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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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First Monday Mentoring for September – write characters who live for your readers

Welcome to the first Monday in September when I answer any questions you have about writing, and invite you to share your experiences as a published or emerging writer.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual conference of Romance Writers of Australia in Melbourne, among a record 400 attendees, about 100 being first timers. The enthusiasm level soared. Reunions were loud with much hugging, and we were blessed with outstanding keynote speakers including Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect), New York Times bestselling author of historical and contemporary romances, Mary Jo Putney, Dr. Anita Heiss (novelist and social commentator), American romance writer, Patricia McLinn and many, many more.

At the awards dinner I announced the winner of this year’s Valerie Parv Award – incidentally named by RWA, not by me, I suspect as a good way to make sure I keep turning up. Congratulations to all the winners and place getters. The winner couldn’t make the conference but we had a long phone chat later to welcome Canberra writer, Carly Main, to the ranks of the minions – as past winners dubbed themselves long before the movies.

Carly’s winning book is a Roman-set women’s novel with romantic elements. I’ll mentor her while she holds the award, and we plan on exploring the world of ancient Rome together. Coincidentally, one of my current projects has a similar background.

A key conference theme was that writers are also readers, or should be. And we need to put ourselves in the reader’s place just as we put ourselves into the POV (viewpoint) of key characters including the villains. These “book boyfriends” and “book girlfriends” as they’re called on Facebook can become as important to readers as their real life partners. No greater compliment can be paid a writer than to take our characters so much to heart.

A case in point is Graeme Simsion’s character of Don Tillman, the socially inept hero of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

To enable this process, we need to provide vivid character descriptions , not only in terms of eye colour, hair, height and build, but who they are as people. The old ‘show, don’t tell.’ By showing us their thoughts and interactions with other characters, you draw us as deeply into their world. The success of Graeme’s book – soon to be a major film – speaks for itself. I’ve just finished The Rosie Effect, and am awed by of how vividly he brings Don and Rosie to life.

As Graeme does, we need to take readers on a journey with our characters – soaring with them, sobbing along with them – living with them through the story so that if the character dies, we mourn their loss. These are tall orders but they are what draws readers in to our fiction again and again.

I remember as a young reader being heartbroken at the end of the Narnia stories, not wanting to leave that magical world. Likewise when I reached the end of H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain series, the final book supposedly “written” by another character following Quatermain’s death.

When Leonard Nimoy – Star Trek’s unemotional Mr. Spock – died in February this year, millions around the world mourned, marking the passing of a beloved character who will live long in fiction and film.
My dream – and it should be every fiction writer’s dream – is to create a character as enduring as any of these. To blur the line between fiction and reality in readers’ minds.

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

That means you’ve gone beyond characters to tell stories about people who live on outside your virtual play, even inspiring readers to write their own fanfic (fan fiction) about them.

IMO there’s no greater goal for a writer, and no greater achievement when you pull it off.
Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away 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

First Monday Mentoring for August – as a writer, what kind of role model are you?

A meme that’s been around since the cave days – i.e. before Facebook – says if you can’t be a good example, you’ll have to be a horrible warning. Like it or not, we are all role models, but especially as writers and custodians of our society’s stories.

This week I served as the first Writer-in-Residence at Young Library and I found myself talking about the role models who influenced me as a writer. The first, of course, were my parents.

Valerie at Young NSW Library July 2015. Photo by Maree Myhill, used with permission.

Valerie at Young NSW Library July 2015. Photo by Maree Myhill, used with permission.

Few of us think of our parents as role models. Mostly we think they were the worst people ever to have children. It takes many years before we can admit they have a few virtues. And whether they were role models or horrible warnings is seldom clear. Usually we come to accept – particularly if we’re parents ourselves – that they did the best they could.

Mine gave me the means to become a writer. First, they introduced me to the library before I was even school age. Borrowing books, reading them, being read to were a natural part of our family life. As I began to create my own stories, again very early, I was never told it was “bad” or “a waste of time” to make things up. My father was dead set against lying, yet he was untroubled as long as it was clear I knew the difference between lies and stories.

This aspect resonated with the audience at Young Library. Many people came up to me between talks and said they would pass this information on to their children or grandchildren. Most who had a creative child in the family, had seen that child told to do something more “useful” or to go outside and play. Good advice in its way, unless you have the writing gene.

My father taught me to think before speaking, a habit still with me decades on. And by extension, that thinking itself was a skill worth mastering. How many of us get impatient with ourselves for daydreaming? Yet daydreaming is a vital precursor to writing, and while working on a story or novel.

I encourage new writers not to go with the first idea jumping into their heads, but to explore more story possibilities, and then still more, until they arrive at something excitingly original. You can’t do that without spending time staring out a window.

Member of the Order of Australia medal

Member of the Order of Australia medal

If you’ve visited my website, you know that in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, I was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). While overwhelmed by that recognition, I was delighted that the citation referenced my work as a mentor to emerging writers.

Mostly done through the Valerie Parv Award, run by Romance Writers of Australia, mentoring is about the most satisfying work I do. I’ve just finished reading the finalists for 2015, to choose my new “minion” – what previous entrants dubbed themselves long before the movies. I mentor the minion while they hold the award. The VPA has existed in its present format since the year 2000. http://valerieparv.com/award.html

It’s a joy to see each minion blossom throughout their year. One former minion, best-selling author, Kelly Hunter, said she was pleased I hadn’t tried to change her voice. My job, surely, is to help them make the most of their voices and considerable talent.

Writers are also role models through story. What kind of morals and ethics do you share via your characters and plots? I aim to make the good guys noble. This doesn’t mean perfect, but at least striving to be better than they are.

My villains do bad things, but I give them reasons (motivation) for their evil, so they’re understandable, rather than simply evil for my convenience.

As a writer, what kind of role model are you? Do you describe yourself as hard working, or “lucky.” Luck may come in when submitting work to a publisher or agent, in that you may have just what they’re looking for at that time.

Inborn talent also needs luck, to win the genetic lottery. But do scientists or mathematicians call themselves lucky when their talent leads them to some great discovery? Not in my experience.

Likewise, luck seldom comes into play in writing. You may be born with the talent but without commitment, application and hard work, the talent stays hidden, like unmined gold.

What kind of role model are you and the characters in your stories? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

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

First Monday Mentoring February – do you have WOSA, the addiction writers rarely talk about?

Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring for February 2015, when this blog is open to any and all questions about writing and related subjects.

One subject writers rarely talk about is what I call WOSA – writers’ office stationery addiction, also dubbed a stationery habit by historical writer, Anne Gracie. WOSA is surprisingly common among people who work with words. They’re the ones recognising instantly that blue dragons, purple ice creams, pink butterflies and orange cats are all shaped paperclips.

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I found I had WOSA years ago, during the Incredible Shrinking Exercise Books affair. At my first school in Australia at age eight, I was called by the teacher to explain the disappearing pages. I had to confess that I couldn’t resist the allure of the fresh, clean lined pages and had been carefully opening the staples and removing pages I was sure wouldn’t be missed, so I could fill them with the stories I made up even then. Luckily she was understanding and promised me a supply of gorgeous new paper if I stopped vandalizing my exercise books.

“Happiness is new stationery,” said romance author, Rachel Bailey, who posted a photo on Facebook of her shiny new purple polka dotted clips. In under an hour she had over 150 responses in an atmosphere that I can only describe as confessional.

When I posted about my lion-shaped clips that hold the papers between their butt cheeks, Rachel said there’s “something strangely fitting about clipping draft work that way.” Not something I’d considered but must concede, she has a point.

As more and more writers ‘fessed up, Alli Sinclair described meeting her husband, “Our eyes met in the manila folder section; we shyly glanced at each other over the post-it notes, and fell in love in front of the sparkly gel pens.” A match made in stationery heaven, obviously.

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Nicki Cavalchini Strickland asked, “Does the fact that I hunted stationery in Tokyo, and search for refills online constitute an obsession?”

Savannah Blaize says, “I could happily stay in a stationery shop. Just give me a blanket and pillow.”

Names kicked around as favourite sources include in no special order, Typo, Sweden’s Kikki K, Smiggle, Officeworks, Riot and Daiso, as well as Warehouse Stationery in New Zealand and Ito in Japan. Rachel Bailey adds, “How did I not know Daiso existed? Or that electric erasers are a thing? Three levels of stationery? I might just faint.”

Tracey O’Hara also admits to a pen habit. “My favourites are the pilot erasables, like using a pen but you can rub out mistakes.”

One of the most popular ideas, other than a stationery stand at the Romance Writers of Australia national conference in Melbourne next August, came from Sandi Antonelli. “Why isn’t there a perfume called Stationery or Eau de Officeworks?”

One thing quickly becomes clear – there’s no cure for WOSA and no real desire for one, despite one call for a Stationery Sniffers’ Anonymous group. The addiction is seen as enabling the writing process as much as it satisfies the needs of the sufferers. “Just ask my credit card about my pen and notebook weakness,” says Mel Scott.

Here are 4 ways you can tell if you have WOSA:

1. You take a day job at Officeworks to feed your addiction on a staff discount.
2. You have more than a dozen of any stationery item, staplers in several colours, or clips in purple polka dots.
3. You have a shelf full of beautiful blank notebooks that are “too good to use” that you’re saving for special projects.
4. You keep drafts of your work clipped between the butt cheeks of small yellow lions.

Over to you. Do you have WOSA and how does it impact your writing life? What’s the best stationery item you’ve found recently?

Share your thoughts in the box below. I moderate posts to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on the ‘sign me up’ icon at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing and stationery shopping,

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

First Monday Mentoring for January – writers, what is your special word for 2015?

It’s the first Monday of January on this blog, when you can ask questions and discuss any aspect of writing that concerns you.
It’s also when many of us make – and sadly, quickly break – our resolutions for the New Year. We aim to be slimmer, fitter and more active; give up bad habits, and be more productive.

These resolutions are soon broken, not because they are unworthy goals, but because they aim for perfection, not a natural place for humans to be.

We can still work toward these goals, but they probably should be built into everyday life, rather than pressuring us at such a sociable time. For myself, I started eating more sensibly about five months ago, and am already reaping the benefits. Had I started during the most indulgent season of the year, I’d have far less chance of making the changes stick.

The one-word approach

On Facebook recently, one of my friends posted what I think is a far more creative approach to the New Year. Award-winning American Romance Author, Holly Jacobs, said rather than making resolutions, she chooses a word to inspire her through the coming year. Last year her chosen word was step, a commitment to taking more steps each day. This year Holly chose stretch which, when you think about it, is what all writers should do – not only stretch ourselves physically, but mentally, with new writing challenges and experiences.

The one-word idea makes perfect sense to me. The problem is, like many of you following this blog, I work with words. Lots and lots of words. So far, I’ve published nearly five million words in books alone, with movie scripts, short stories, novellas and articles probably adding another million.

How on earth do I choose just one?

There are writing-related words – brainwave, inspiration, dedication, productivity, imagination, success, creativity.
Scary words – procrastination, deadlines, endurance, not really the encouragement I’m looking for.
After much soul searching, I finally settled on a word to sum up my hopes and plans for 2015.

*drum roll, please*

My word for 2015 is ENRICHMENT.

As a volunteer guide at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium for over ten years, I was very familiar with this word. When visitors commented on how happy and energetic the animals all looked, enrichment was the reason.

Hummer, the handsome giraffe at Canberra's National Zoo & Aquarium

Hummer, the handsome giraffe at Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium

Everyone from zoo keepers to volunteers and children enjoying the vacation programs either contributed materials or helped make toys for the animals. Toys are usually food-related such as screw-top bottles or egg cartons filled with seeds and treats. Each item is tailored to the animal’s needs and skills, and is designed to challenge and entertain, while eventually rewarding the animal’s efforts.

In summer, frozen treats are on offer, such as “bloodcicles” for the big cats, and frozen fish for the massive European brown bears. One year, the zoo’s owners brought in a load of snow from the Snowy Mountains, and heaped it around the enclosures. Seeing a 400kg brown bear shyly check out a scary pile of snow was fun for animals and zoo visitors alike.

Enrichment for writers
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As a fan of enrichment at the zoo, I can see it working well for writers. We’re also prone to boredom if we don’t have enough variety in our work. We also need rewards to stay motivated. Chocolate is a favourite, but movies, research trips and reading time can also enrich our writing lives.

Right now, in the heat of an Aussie summer, a pile of snow in my backyard has plenty of appeal.

What word would you like to adopt for 2015?
Share your word and reasoning with us in the comments below. I moderate posts to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on the “sign me up” box at right to subscribe. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy New Year and may all your words flow in 2015,

Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
See the new cover of Valerie’s Beacons book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You
at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for September – tracking down Scribblopithecus, the writing breed

Welcome. It’s first Monday again, when I answer questions about any aspect of the writing life.

Recently I attended the national conference of Romance Writers of Australia, one of the largest gatherings of writers in the country. Headliners included New York Times’ best-sellers, publishers, agents and writers of all kinds. I presented a workshop on drawing readers into your fictional world.

In the breaks, talk ranged around contracts, submissions and other professional concerns, but also about lesser-known aspects such as the courage needed to write, and how hard it is to diet in such an unpredictable business. This made me think it was time to look at what this crazy business really means.

If David Attenborough wanted to make one of his celebrated documentaries about writers, where would he start? Would he find us in herds like gazelle, or stalking alone like tigers. Would we be fearful or confronting? Do we use protective coloration or can you spot the breed from a distance?

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Confusingly, the answer to all the above would be yes. Writers – call us Scribblopithecus – do gather in herds such as the RWA conference. But more commonly, they hole up in their writing caves, struggling to deal with the real world.

Protective coloration goes by the name of jammies, short for pyjamas, the species’ unofficial uniform. In writing mode, Scribblopithecus can stay in this camouflage for days.

While Scribblopithecus doesn’t actually hibernate, they frequently enter a torpor, a state where they are unresponsive to family and friends, reluctant to initiate communication, and focused entirely on their internal world.

Locating Scribblopithecus is challenging because their habitats are so varied. You find them in every country of the world, existing like cuckoos in a range of settings known as “day jobs.” In these, you may be hard-pressed to spot the writer, so well do they disguise themselves. They’re wonderful mimics, copying the calls and behavior of their day-job counterparts.

But in their natural surroundings they spend hours mesmerized by computer screens and tablets on which they make their characteristic scratchy markings. They’re fussy, though. The markings must be just so, or they will be removed and Scribblopithecus will start over, sometimes dozens of times.

Despite this preoccupation, Scribblopithecus also collects objects called notebooks, the more stylish the better. They seldom defile notebooks with scratchings, but will treasure and fondle them as their collection grows. An environment such as Office Works or Kikki.K can induce an ecstasy state as the species rushes to acquire every object around them.

Scribblopithecus is an omnivore but has a particular fondness for chocolate, despite its effect on their generally sedentary lifestyle. If anyone raids their stash, they can become aggressive, although few specimens engage in physical confrontation.

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Interpreting their scratchings can be confusing. The amount of mayhem, death and destruction represented can lead one to assume that aggression is a natural trait. In fact, Scribblopithecus tends toward shyness, preferring to communicate via its screens rather than face to face. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter are their natural homes and #amwriting is one of the latter’s more distinctive calls.

So what is to be concluded about this species? No two are alike, they alternate between herd and solitary behaviour, experience long periods of torpor and express their aggression passively, through their scratchings. They are also an enduring species, their scratchings being found on cave walls throughout the ancient world.

Should you encounter Scribblopithecus, it’s advisable to offer chocolate and back slowly away lest you find yourself represented in their scratchings and killed off in an unpleasant manner. This symbolic violence is characteristic, along with talking to themselves, mock aggression when they wish to be solitary, and a complete lack of time sense.

It’s safest not to try to placate an aroused specimen. Misuse of apostrophes and terminology such as, “there, they’re, their” has been known to induce an attack frenzy which few outsiders have survived.

So there you have it. Have you met Scribblopithecus? Are you one of the species yourself? Please leave a comment here, moderated unless you click Sign Me Up at right. Or better still, leave chocolate to avoid being killed symbolically.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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

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

First Monday Mentoring for May: what stops you reading a book?

It’s First Monday again, time to share your thoughts and ask me any questions you have to do with writing, editing or publishing your work. Today’s first question was inspired by a discussion I had on Facebook with Serena Lockwood Dorman, so thank you Serena for the tip.

She said, “I just thought, Valerie, since you do the monthly advice blog for newish writers, you should do a post on what makes you stop reading a story. I’ve been reading a lot of stories on Wattpad and when I come across certain things I click out of the story right away. It would be helpful to know what instantly turns seasoned authors off.”

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I thought for a minute. As a reader, I’m fairly forgiving as long as the story grabs me. But here’s the list I gave Serena:

1. Bad writing. If the story has too many mistakes, spelling, grammar and the like, jumps around from one character’s point of view to another – known as head-hopping – or otherwise pulls me out of the story, then I’m not likely to keep reading.

2. Too much description not relevant to the story, so I skip. As Chuck Wendig blogged recently, we don’t need to see every sip of coffee the character takes. It becomes a distraction. As a reader, I want the words to disappear and have the story run like a movie in my head. When a character enters a room, I want to see what they see, not every stick of furniture as a judge on The Block sees it, but what’s relevant to that particular character. Put yourself inside their head and show us what they notice and why, as it relates to the story, and I’ll keep reading.

3. Good character doing bad things, even if for good reason. For example, a hero is broke and needs medicine for a child. He stumbles across the proceeds of robbery and decides to keep it – this still makes him a bad person IMO. He may be sorely tempted to keep the money. Another character may think he has – there’s a story in that – but ultimately, torn and tested, a good person will do the right thing.

4. One character out to despoil the environment the other character loves. For some reason this conflict appeals to new writers. Apart from being predictable, someone has to lose. There’s no solution where one or the other doesn’t have to give in. Think of another conflict.

5. Any story where the ending is obvious early in the book. Writers are your toughest audience. If you can keep us reading and wondering, you’ll keep any reader.

I’m also not fond of a heroine taking up with her late husband’s brother, or issues like spousal abuse, miscarriage or loss of a partner not treated seriously. They can provide powerful motivations, but do your homework and have a care for readers who’ve been there.

Now over to you. What stops you from reading or finishing a book? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Valerie
About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

First Monday Mentoring for April – how to think like a pro writer

It’s First Monday again, time to share your thoughts and have me answer any questions you have to do with writing. Today’s first question comes from a panel I was on at the last GenreCon event in Brisbane: Think Like a Pro. It was about crossing over from hobby writer to professional, so I added “writer” to “pro” to head off the smart comments I was getting on Facebook and Twitter

They reminded me of being interviewed by Ray Martin,when I said in all seriousness, romance is the root of everything. The studio audience erupted with laughter. Ray waited, then added quietly, “You said it, Valerie.” So pro writer it is.

Writing is often about aptitude, being born with the storytelling gene, as I believe nearly all successful writers to be. Professional writing is about attitude. It involves learning to see yourself differently, and training others in your life to see you the same way.

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I started out writing everything from press releases to non-fiction before progressing to novels. My first mentor taught me to value my time, setting myself a nominal hourly rate. If I could get non-writing work done for less than this hourly rate, I was better off hiring someone while I wrote new words or developed a submission for a publisher. I still hire computer help, lawn care, book-keeping or whatever else I need so I can focus on my core business of writing.

Working with an agent – or freelance editor if you plan to indie publish – should be seen as an investment. At a minimum, a good agent covers their fee and then some by gaining better deals for you. Mine certainly does.

Writing may be a labour of love but to succeed long term, you need to treat it as your job. Hearing friends say, “I’ve finished writing for the day, now I’m off to work” makes me want to throw things.

Writing IS work. It may not be your day job for now, but as a pro writer, that’s your goal. It helps to tell friends and family, “I’m working” rather than “I’m writing.” Which makes you sound more like a professional?

Here are my four tips for thinking like a pro writer –

1. Put a value on your time. As soon as you can afford it, hire help to leave yourself free to write. Sometimes committing yourself to an expense such as child care or computer advice can spur you to work harder to cover these expenses.

2. Schedule your writing as work. Even if you can only set aside half an hour a day, or commit to writing 250 words, regard it as inviolate and hold yourself accountable to produce results.

3. Make writing a habit. Keep a diary of the words you produce toward your target. If you miss a day, make it up as soon as you can. Don’t worry if writing full time seems a long way off. The discipline of writing around other commitments can mean producing more work than if you have whole days available. The saying that work expands to fill the time available is especially true of creative writing.

4. Allow yourself thinking time. Find a writing place where you don’t feel compelled to “look busy.” Thinking and pushing your ideas to the limit IS important if you’re to create something new and exciting. We writers are working when we’re staring out of windows.

Now it’s your turn. What beliefs and practices turn you from a wannabe to a pro writer? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Valerie

About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

Christmas gifts smart writers NEVER give themselves

It’s not only First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing and publishing, it’s also the holiday season for people of many beliefs around the world. Someone posted on Facebook that this is the only time Chanukah and American Thanksgiving fell at the same time for 80,000 years. My math isn’t that great, but it is unusual. Hope you all have a wonderful time.
This is also the season for gift giving. I love giving presents (don’t mind receiving them, either LOL) and I enjoy hunting for items I hope will delight my friends and family. As a writer, I love gifts, too. But there are five items I would NEVER give myself and I hope you won’t, too.

1. Long breaks from writing
Yes, it’s holidays and you’ve worked hard all year. Maybe you did NaNoWriMo and managed to write your target 50,000 words in a month. Don’t you deserve some down time? Of course, but be careful. The point of NaNo is to get you writing every day, inspired or not, with a deadline you usually report to other NaNo-ers, keeping yourself accountable. A funny thing about writing regularly is the momentum and confidence you build up. If I don’t write for a few days, I come back rusty, taking time to get up to speed. I also lose touch with my current project and have to get back into that groove as well. Keep in touch with the work. Aim to write 200 words a day, taking the important holidays off. That’s only one page of writing a day. You’ll thank yourself after the break.
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2. Ignore health and wellbeing

It’s easy to do this anyway, with all the parties and feasting. But as well as the damage to your healthy eating plans, food comas befuddle your brain, the organ generating those precious words. Remember to alternate holiday cheer with lots of water, pudding with fruit, and couch time with swimming and walks. The outdoor stimulation may give you new story ideas, win-win.

3. Lack of time
Yes, the season is demanding and rushed. Shops are busy, crowds everywhere, calendars clogged. Giving ourselves the gift of time can be way down the list, if it’s there at all. On your crammed to-do list, include set times to write, or at least to play with story outlines and characters – this can be done on a lounger in the garden. After the holidays when, we’re still at home, is a terrific time to make progress. When the season ends, you’re raring to go because the thinking and planning is done.

4. Second-best equipment
So you’re writing at a wobbly table, sitting on a dining chair, killing your back and creativity. Even if your writing isn’t paying its way yet, think of good equipment as an investment. Use the holiday sales to buy yourself an ergonomic chair. Mine adjusts every which way with a pump gadget to adjust the lumbar support exactly right. Look for a hand-friendly mouse, jelly rest for your wrist, whatever helps you create safely. Your body will thank you. And keep the receipts. When your writing does make money, ask the tax pundits about what you may be entitled to claim back.

5. Giving up on dreams
This is 100% not a gift you should give yourself, ever. In the early days, your self belief is the only thing keeping you going. It takes enough of a battering with rejections from editors or agents, or well-meaning but tough comments from critique partners and writing groups. ALL of the writers who are now legends were once told they couldn’t write, their books didn’t work, they should stick to (insert thankless day job). They persevered and gave us our greatest reading pleasures. They didn’t know they were writing classics, any more than you or I know that now. History is the judge. All we can do is write the best books in us to write, follow our passions even if they’re not trendy, and keep going no matter what the rest of the world says. Best of all, dreams are free. Hold on to them.

What gift would you NEVER give yourself as a writer? Have you come close with any of these? Please share your experiences with us in the comment box below. I regret they must be moderated before appearing, to keep out rudeness and Spam. To have your comment appear right away, click on “sign me up” at lower right. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Happy holidays and may your words flow freely,
Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews of Valerie’s latest book, Birthright
at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

5 ways to keep readers out of your story world

As a writer I’ve done all five things until I learned better, and so can you. Keeping readers out of your fictional world can be as simple as not giving them the information they need to “be there” with your characters. This idea arose out of Facebook, when I compared notes with friends about what advertising we were seeing. Depending on what pages they “liked” or commented on, some saw anti-aging and diet products, others saw cars and travel. One day I was invited to have “famous hair.” Go figure.

The point is, we don’t all see the world the same way. Most of us know this intellectually, when we need to get it at the gut level. How readers see and react to what we write depends on it. If we don’t all see the world the same way, or only see certain bits of it, how can we be sure our writing isn’t keeping readers out, when we want to draw them in and make them forget they’re reading something we made up?

Here are five ways readers can be shut out of our stories. See if you recognise any of them.

1. Use lazy words
Words like short, tall, old, young are lazy words. They represent our view of the world. In my workshops, ages go from teens to eighties. Asking who considers themselves old gets few hands in the air, except for the odd joker, usually someone younger than me. Old and young depend on your OWN age and the goal posts shift with each birthday. We’ve all heard toddlers call someone in their twenties old, while headlines say, “60 is the new 40.” The solution is to “show, don’t tell.” Simply put, this means show the reader what’s there, rather than tell them what to think. Wrinkled skin, thinning hair, stooped build can all suggest a mature character. Describe what’s there and leave the rest to us. Ditto tall. Show the character ducking under a doorframe, or their feet overhanging the bed. Show us the character in enough detail for us to draw our own conclusions.

We don't all see the same things on Facebook or in the world.

We don’t all see the same things on Facebook or in the world.

2. Don’t be consistent
Science fiction and fantasy are fun to write. You can imagine the world any way you want. But having set the rules, you must obey them from then on. No good having gravity turn off every day at noon for an hour, then forget next day and have characters sit down to lunch. Or turn blue-eyed Sandy into brown-eyed Susan between chapters. Characters need to be consistent as well. If Susan is thrifty because of a poverty-stricken background, don’t give her designer clothes without a good reason, a splurge she may feel guilty about, or a conscious decision to fight her conditioning.

3. Don’t get specific
I can’t mention a tree in my books without knowing the species, whether it’s in flower (which dictates the book’s season) and other details. I may not use them all in the narrative, but I need to know them. Through the magic of Google. I can find exactly the Russian swear word, unusual computer bug, or character illness I need to make the book work. It’s said that the best way to hide information is on page two of a Google search, but I’ve gone through twenty or more pages to find exactly what I need. Get specific and you will draw readers into your story world.

4. Don’t stretch yourself creatively
Whole blogs are written about the language used in romance novels. None of your prose should be in there. Avoid purple prose (over-written descriptions); cliched character actions – looking in a mirror while you describe them; misunderstandings where the heroine thinks the hero is kissing another woman. Heroine then storms out without waiting to learn the woman is his sister. First decide what you want the scene to achieve. If it’s to separate the characters while they discover they love each other, what’s the most original way to show this? I make lists, challenging myself to come up with twenty or more ways this could be achieved. The first few will be the cliches, the repetition, the boring. The next few will be wild flights of fantasy, then slowly I’ll get to the nuggets of gold. Sometimes two or more points can be combined to achieve my goal. This method has never failed me.

5. Don’t finish what you start
This is guaranteed to keep readers out of your story world, because the point of entry is the finished book. Whether on a device or in print, your book must be where readers can access it. Erica Jong famously said for a long time she avoided finishing anything. As long as it was work in progress, it couldn’t be rejected. Your book will never be perfect. Using the points here can get you a lot closer, but the last step – putting your story in front of an agent or editor – is essential. As a writer friend put it, “books in my head will never get read unless I get up and write them.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Do you keep readers out of your story world? How have you overcome these problems? Please leave a comment here.

Valerie

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http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

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