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

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

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

Why indeed?

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

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

How can relaxing achieve so much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This to me is true “story magic.”

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

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

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

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

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cat writer

Four questions to ask yourself this leap year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you need in order to write?

 

Use whatever works for you

The author William Faulkner famously said that the tools he needed for his work were paper, tobacco, food and a little whiskey.

Among the authors I know, chocolate would be high on the list. Music, depending on what works for you – it doesn’t for me. I can’t write to music that has or had words. The nearest I can come is the formless “new age” type of music which I find very useful in freeing the muse. Yet just as many writers like to prepare a playlist related to a particular book, assembling the music on an iPod for easy access.

Then there are what I call rituals. These are the steps you find yourself taking automatically, to settle yourself and the muse down to write.

Morning pages

In “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron recommended writing a few pages every morning about anything that comes to your mind, not necessarily to do with the work in progress. These morning pages can be a freeing-up activity if they work for you.

Rituals can be more mundane, such as tidying the desk, lighting scented candles or playing a game, although the latter should be done to a strict timetable or the writing session can fly by without a word being written. Voice of experience? Now why would you think that? <vbg> Just because I had to banish all forms of Solitaire off my desktop and laptop…

Do you need a particular pen for note-taking, a special colour of scribble pad, or a lucky charm? Make sure you keep them handy.

 

A sense of place

Sometimes a particular place gets you into the writing mindset. For some it can be the local coffee shop. For J K Rowling, it was a hotel room where she finished the last volume in the Harry Potter series. When I was Established Writer in Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre in the Perth hills, I had access to Katharine’s writing studio in the gardens. I even wrote a Tanka (Japanese lyric poem) to mark the experience:

In Katharine’s studio

I search for words.

Pine cones clatter

On to metal roof.

Awakening my muse.

Do you even know what would awaken your muse? The best way to find out is by experimenting. Try writing at different times and in different places. When you discover what works best, keep that time and place sacred and try to write there every day at the same time. Play with scented candles, music, lucky charms, until one or more “click with you, then keep them close by when you’re settling down to write.

Creative writing is not a nine-to-five activity. It’s an art form and requires respect and nurturing. May the muse be with you.

 Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

 Australia Day Ambassador 2013

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Why creative writing is a never-ending challenge

“For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that’s beyond attainment. He should always try for something that he’s never done, or that others have tried and failed then sometimes, with great good luck, he will succeed.”

Ernest Hemingway said this in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1954.

He was right then, he’s still right

Apart from the need to edit “he” into “they” to cover all genders, this is as true now as it was when Hemingway wrote the speech.

The joy of writing is in the challenge of finding out whether you can turn the bright, shiny vision in your head into something of beauty on the page or screen.

Will you succeed? Of course not. Writing is hard work. No matter how well published you are, no matter what prizes you win or how many millions of books you sell, you will never know everything about the craft. That’s what keeps it interesting.

Imagine going fishing and being sure that you would catch dinner every time you threw in a line. Where would be the challenge? Half the pleasure of fishing isn’t catching anything – it’s the joy of sitting by a riverbank, contemplating nature and your thoughts, and not really caring whether you catch something or not. I can’t tell you how often I’ve done that, knowing there was no bait left on my hook, but thinking I had the best excuse in the world to simply be.

These days I don’t fish. After volunteering in a zoo for eleven years, I came to know the fish and couldn’t put them through that. But the comparison holds true. If you bowl, would strikes be as much fun if you could score one every single time? What about cooking? Don’t the occasional failures make your successes all the sweeter?

Try something new

Writing should be an adventure. If you’re not stretching yourself by trying something new with each project, you’re missing one of the joys of the craft. In my book, The Art of Romance Writing, I say we write not because we know we can do it, but to find out IF we can do it. I’m sure that was part of the reason why J K Rowling wrote The Casual Vacancy. It certainly wasn’t for the money, with Harry Potter taking care of that side. So that leaves the challenge, and she admitted as much in an interview on ABC TV with Jennifer Byrne, that writing is something she (JK Rowling) needs to do. As I’ve said here before, writers write.

Experiment. Try a new genre. Write a short story if you usually write books. A book if you usually write short.

Play with the words. They’re not carved in stone. They can be changed. And you know what? If you get a thrill out of crafting your words, there’s a good chance your readers will too.

Happy writing.

Valerie

Friend of the National Year of Reading #NYR2012

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

First Monday Mentoring for June – your writing questions answered

It’s baaa-aack, the first Monday of every month (or the first Sunday if you’re in the northern hemisphere) when I invite you to post your writing-related questions and I’ll  answer them here. Lots of talented writers read and comment on this blog and you’re also welcome to contribute a question or your thoughts on an answer, or a writing experience that might help others.

Feel free to post writing concerns and questions, and share experiences. Questions can be posted ahead of time if you like and I will answer during Monday June 4.  I monitor the blog and post answers throughout the day.

To kick things off, here are a couple of questions I was asked during the last week.

Is it worthwhile for a writer to attend conferences?

Mostly the answer is yes,  no matter where you are in your writing journey. New writers can meet like-minded people, and make the vital discovery that you’re not alone in your struggles. A writing conference is also the best place to meet editors and agents on an informal basis, or you can sign up through the conference to pitch an idea to them. If they like the sound of your idea, they’ll ask you to send it to their publishing house or agency, and you get to put the magic words “requested material” on the package, dodging the towering slush piles.

How do you know when it’s time to give up on a particular book?

This is tough. If J K Rowling had given up after the many rejections she received, the Harry Potter books wouldn’t be household names. Rejections are part of writing life. If you receive only a form letter, it could be the publisher had no room for further books in the schedule; or they may have something similar to yours in production. If you receive specific suggestions, take that as definite encouragement. Editors don’t waste time commenting on work that’s going nowhere. If there’s something in the suggestions you can use, by all means do, but be wary of extensive rewrites unless the editor has asked to see it again. Another editor may love it as it is, or have different ideas again. Only when you receive repeated comments along similar lines – your book lacks pace; the characters aren’t believeable, or whatever, might you consider taking another look.

You can also treat the book as part of your learning curve.

Set it aside. Start something new. Later when you’re published, you may see how to rework the previous book, or use the ideas in another book.  I’ve heard many writers say they’re glad their first efforts didn’t see the light of day because they’ve grown so much as they’ve kept writing.

Got a question? Advanced or basic, I’ll do my best to answer.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Proud friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence 2012, Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre, Perth WA

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Alphabet Soap – helping your H/h find their HEA among the romance writing acronyms

Blame texting, Twitter, or just plain human inertia…okay, laziness, but there are so many acronyms around that it’s easy to drown in a sea of them.  This blog may help you navigate your way around the ones most commonly used in writing circles.

Starting with the basics: ACRONYM – noun – word formed from the initial letters of other words eg Laser – Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Not all acronyms are recent. When I was president of the Society of Women Writers (SWW) a member queried the meaning of SAE in contest conditions saying, “I know SA stands for South Australia but what is the E for?” We had to explain that SAE stands for Self Addressed Envelope which entrants were asked to include if they wanted their entry returned. A variation is SSAE – stamped, self-addressed envelope. SAEs can still be requested in contest conditions where  entries can’t be emailed.

Other writing and romance perennials:

H/h shorthand for Hero and heroine. Variants include M/M – male/male gay fiction, F/F – female/female, M/M/M or F/F/F or variants, menage (multiple) partner stories. BDSM stories have bondage, discipline and sado-masochism elements.

HEA stands for Happy (or Happily) Ever After, the ending readers look forward to your H/h enjoying after all their trials.

The letters don't always mean what the writer thinks they mean

POV – point of view or viewpoint, the character through whose eyes we see/experience the story. The heroine’s POV was once used exclusively but now we like to get inside the hero’s head as well. Using too many POVs leads to “head hopping” a writing sin where the reader loses track of who’s POV we’re in.

TSTL – one of my favourites, standing for Too Stupid To Live. The heroine who goes alone into the cellar of a haunted house at dead of night when the power is out is TSTL. Or a heroine who packs up and leaves after seeing the hero kissing another woman, concluding that he’s unfaithful when a simple question would reveal that she’s the H’s sister. TSTL characters turn up in “wall banger” books, so-called because the reader hurls the book at the wall in frustration.

DNF – a book the reader did not finish. See above for possible reasons.

WIP and MS or MSS – Work in Progress, also Manuscript. If the writing is  going badly, the writer may call the book “drek”. Hopefully, the editor and readers won’t.

YA – books written for the Young Adult market, eg Harry Potter or the Twilight series.

F & SF – fantasy and science fiction. SF is science fiction,  sci-fi being used mostly by detractors. SFR is science fiction romance.

ARC – where writers want to be, handing out Advance Reading Copies for review and comment.

TBR – writers and readers alike complain of a teetering To Be Read pile or file, in the case of downloaded ebooks.

Have you been puzzled by an acronym lately, or found one that made you LOL (laugh out loud)? Share it with us here.

TY (thank you)

Valerie

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