressed to get a word out, although he was perfectly charming, as were his companions from Star Trek, LeVar Burton and Sir Patrick Stewart. Just the idea of sitting down to a private chat with them left me speechless. Not my usual condition, as many of you know.

My muse, William Shatner

This week on Facebook, writer friend Ebony McKenna posted:  Another 1500 words today. They are terrible words. Slapped down on the keyboard with no heart or thought while my muse flakes on the sofa eating bonbons. Want to trade muses?

Erin Grace responded: mine is at your place feeding your muse the bonbons.

Alison Stuart said hers was still stuck at the cricket.

Ebony’s last line was telling: I’m reminding myself, at least I have something to edit.

However you perceive your muse, here are three ways to enlist their co-operation.

  1. Have a deadline

Nothing concentrates the writing mind as well as having work due in a set time frame. Some writers can only work to a looming deadline. I’m one who starts a project as soon as the contract is signed. But then I used to do my assignments in the breaks at university.

  1. Have a great idea

If a story and characters won’t leave you alone, nagging you as you try to sleep, your muse is urging you to get up and do the thing. I’m writing this at 4am not from choice, but because I want to share these thoughts with you.

  1. Enjoy having written

The reality is that writing is hard work, but nothing beats the joy of reading over your new words, whether two hundred or two thousand of them. And as I said at the conference, the writers most likely to struggle are the “good” writers who challenge themselves with every new project.

What works as your muse? Chocolate, wine, coffee or simply the satisfaction of having written? Perhaps Chris Hemsworth? Sorry but William Shatner is mine, in fantasy anyway. Share your thoughts in the comments below. It’s moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie Parv

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

Save the date –

My new workshop on Making Your Book Work

Saturday Oct 12 in Canberra for ACT Writers Centre

http://www.eventbrite.com/e/making-your-book-work-with-valerie-parv-am

 

 

 

 

 

Link

First Monday August 2019 – how can writers “strive to be happy?”

There’s a lot of unhappiness out there in Writelandia. As I blogged last month, many writers feel overwhelmed with tasks from turning around edits in ever-faster times, to promoting on social media, giving library talks, answering readers’ questions; dealing with our use of diverse characters, even accusations of cultural appropriation. If you’re indie publishing you add in hiring cover designers, professional editors and other help.

All while incomes seemingly dwindle before our eyes.

As I flagged last blog, next weekend my agent and I are presenting a session at the annual conference of Romance Writers of Australia. Our topic – getting back the joy of writing. Because yes, despite all of the above, writing should be creatively rewarding. This doesn’t mean you have to skip to the keyboard singing. But it shouldn’t feel like drudge work, as I’m hearing it does for too many writers

Like any profession, writing has challenges. They keep the work interesting. But writing should give you joy at least some of the time. Anything else is a recipe for burnout.

Among my favourite mood lifters are inspirational books and posters. One in particular has inspired me throughout my long writing career. You may have heard of The Desiderata. For many years it was believed found in an old Baltimore church and dated 1692. We now know it was written by American poet, Max Ehrman.

I’ve written this version to inspire writers. The italic lines are from the original poem. The interpretations are mine.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

How else can writers listen to their inner voices and tune out the hurley-burley of modern life? By avoiding “loud and aggressive persons” you avoid the vexations of the spirit which are so bad for your creative work.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Comparisons are everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are filled with them, making you wonder how your own writing journey compares. The answer is, it doesn’t, nor should it. Aim only to exceed your own highest standards.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Celebrate your small milestones as well as your major successes. Content yourself with sharing your stories, even if the prizes elude you for the time being.

Exercise caution in your business affairs for the world is full of trickery.

Any writer looking at a publishing contract knows this only too well. Indies have many pitfalls they need to avoid.

Let this not blind you to what virtue there is: many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

A fortunate truth, providing writers with much to write about.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is perennial as the grass.

A cynic cannot write convincingly about love or any other human emotion. Only genuine emotion felt by the writer can move readers to laughter, tears and other vicarious experiences.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Age confers many blessings on writers, among them available time to follow your craft and a wealth of lived experiences from which you can draw.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Two occupational hazards of writing, and nowhere is strength of spirit more needed than when faced with a rejection.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.

Even if no-one else understands the drive to express yourself in words, you owe it to yourself to respect, nurture and explore your gift as fully as you can.

…whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.

All writers share a common aspiration – to communicate. By sharing your stories you not only keep peace with your soul, you contribute to the pool of human understanding.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Do these words speak to you? Is there a point that touches you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments below. It’s moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

Saturday Oct 12 in Canberra for ACT Writers Centre

My new workshop, Making Your Book Work, details-

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/making-your-book-work-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-61205601602?aff=Enews

First Monday July 2019 – why authors don’t have to go it alone

There have been many successful collaborations between writers, among them Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye, Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society written by Mary Ann Shaffer and completed by her niece, Annie Barrows. Actor, writer and philanthropist, William Shatner, manages his prodigious output by working with co-writers including Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, David Fisher and Chris Regan.

Romance writer, Emma Darcy, was the pen name of couple, Wendy and Frank Brennan. After Frank’s death, Wendy carried on the Emma Darcy name alone.  I also have a prized copy signed by all four contributors to Dead of Night a series of paranormal stories by Nora Roberts writing as J.D.Robb, and her friends, Mary Blayney, Ruth Ryan Langan and Mary Kay McComas.

The world’s biggest-selling author, James Patterson, teams up with other writers because he surely has more ideas than one person could write in a lifetime. One of his books, Private Sydney, was co-written by Australian crime writer, Kathryn Fox.

2018-19 Valerie Parv Award minion Stella Quinn

You can also manage your stress by having friends watching your back. For 38 years my late husband helped me brainstorm plots and research aspects of his life such as serving in three armies and hunting crocodiles in the Northern Territory. In turn I wrote gags for his cartoons.

Other support services I use include accounting, legal advice, IT support, website design, gardening, cleaning and general hand-holding. I value all these people, but especially the latter. Let’s face it, nobody understands the struggles and joys of writing quite like another writer.

They’re there for me when the ideas refuse to come, when I’ve made a best seller list and even when I’ve had to kill off a character. In turn I’m there for my writing BFF s– the Bat Cave members know who you are. We’ve met up all over Australia and the world. I’ve even combined some roles, taking two bat friends we dub The Three Batketeers to a personal meet-up with William Shatner.

My agent of more than 20 years, Linda Tate, deserves special citation. She runs a “people gallery” of celebs, sports people and creatives including Mr Movies, Bill Collins, who died recently. When I met Linda, my goal was to be to romance writing what Bill Collins was to movies. While nobody can match his encyclopedic knowledge of film lore, with Linda’s help I’ve come close, being made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for writing and mentoring.

Among my closest supporters are the minions, as the past winners of the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia, call themselves. We share a unique rapport that goes beyond the mentoring I do while they hold the award. Next month at RWA’s annual conference  I’ll crown the newest minion, and we’ll celebrate at the much-anticipated annual Minions’ breakfast.

The same conference will see my agent and I presenting a session on Getting Back the Joy of Writing. With the publishing industry in such turmoil, joy is needed more than ever, whether you’re traditionally published, indie or a hybrid of both.

Agent Linda and me giving a talk at the National Library, Canberra

Writers tell me they’re overwhelmed by everything they have to do, from promoting on social media to designing covers and hiring their own editors if they’re indie publishing, leaving little time to enjoy the writing process.

Some writers say they feel ready to give up as burnout looms, or sadly, after it hits. In our session, Linda and I will look at better ways for writers to manage these and other stresses.

Your stories are precious gifts only you can share. Even if you work with another writer the resulting gestalt will be unique. It’s so sad when a writer dies with her work locked inside her, like friends who’ve planned to write “someday” which we all know never comes

Some say they’d like some help, but can’t afford the luxury. How can you not afford people who free up your energy so you can write? In my opinion this help is beyond price. Look around you. Who among your group would brainstorm ideas, share info they know and you don’t, celebrate your triumphs and be there when you struggle? Using professionals is a test of your professionalism. Plus your cheer squad will be there with wine, chocolate or funny memes to lift you up so you can keep writing.

Who has your back? Is it a partner, writing friends, paid professionals or a combination? Find them and value them and you’ll never write alone.

Share your thoughts in the comments below. It’s moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy (and joyful) writing,

Valerie

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

Valerie and her agent, Linda Tate are

presenting at Romance Writers of Australia’s

National Conference Sun 11 August 1-2pm

http://tinyurl.com/y52tghw4

 

First Monday Mentoring March 2019 – how to create a story character in ten minutes flat

In all my years as a romance writer, I’ve been asked every question from where I get ideas, to how much money I make. I never answer the last one. One question I’m never asked is where I get my characters from.

They can be inspired by real life, but not as often as you might think. I may borrow aspects of people I know but rarely a whole person. Not only is it legally risky, but also because I want  my characters to live in the story,  rather than in real life.

My life rarely inspires my characters. In only one book, Island of Dreams, did they come close. She was the daughter of Russian immigrants who had a troubled history with their homeland. Unable to relax in their new country they moved around a lot and worried about their past catching up with them. This led my heroine to develop an eating disorder she had when she first met the hero, a journalist writing her father’s life story.

The family’s history came from my own migrant parents who also moved a lot and used food as a distraction from their problems. When the book came out I wondered how they would respond to my soul-baring. Short answer – they didn’t. The heroine’s family was Russian and we came from England. Nor did they connect their children’s eating issues with my heroine’s. From then on I created characters as I chose and didn’t give family concerns a second thought.

That said, you can use parts of your own background to create a believable character in just ten minutes.

You’ll need one other person for this exercise. A writing friend is ideal and you can work together off or online. If you have no other options, choose an interesting character from a TV show or movie, plus yourself.

Each of you starts by listing three “good points” you think you have. For example, you may see yourself as a good cook, a hard worker and trustworthy. Your friend makes their own list. If using a TV or movie character, make the list based on your observations of them.

Next you and your friend list three “bad points” you want to change. Or look at your TV character and work out their “bad points.” Don’t worry about being right or wrong, simply make the lists as you see them.

For example, things you want to change about yourself may include often being late, being forgetful or bad at managing money. None of the points need be drastic, just normal human failings.

Oh yes, we also have multiple personalities

Once you have your lists, exchange yours with your friend’s, or work on your TV character’s lists. It’s okay to use your own list provided you can be sufficiently objective. No, you can’t change the lists, you work with what’s on it.

You may be surprised by what your friend sees as their good and bad traits, probably different from the way you see them.

When you have the lists, the person who made them ceases to exist. The lists now represents a character in a story. Sometimes the good and bad points contradict each other. Like the person who sees themselves as a reliable friend despite often being late.

Use the lists to imagine a heroine in your story. Do their qualities suggest a name for them? What kind of work would they do? A poor money manager may not thrive in banking. But if they were in this job, how would they cope? Perhaps their boss is frustrated by the heroine’s failings but she’s the CEO’s daughter. How would this play out?

Already this character is coming to life. You could then make a “good and bad” list for her boss. The scenario so far suggests he might be a bit uptight, preferring computers to fallible humans. What if he and your heroine must work together on an important project? What if it’s something outside work, where he gets to see her good points in action, as well as her weaknesses? What might their task be? Perhaps a charity project that doesn’t suit the hero at all, far less having to work with this ditzy woman. No doubt you can imagine dozens of ways they could clash as their attraction builds.

Doing this exercise gives you real people to work with, because the good and bad aspects came from real people including yourself. It also beats listing aspects such as hair and eye colour and height.These can come later when you have a handle on who these two people are. The essential conflict also comes from who they are – in this case, one an uptight executive, the other an airhead with money. Now work out how they got to where they are and why they must cooperate on the project. You’re well on the way to having an original story.

How do you develop characters and stories? Share your thoughts in the space below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie

The 2019 Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia opens April 8 and closes April 29, open to members and non members.  I mentor the winner for the year they hold the award.

Details:Valerie Parv Award 2019

Find me on Twitter @valerieparv  and Facebook www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course, www.valerieparv.com/course.html

 

 

First Monday Mentoring February 2019 – writing lessons we can learn from cricket

One thing I need to make clear – I know next to nothing about the game of cricket, despite friends’ best efforts to enlighten me. Nevertheless I found myself intrigued by an article by sports journalist, Robert Craddock, @craddock_cmail  in the January 7, 2019 Sunday Telegraph.

He wrote a 10-point analysis of the Indian cricket team’s “blueprint for success.” As I browsed his ten points, I began seeing them as a blueprint for writing success as well. The headers fit perfectly and I’ve adapted the content to apply to writing.

1 Be Fit and Fierce

The Indian team, says Craddock, have non-negotiable fitness levels for their players. Many of us have resolved to improve our fitness this year, but how many consider the benefits to our writing? A fit body translates to an alert mind and it can be acquired as easily by walking regularly, as by spending hours in a gym.

2 Wicked wickets

The lesson here is to ignore “good” or “bad” conditions (wickets) and write anyway. Waiting for the perfect day or mood to start writing is a sure way to get nothing done. If you find yourself saying, “I’ll write when…” try changing when to “now.”

3 Be flexible

Being flexible means not trying to be Nora Roberts or Liane Moriarty – they’re already taken. Create your writing practice around your special abilities and write your words your way.

4 Tough love

According to Robert Craddock, the Indian team practices all kinds of ball deliveries until they can handle just about anything. As a writer you can do the same, challenging yourself to write long, short, to a deadline and just for fun. Entering competitions – or even judging them – out of your comfort zone is another way to practice tough love on yourself.

5 Bold cuts

This means removing anything from your writing practice that doesn’t serve you well. Decluttering expert, Marie Kondo, calls this removing whatever doesn’t spark joy in your life. I have a well set-up office but found myself working at the dining table. Solution – change my old fashioned desk for a “dining table” type desk that’s smaller, streamlined, and makes me feel good using it. Likewise invest in stationery, pens, keyboards, any tools you enjoy using.

6 The anchorman

Craddock refers to one Indian player who shaped the mood of his team. You may be a one-player team but how do you inspire yourself? Do you read interesting articles – like this one, taking inspiration from a subject I knew nothing about? Watch vlogs and podcasts like Sarah Williams’s Write with Love, learning from some of the wonderful writers she interviews. Disclaimer: one of them was me, so I may be a bit biased. www.sarahwilliamsauthor.com/valerieparv

7 Bag of tricks

Do you write cleverly and with invention, aiming to improve your writing with every draft? I’ve written before about my 20 Options for ensuring originality. When writing a new scene I start with the numbers 1 to 20 down the side of a page or screen, aiming to fill in as many story options as I can. The first few are the most obvious, the next few becoming more fanciful, until I have more options for the scene than I’d dreamed were possible.

8 Back-up troops

When you run out of writing steam, do you have a writing buddy you can contact when the going gets rough, and do the same for them? Belong to a group on or offline? Have a library of “keeper” books to re-read for inspiration? These are your back-up troops.

9 Hard-yakka heroes

For my overseas readers, hard yakka is an Aussie term for hard work. As with elite cricketers, successful writers can be surrounded with glitz and glamour that obscures the hard work they put in to get where they are. Working around day jobs, family demands and rejection are all part of the long road to success, and must be repeated book after book.

10 Challenge yourself

Behind almost every published writer is a pile of books that died in the writing, were rejected despite their best efforts, and had the author questioning why they chose to write in the first place. To finish the cricketing analogy, I’ll quote Robert Craddock who says, “The (Indian Team) lost both series (against England and South Africa) but gained a tough shell that had them conditioned for anything in Australia.” Think of all those lost books as helping you perfect your craft and grow that tough shell.

What people or jobs inspire you? Share your thoughts in the space below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie

Find me on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course, www.valerieparv.com/course.html

 

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring Dec 2018 – is your writing on the naughty or nice list?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I answer questions about the reality of being a writer. This time of year it’s easy to get lost in the fantasy of Santa bringing you a new contract or published book, a bit like dreaming of what you’ll do when you win the lottery.

Fantasizing about seeing that new book on the shelves or on your device is harmless and pleasant. Unless the fantasy takes the place of writing actual words and making your book a reality.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Santa keeps Naughty and Nice lists just for writers. Which list your writing is on will most likely determine where you’ll be this time next year.

By Naughty and Nice, I don’t mean the content of your books. How nice (sweet) or naughty (sexy) you write is up to you, and there are readers for both kinds plus all stops in between.

Here are some of what might be on Santa’s lists:

Naughty – beating yourself up for not meeting your deadlines

Nice – writing at a pace that’s comfortable and doable for you

Unless you’re committed to someone else’s deadline, you choose how much writing fits into your everyday life. There’s a lot of misinformation around the Internet, such as how you “must” write every day, and “must” produce a book every three months to be successful.

I wish I knew who makes these rules. The truth is, you get to decide how much writing you can do and how often. Some writers produce a book every one or two years. Others produce one every two or three months. Quality will usually win out over quantity in the long run.

Naughty – never reading other writers’ books or craft books because you know all that stuff.

Nice – educating yourself through attending workshops and conferences off or online and reading the latest craft information out there.

Even at this stage in my career, I still read how-to books. If I find one new piece of information, my time is well invested. If a speaker is less than satisfying, I use the time to analyze my reactions as well as their performance. Are they ill-prepared? Is their message badly presented but otherwise interesting? Sometimes I learn more from poor workshops than from those I enjoy.

Naughty – killing your back and wrists by typing non-stop until your eyes glaze over and you can hardly move.

Nice – making self-care a priority, getting up from the desk regularly, doing appropriate exercise and having a meditation practice to handle the stress of giving so much of yourself to the writing.

Being nice to yourself also means taking time away from the writing to refill the well. Last month I looked at gifts writers can give themselves – time to write without interruption, space where you can write, and comfort in the form of a suitable chair, desk, keyboard and whatever else you need to ensure that your writing supports your health and well-being.

Naughty – seeing other writers as competitors you must “beat” to stay ahead.

Nice – reaching out to others, finding mentors and writing buddies to share the journey and remind you that you’re not alone.

Writing is a solitary activity. Taking time to attend local groups, chat online or otherwise connect with your tribe is time well spent. Writing buddies can also keep you accountable. Say you want to write 1,000 words in the next hour, you can go on Twitter and use the hashtag #amwriting to find people with similar goals, a bit like having someone pace an athlete. It’s an honour system and it’s fun. You may not know the other writer, but it doesn’t matter. You’re helping each other along the road.

Looking at this list, do you find you lean more toward naughty or nice? I suggest using the list not to make resolutions – few of us keep those for very long – but as guidelines to a healthy and enjoyable writing practice.What’s on your naughty or nice writing list? Share your thoughts in the space below. Posts are moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy holidays, however you choose to celebrate!

Valerie

I’ll answer your responses here, then in the interests of self-care

I’m taking a break from blogging until February 4

but you can find me on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course, www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring November 2018 – gifts writers can give themselves

With the festive season racing upon us, the question I was asked recently is very timely. I was in Canberra recently presenting a workshop on rebooting your romance writing when one of the group asked me what are the best gifts to give a writer.

I had to think for a while, considering all the usual suspects from coffee mugs to stationery and not surprisingly, chocolate. All would be welcomed by writers, but they aren’t the gifts I decided to write about. For the most part these gifts cost almost nothing.

Failing this…

For me the best gift you can give yourself – or another writer in your life – is time. It’s astonishing how easily we find time for everybody else’s needs, yet invariably put our own need for time last. But how can we write if we don’t allow ourselves time?

We need time, not only to do the work of writing, but for dreaming up ideas and developing them before we ever sit down at the keyboard. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a plotter who conceives every detail of a story before you start writing; or a pantser, so-called because you write “by the seat of your pants” with no idea where you’re going until you get there. You still need time to get your head around the story you wish to write.

Who are the characters you’ll write about? Where will the story be set? What time period? What is the big problem (the conflict) stopping these people from riding off into the sunset together?

Even an hour a day of uninterrupted time is enough to write a hundred words toward your eventual manuscript. How can you set this time aside for yourself? If you have family, can they be persuaded to give you this gift every day, either by doing some chore you might otherwise do, or by leaving you in peace for an hour?

If you like, create some gift cards promising you the hour – more if you can manage it. Hand them to whoever will give you the gift, or pin one above your screen as a reminder to give yourself this time. Choose your most productive time, whether it be early morning or late in the evening as suits you. Then regard the time as sacred to your writing and don’t allow anything other than a dire emergency to interrupt.

        It’s important to manage interruptions

The next best gift is a place to write. Virginia Woolf made much of having a room of one’s own. If a whole room isn’t possible, then find the next best thing. Could you put a small desk into a little-used guest room? Some garages or laundries are large enough to provide writing space, provided they aren’t too hot or cold. A hallway might have cupboards you can adapt with a desk and shelving inside, and doors to close when not in use. Imagination is a writer’s stock-in-trade, why not use yours to find and re-purpose a space for your writing?

The final gift is comfort, not something writers think much about until a physical problem hits, forcing you to confront it. An ergonomic chair may seem extravagant but will repay you many times over in supporting your health. Buying second-hand can reduce the cost but be sure you try the chair before buying. Other comfort options are largely cost-free – making sure your screen or device is at a comfortable viewing height, with suitable lightning and quiet surroundings. Earplugs or headphones can help here.

Santa might not have these gifts on his list but you can take care of them yourself or invite family or friends to assist, letting you look forward to a Happy New Year of productive writing. What gift could you give your writing self? Share your thoughts in the space below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your comment 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

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