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First Monday Mentoring for June – should you write a book you don’t love?

Welcome to First Monday when I open this blog to discuss what it’s really like to be a writer – not the glamour stuff but the inside track on the fears, the struggles and yes, the joys of writing.

This week a writer told me she’d sold “the book of her heart.” Naturally I was delighted but curious – what was meant by “the book of her heart?”

Turns out it’s a cross-genre book about characters who’d haunted her for years, not the kind usually sought by publishers but one she desperately wanted to write, even if no-one loved it but her. She’d come close to publishing the book herself but didn’t have the cash and time to invest in the work.

That led to me to asking if she would ever write a book she didn’t love. After a long pause she said, “Almost all the time,” adding that she’d started out reluctantly, but had fallen in love with the story along the way.

This suggests you can start writing with your head rather than your heart. “Exactly,” she agreed. “I can’t afford to wait for the muse to strike. Sometimes I have to write first and the love comes later.”

And if it doesn’t? “Something else will,” she said.

With 90 books written over many years, there have been stories I couldn’t wait to tell, when the words flowed like warm honey. Others were like pulling teeth, needing many rewrites to make them work. And then there was the book on plumbing.

I’ve always treated my writing as a business, proposing book ideas to publishers who contracted me to write quite a few. At other times an editor would like my proposal but have another book they wanted me to write instead. Hence how to do your own plumbing.

First of all, technically you need a qualified plumber even to change a tap washer. Plus I had zero interest in water hammer, grease traps and septic tanks. But I’d signed a contract and I researched and wrote the best book I could, having a plumber friend vet it before submission.

Pleased as I was to have delivered the book as promised, that project made me determined to find a way to write books that I could also put my heart into.

Without the plumbing book, I might not have discovered romance novels.

I’ve always been a romantic at heart, but the plumbing book empowered me to try something new. Fifty romance and romantic suspense novels later working with editors in London, Toronto and New York, I’d become known as Australian’s “queen of romance” with translations in dozens of languages including Icelandic and Manga – Japanese graphic novels. And the only how-to books I’ve written since are on the writing craft, such as The Art of Romance Writing with editions in print with Allen & Unwin since 1993.

My muse, the wonderful actor, writer and philanthropist, William Shatner, says he believes in saying “yes” to everything. This has led him to amazing opportunities from motivating the astronauts on the International Space Station, to designing his own futuristic motor cycle. At age eighty-six he’s still the busiest man on the planet.

William Shatner recommends saying “yes” to everything

Saying “yes” to everything sometimes means writing about plumbing, but can also mean creating a sci-fi series that gave me one of the best experiences of my writing life. Google “Parv Beacons” if you’re curious.

My next “yes” is to collaborate with the talented Dr. Anita Heiss on a novel, something neither of us has done before. Who knows where that will lead?

What will your next “yes” be?

Here are three ways you can learn to love any writing project:

  1. Take pride in stretching yourself creatively. Find something to love, even if it’s the income from doing the work. How might that fund a project you really want to tackle?
  2. Use all writing as a learning experience. From writing advertising copy, I learned how to inspire readers to act on my words. From scriptwriting – how to tell a story in dialogue and action. From my nonfiction books on writing – not only what works but why, broadening my own understanding of the craft.
  3. Be open to writing many different things. Some will be fun, others not so. Learn something new from every project, even if it’s that you don’t want to spend your life writing about plumbing.

What people or projects have inspired your writing? Have you loved some writing and not others? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

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

 

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First Monday Mentoring – 5 editing tips to strengthen your writing

It’s that time again, the first Monday of the month when I answer your writing questions here. Suggestions from other writers are welcome too, so we can share experiences and solutions. This week I’m on tour for Writing Australia, visiting the writers’ centres in Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide with my Power Editing Masterclass, making this a good time to consider how editing can strengthen your work.

With so many writers publishing their own work online, we need editors more than ever. The most common complaint I hear about indie published books is the number of mistakes readers spot, often in the first few paragraphs. This not only turns readers off that book, but very likely anything else the writer has out there.

Every writer, however well established, is too close to the work to be objective about it. We can’t help seeing what we expect to see, reading things like motivation into the writing when it’s still in our heads.  Everything your reader needs to understand your characters and their story must be written in to the manuscript. Which brings me to the first, most crucial editing tip:

1. Step away from the book.

Put the work aside for as long as possible, days or weeks if you can manage it, to restore your objectivity. Missing motivation, repetition, inconsistensies will all jump out at you when you come back to your book with a fresh eye.

2. Say what you mean

In workshops, I’ve had writers bring along a preamble they want to share before reading their work. Your readers won’t have this luxury. Whatever they need to know must be in the book. An editor can soon tell you what’s missing.

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3. Find yourself an editor

If you’re accepted by an established publisher, they will appoint an editor who’ll look at content and structure. Your work will also be copy and line edited to suit the publisher’s style. If you indie publish or are polishing work to submit, you can hire a qualified editor. Start by giving them a sample and obtaining a quote to do more, to be sure you’re on the same wavelength. Find freelance editors via the Australian Publishers’ Association website or the Institute of Professional Editors.

4. Know what to change…and what  not to

Theodore Sturgeon called it “matter vs manner”. Matter is your message, what you want to say with the work. No one should try to change your message, be it ‘love conquers all’ or ‘life’s a bitch and then you die’ or whatever. A good editor will look at “manner” (how you say it) to be sure the reader gets your message as clearly as possible. As an editor told me, “If I’ve missed something, millions of readers will, too.” If your message isn’t clear to your editor, make the changes, no arguments.

5. Read like a reader

This is hard to do and requires all the previous steps. Will the reader understand why your characters act as they do? Will they spot “who dun it?” chapters before they should? An editor can tell you whether you’ve given the reader enough information to understand your story.

Don’t be like the hall of learning which recently produced several thousand student book bags emblazoned with the name, “Missouri Univeristy.”

Do you have questions about editing? Or experiences you’d like to share? Post your comment or question here.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

http://www.valerieparv.com

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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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

Is it okay to write without wanting to be published?

On Facebook this week, online friend Fiona Marsden dropped something of a bombshell.

She posted, “I have made a momentous decision. I’m not going to write for publication.”

When I asked if she would still write for enjoyment, she said, “Oh yes. But I find the whole idea of trying to write something that someone else thinks is publishable is too stressfull. It’s taking the joy out of it. I’ll just write what I like and if it isn’t publishable well too bad.”

To some writers this borders on heresy; to others it makes perfect sense.  I thought it a brave and very sensible decision to make, and has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.  Having only read entries in Fiona’s blog, her posts on Facebook and in the Bat Cave on eHarlequin.com (don’t ask!)  I can’t comment on her creative writing, although her posts suggest she has the proverbial “way with words”.

But there’s a deeper issue at stake here for writers.

Is it okay to enjoy writing, perhaps share your work online, and with family and friends, without seeking publication? In my book, The Idea Factory, I explored the idea of writing for enjoyment, observing that, ” “Painters find it perfectly acceptable to dabble in art and produce unspectacular pictures for their living room walls. Yet for some reason writing isn’t considered acceptable unless it’s for publication.”

Imagine if everyone who enjoyed designing clothes felt their work wasn’t complete until worn by some celebrity on the red carpet? Or if a keen gardener couldn’t sleep at night without medals from the Chelsea Flower Show?

These days it’s fine to publish your own work through the many resources available on line.

With some foresight (Idea Factory was published in 1995), I wrote “You can self-publish. For many years this was a dirty word, but as publishers become what Morris West calls ‘agglomerated’ and mainly interested in potential blockbuster novels, small presses are making a comeback.”

Self-publishing, or indie publishing as it’s known now, can lead to spectacular success. John Grisham’s novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers. It was finally accepted and 5,000 copies printed. Grisham bought 1,000 of them and toured the USA selling them himself. Those books are worth more than $4,000 today if you can find one.

Then there’s Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, by British author E L James. Starting life as Twilight fan-fiction online, the book has now been published, selling over 10 million copies worldwide.

Even if this doesn’t happen to you, it’s fine to decide to enjoy playing with words, putting them together in whatever form takes your fancy, without caring whether they’re published or not.

It’s only recently the word amateur has come to mean  less worthy than professional.

The word itself comes from the Latin amator meaning a lover of something, describing one who does something for the joy of it, rather than for payment. If dealing with real-world or digital publishing takes “the joy out of it” for you, then write for yourself. Share your work where and when you please. Who knows where it will lead?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Proud Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre, Perth 2012

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

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