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First Monday Mentoring Nov – how do writers fill the creative well?

Last month I blogged about the importance to your professional development of attending writing conferences and festivals. Today I’m talking about another aspect I call “filling the well.”

How do writers find new things to write about? It helps to be interested in a wide range of subjects, not only those of personal concern but appealing to the world at large. My family calls me a “mine of useless information”, though it comes in handy at trivia nights, because I’ve researched such a wide variety of topics from opal mining to space shuttle operation.

You can combine your conference attendances with rambling research either related to your current writing project, or simply because it’s there.

In my book, The Idea Factory, I called these absorption trips, a name coined by screenwriter, William Goldberg, who suggests you become a sponge, soaking up input wherever you go. Almost any experience can be turned into an absorption trip, from dentist visits to shopping trips. Train yourself to see not only what’s there, but what could be there. What if your dentist is making a fortune through selling illegally plundered gold teeth? If you use this idea, best not use your real dentist’s name to protect the innocent.

When visiting new towns and cities, explore the local businesses, talk to the locals and learn as much as you can about their lives and why they do what they do. Tell them you’re a writer so they don’t think you’re just nosy. Most people I’ve met are flattered by sincere attention.

I’ve also developed many story ideas from reading journals I don’t normally see. Flying to a writing conference in Brisbane not long ago, I was leafing through the in flight magazine, fascinated by a reference to an Irish town as a “thin place” where the boundaries between the real and the supernatural are easily breached. Tantalising as that concept is, I won’t write about it because any writer seeing that reference will feel the same.

Stories “plucked from the headlines” need to be written quickly or not at all, before another questing mind can beat you to it. Many writers believe their ideas have been “stolen” when the truth is, we are all exposed to much the same creative influences. Years ago I indulged my passion for sci-fi by creating a romance hero who might have arrived by UFO. While the book, The Leopard Tree, was in production, I read a review of another book where the hero…you guessed it. There’s no copyright on ideas, only in how they are developed by the writer.

Best-selling novelist, Dean Koontz, said in an interview that he advised writers to do two things. The first is to write, write, write. Concentrate on developing your writing craft to the highest calibre you can. The second is to read, read, read. Koontz says the more you broaden your interests as a reader, the more you broaden your talent as a writer.

He says you should read a book first as a reader, then analyse it to discover the “nuts and bolts with which the story is built.”  As you make the effort your subconscious “will make all sorts of associations and connections, and over time it will give you the critical understanding you are seeking.”

Researching facts is best done through Google and similar resources. Your absorption trips supply the bits you can’t research – the sights, sounds and even smells of a new place or setting, and the accents, clothes and attitudes of the people you meet. Not only will these details fill your creative well with new ideas, they will add a richness to your writing that you can’t get any other way.

Recently I explored some wonderful new places in the USA including a magical Butterfly House and a tour of the Johnson Space Centre, Houston. Tax deductible because it’s research, My story and I’m sticking to it.

How do you find your new insights and stories? Have any of your travels resulted in ideas that excited you enough to write about them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you  click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Masterclass  Canberra, Australia : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-re-imagined-with-valerie-parv-tickets-35421113504?aff=Valerie 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Monday Mentoring, July 2016 – how NOT to be a writer in the 21st Century

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and the fun stuff about being a writer.

This week’s blog was inspired by an email conversation with a columnist in a regional newspaper (themselves, sadly a dying breed). The column has no website, no email, no means of getting in touch other than by mail or phone.

When I finally tracked down an email contact to compliment the writer, he was predictably pleased that I’d reached out. But on the bottom of his response was the line, “I don’t read all my emails…pick up the phone.”

Well, no. Writers don’t get to tell our readers/customers how they can read our work. That’s up to them.  I used to wonder how you could read my books on a phone. In a word, convenience. You nearly always have a phone with you.

Beacon Homeworld 2

My current Beacon sci-fi series is published by Momentum, the digital-first arm of Pan Macmillan with the last in the series, Homeworld, released last week. I had to edit the series entirely online, rather than marking up a printed copy, which used to involve a language of editorial squiggles we mostly don’t see any more. To me, the hash sign # still suggests “space out” and we’re not talking taking illicit substances, but spreading out a piece of copy.

No longer. I love hashtags because they connect people to your conversation. The Twitter hashtag #AmWriting is read by millions around the world who share an interest in the writing process.

I admit I sometimes struggle with technology. Sometimes it’s me; sometimes the technology. But I soldier on because it’s fun  being part of this exciting world.

Celebrating a couple of decades working together, my agent gifted me an iPad Mini, a generous gift by any standards. I felt totally challenged by it but persevered and it’s now the best camera I’ve ever had. Not long ago, I had a live chat on it with writer friend, Jennie Adams. For her, it was early evening in Australia. For me, it was midnight in Las Vegas and we chatted as I waited for a flight #lovemyiPad

Other ways NOT to be a writer today:

Refuse to deal with ebooks.

Like most writers, I like print books, but my Kindle has over 500 books on it. Sometimes I’ll read the ebook version because I can have it NOW. Then I’ll order a print copy, especially nonfiction, to study at leisure.

Overlook technology in your stories

I see this a lot with entrants in the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia. Too often characters are stuck in last century. There’s almost nowhere your characters aren’t linked by their devices. I’m judging this year’s finalists very soon with the hashtag #ValerieParvAward on Twitter and I’ll be looking for tech savvy characters.

Change the story to take account of real life. You can only have batteries go flat so many times. Likewise, in a story, you can only have doubt about a person’s parentage for two weeks or less, before DNA testing gives the answer. In Private Sydney, written with James Patterson, Kathryn Fox wrote about new technology that gets it down to one hour and while not as detailed as the longer tests, still reveals a lot. Using technology can broaden your story. Need characters to find answers to something? Let them share on social media or Google the details. Every writer I know blesses Google for making research a breeze.

If you aren’t already, get good at researching. Writing Homeworld, the final  book in my Beacons sci-fi series, I needed to know if you could launch a space shuttle off the back of a Global Express private jet. My net search turned up the PR division of the plane’s makers who sent my query to the designers. They not only wrote back that it could be done but included diagrams, thrilling me with their generosity. Learn the tricks to search terms and dive in.

You notice the difference if you dip into the past for entertainment. I enjoy the1980s cop show, T J Hooker, starring William Shatner, my tweetheart. Thanks for that lovely word, Joanna Sandsmark. He’s seen here with fellow Star Trek alumni, Leonard Nimoy. Watching him in action is fun, but I can’t help wishing for a cellphone every time he has to find a phone to take care of police business.

Kirk T J Hooker 2

Another fav. Is  Murdoch Mysteries, a detective show set in the 1890s where everything is old school. Yannick Bisson as eye candy in the title role doesn’t hurt, either. Former VPA “minion” (what previous award winners call themselves) Erica Hayes writing as Viola Carr, writes a fun series about the daughter of Dr. Jeckyll who inherited his affliction. In these page-turners,Viola employs the tech of the day – plus some neat inventions of her own – beautifully. Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal reviewed the first in the series – you can’t do much better than that.

Currently I’m developing a book where one lead character steps back in time. The other remains in the present with all its technical goodies, while my character has to deal with the comparatively low tech of the time she finds herself in.

Love it or loathe it, this is our reality as writers today. Technology also changes how we write – but that’s a subject for another blog.

How do you deal with technology in your writing? What books do it best for you as a reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re monitored 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.

Valerie

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

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

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

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

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

 

 

 

 

 

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

189650_437726069621804_1397664210_n

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

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

First Monday Mentoring for August – handling your writer’s grumpy brat

Today is the first Monday in August – how did that happen? Today I open the blog to your questions about any aspect of writing and publishing, and answer them here. The blog is read by many terrific writers who add their thoughts or experiences. Post your questions and ideas, argue with mine, share your war stories. This is the day, heck, sometimes the whole week.

I regret the need to moderate comments before they appear. But turning that off leads to an avalanche of spam and rudeness we can do without. To have your comments appear right away, click the ‘sign me up’ button at lower right to subscribe. I don’t share your email address with others.

To kick things off, I’m addressing a problem all writers share – dealing with our inner grumpy brat. You can be a New York Times bestseller or an emerging writer, but sooner or later Grumpy Brat Writer will appear, usually when you’re facing a deadline or a contest closing date. You need to be ready. Just like a parent in a supermarket when their toddler throws themselves down on the floor and screams blue murder, you need coping strategies to stop your Grumpy Brat Writer from winning the day.
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Here are 5 things you’ll hear Grumpy Writer Brat whine:

1. I don’t wanna

GBW never wants to do anything, especially if it involves work. And most writing involves a LOT of work. GBW would much rather play with her friend, Google, on research sites. Even then, she may start out on topic and be distracted by the first shiny link that comes her way. Which leads to another link and another until your research topic is a speck on the digital horizon. She also loves toys. Solitaire is to GBW what Lego is to most toddlers, and just as hard to get them to put away.
The solution: GBW loves rewards. Don’t wait until the end of a project (or dog forbid, a whole book) to reward her. Give her little treats along the way. They can be time outdoors, a little taste of chocolate, a phone call to a friend, or some reading time when she does what you want.

2. Why do I hafta?
This goes to the question of motivation. Writers have to be self disciplined to get anything done. Unless you have a publishing contract, no one is pushing you to finish the book. Non-writer friends and family don’t get why it isn’t done in a week. And without a goal, you’ll find GBW cleaning out the refrigerator, brushing the cat, or lining up pens in colour coded rows.
The solution: Motivate GBW with whatever works. Enter a contest with a submission date. Choose one that you can meet without too much stress, but that’s close enough to keep you at the keyboard. Tell your writer friends you’re writing. If you’re on Twitter, use a hashtag like #amwriting. Hashtags are like secret handshakes. They link together people who are otherwise unconected. but share a common interest – like getting the writing done. Sign up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. These days Nano is international. Participants aim to write 50,000 words during November. Nobody says they have to be good words, although published novels have come out of these rough drafts. If all else fails, buy a cute kitchen timer and set it for ten minutes. Almost anybody can stay on task for ten minutes. Tell GBW that’s all she has to do, write until the timer goes off. Chances are she’ll still be going after the timer rings. And if not, reward her and come back for another 10 minute sprint later.

3. Are we there yet? (usually repeated over and over)
We’ve all heard GBW on this. She wants the work finished and the fun to start. Especially if you’re writing a book, the finish line can be months and sometimes years away. No wonder GBW gets restless and whiny.
Solution: The kitchen timer in #2 helps to let GBW know when she’s “there” at least in the short term. Choosing a set number of words you’ll achieve each day no matter what and not stopping until you’re “there” can help. Even if your goal is as few as 200 or 500 words, make a deal with GBW that you won’t stop until they’re written. If you write more than your goal, great, but beware of writing 4,000 words and then finding you can’t write again for several days. Slow and steady wins the race.

4. No! (said with jutting out lower lip and folded arms)
Sometimes I think this is the first word that GBW learns. Whatever we ask of her, we get the one word answer and the stubborn body language. How can you deal with such an implacable, “No?”
Solution: GBW is looking out for herself, but she also has an almost subliminal sense of what else is going on with your work. Every time I’ve come up against GBW’s flat refusal to co-operate – every time – it’s been because the writing is going in the wrong direction. Coming up against that “No” leads me to look at what my characters are doing. Is this where the book should be at this time? Could I change settings or characters? Add a new character? Have somebody produce a gun? Magically, as soon as I address what’s bothering GBW, she starts saying yes to me.

5. Hers is bigger/better/shinier
This is GBW looking around and wanting what other writers have. Whether it’s a publishing contract, a prize, an award, great cover art or fantastic reviews, the little green monster brings out the worst in GBW. Often, she’s so consumed with the shiny goodies others seem to have that it stops her from writing anything.
Solution: tell GBW it’s okay to feel jealous. Maybe the other person does have a bigger better shinier whatever. On the other hand, they may also have ill health, financial woes or family issues GBW doesn’t know about. Most of us show the world our best side, but there’s nearly always a dark side lurking. Remind GBW about this and also of the line from the Desiderata, “Never compare yourself to others, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.” While GBW is busy envying other writers, just as many would like to be her.

How does your Grumpy Brat Writer show his or herself? How do you deal with it? Share your thoughts and experiences here.

Valerie

189650_437726069621804_1397664210_n

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

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

When did you first realise you were a writer?

Last time I blogged about Russell T Davies and his wonderful insight into the writing life in Dr Who The Writer’s Tale. This massive book contains so many great quotes about writing that I’ve been tweeting them for the past couple of weeks.

Then I came to this quote: “In my head, I was writing all the time, in the sense of making up stories, but I thought that was just thinking. I thought everyone did it.” p321

Ka-ching!

Immediately I remembered being about eight years old, walking to school with my younger sister, spinning stories to her to pass the time. Like Russell T. Davies, I thought everybody made up stories. It never occurred to me that normal kids didn’t make their pocket money by entering stories and poems in competitions run by the Sunday papers.

My latest novel, aptly named "With a Little Help"

At 12, I wrote the story for a ballet with no idea how it should be done, and no Google to research such things. I won the prize,  tickets to see the Netherlands Dance Theatre in Sydney, and went with my mother. What no one told us, and presumably the paper, was that this company danced in the nude. I’m not sure who learned the most from the experience, me or my conservative Scottish mother, but it was certainly unforgettable.

I was about 16 when my father showed some of my writing to a friend in advertising, and I discovered I could earn a living as a copywriter, beginning a career in retail advertising where I met the love of my life. Publicity writing and journalism followed, then nonfiction books and the joy of writing something I loved – romance novels, which I’m still doing. All because I made up stories long before I knew what a writer was.

As a child, did you make things up in your head? When did you realise this was a special gift? Were you able to turn your gift into a career, or did that have to wait until you could afford the time to turn your ideas into books? Many women are too busy raising a family to write until later in life. Perhaps that’s you. I’d love to hear some of your experiences.

Valerie

@valerieparv

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