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Posts tagged ‘Valerie Parv Award’

First Monday Mentoring May 2020 – what you CAN write during the crisis…and a challenge

Last month I looked at why many writers are finding it hard to write during the Covid-19 crisis, even if you have more time at home than ever.

One meme going round the Internet says:

I was going to write my novel when I have time.

Now I realise the problem wasn’t the time.

Instead we’re fitting in an orgy of bread making, cooking, crafting, and organising our homes. The clue may be under our noses. All these activities are largely governed by our left brains, the areas of logic, reason, order, judgement and the like. The right brain deals largely with creativity, possibility, daydreams and fantasies.

Rather than physical divisions, right and left brains are now regarded more as groups of function located in different parts of the brain, called on in various combinations according to the task at hand.

It may help to imagine your left brain being in charge of facts, while the right deals with fantasy. For us to feel comfortable our left brains prefer “everything in its place”. At present, few of us are in familiar territory. Even at home we may be working remotely, overseeing children’s lessons, worrying about family and friends. Sometimes it’s hard even to remember what day it is. With much of our world in crisis, the left brain tries hard to stay in charge, making it easier to cook, sew and organise, than to access the creative zone needed for writing.

 

The problem can be unrelieved stress which impacts health in everything from disturbed sleep to major illness. Feeling uncertain and out of control much of the time compounds the problem. Getting accurate information without overwhelming yourself can help manage stress levels.

Some writers can work anywhere, taking their creative space with them in the form of favorite pens, laptops, or whatever else their left brains need. Used often enough, they can reassure the left brain that it’s safe to relax, allowing the right brain to do its thing.

If you write full time, working from home may be slightly less difficult, but having the family around all the time, and your attention pulled a dozen different ways, can still be a strain. So how do you get your left brain into its happy place and out of the way of your creative right bran? Here are five suggestions.

  • Set up your writing place. If your desk has been taken over by children studying at home, find another quiet spot to set up your writing device, favourite stationery, coffee mug and project notes.  Until the new space feels familiar, aim to tackle left-brain tasks such as outlining a story, developing characters or writing cover blurb. Set up a small whiteboard and coloured markers, file cards, a program such as Scrivener, whatever works for you.
  • Set realistic goals and word counts, even if they’re below what you can usually achieve. My mantra is, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.”
  • Try to go to your writing place at a similar time each day. Sit there staring at the screen even if nothing comes. Set a timer for how long you’ll stay put. Your right brain is soon bored. Write a few words in the general direction of your project and you may find your right brain getting the message.
  • Use rituals to encourage a creative mindset. Favorite music, scented candles, even a few games of Solitaire may help. Set a time for the rituals to end and the writing to begin. Interviewing a character can help. Ask them who they are and what they’re doing in your story. Write stream of consciousness. Keep going, asking the character questions until they start to answer back. I suggested this process to the current holder of the Valerie Parv Award. She tried it and emailed back, “OMG this is amazing. You’ve just taught me automatic writing.”
  • Be grateful for whatever progress you make, and tell yourself you look forward to your next creative session. Then reward yourself with something enjoyable; gardening, cooking, sorting through old photos or playing with pets. These let your right brain mull over what came from your previous session. If you find this happening, grab your phone or notebook and capture whatever comes. Ideas can be easily lost if not noted down.
  • Be kind to yourself and appreciate whatever you manage to achieve. Write whatever you can, wherever you can. Keeping up your writing practice will stand you in good stead when you’re able to get back to it on a more regular basis. Remember not to compare yourself to others for, as the Desiderata says, always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself. And remember Plato’s advice – life must be lived as play.

English actor, Jacob Scipio (Bad Boys for Life) is stuck at home in London. In an interview with journalist, Duncan Lay (Sunday Telegraph, May 3, 2020), Scipio said, “ I try to write every day and I‘ve been writing more in quarantine. What’s helped me is a bit of routine, cocooning myself and trying to find some enjoyment in this time.”

Usually I suggest adding your thoughts in the space below. This time, I invite you to contribute a few words of actual writing. Using some of the suggestions here, create a title for your new story, briefly describe a character, or write a grabby opening sentence, and share the result in the comment space. Or use the challenges when you’re in your own writing space, and let us know how you did.

Let’s make some new words happen.

Happy writing,

Valerie

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of 90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring April 2020 – What to do if you can’t write during the Covid-19 crisis

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring in a very troubling time. I had already drafted a column about the importance of “build” in a story – the craft of gradually lifting the story to almost unbearable levels as readers wonder if/how things will work out. But I decided that information will keep for another blog.

Instead, I’m sharing some outstanding advice for the times from bestselling author, Chuck Wendig. If you’re struggling to write, or craft, or art or simply get up and face the day, this is for all of us.

I’ve been a full time writer since before I knew what a writer was. My words have been my living through 90 published books, film scripts, newspaper columns, articles, short stories, magazine serials, speeches and masterclasses. You name it, I’ve written it. Having months ahead when we can only venture out for essentials should be my nirvana.

On my desk are ideas for a new Carramer royal romance, and a film script I want to turn into a novel. Yet I’ve written not one useful word. It’s as if my brain has forgotten how to do something that should be as normal for me as breathing. Not under the present crisis.

Yesterday I went to the supermarket for a few essentials. Chocolate is so too an essential. By the time I got back to my car I was terrified, feeling more scared than I’ve felt addressing an audience of two thousand people. I couldn’t wait to be “safe” in my writing cave. I had no reason to be scared. The store was quiet. Everything was sanitised. Yet the fear was real and left me feeling shaken and useless.

Then into my inbox dropped a blog from Chuck Wendig. Here’s what I wanted to share of his wise words:

“It’s hard to concentrate when everything is so strange, so broken, so dangerous. It’s like being told to paint a masterpiece while on a turbulent flight. It’s just not the time.

And so, I want you to know, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be somehow a better, more productive person in this time. You can be! If you are, more power to you. That doesn’t make you a monster. But if you’re finding yourself unable to concentrate, that’s to be expected. That is normal. Normal is feeling abnormal in response to abnormality.

You must be kind to yourself and to others when it comes to what we think people can and should be able to accomplish during this time. Ten million people are out of work, suddenly. People are sick and dying. The thing we crave at a base level, human interaction, is suddenly fraught and fragile. Hell, everything is fraught and fragile. We’re only realizing now that it was fragile all this time.

None of this is normal. You don’t have to feel shamed into forcing normalcy as a response.

So what, then, is the answer?

There really isn’t one. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing. No therapy regimen, no best practices. Best I can tell you, and this should be taken with a grain of salt so big you’d have to chip away at it with a pick ax, is that you try your best. And when you fall well short of that, you instantly, and intimately, recognize why. And you forgive yourself, and you forgive the rest of the world for also falling short (“rest of the world” does not include politicians or billionaires, by the way) and you try again.

And it’s okay if you can’t focus on writing, or reading a book, or planting a garden, or patching drywall, or whatever. Find a different thing. Keep busy when you must, but also don’t be afraid to sit with how you’re feeling and accept it. Accept it unconditionally. Accept your anger and sadness, accept your delirium, allow yourself the time to drift and to fail. Also accept any joy you feel, and do so without guilt. Joy is hard-won, and if you manage that victory, there’s no shame in that. Take the victory lap. We will have to hunt joy like an elusive beast across the wasteland.

If you capture it, celebrate.

I think most of all, don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Now, maybe more than ever, don’t compare yourself to others. Everybody’s not only trapped in their houses, but also trapped in their own maelstrom of emotions, too. Let that be true. You can talk it out. You can share how you’re feeling. But don’t compare in a way that punishes you, or that paints your own feelings as a transgression.

This is all very new to us.

Normal is gone. There will be a new normal. We’ll get there. We’ll get through this. But things will change and that’s going to be okay. Maybe better than okay. Maybe we’ll come out better in the end. But we don’t have to be better now, we don’t have time to be better overnight. This isn’t work-from-home. This isn’t your time to shine. This isn’t time to be productive. If you are, embrace it. If you’re not, forgive it. Do what you can do. Be safe.”

Read more at Chuck’s http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2020/04/02/none-of-this-is-normal/ As ever I add a language alert. Chuck has …ahem…an interesting way with language.

If writing is what you can do, great. If not, do what you can. Ask a question or share your thoughts in the box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on Sign Me Up at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Stay well.

Valerie

The 2020 Valerie Parv Award is now open April 6 to 26. Details at

htpps://romanceaustralia.com/contests-overview/Valerie-parv-award

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of 90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

2018-19 Valerie Parv Award minion Stella Quinn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy (and joyful) writing,

Valerie

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

Valerie and her agent, Linda Tate are

presenting at Romance Writers of Australia’s

National Conference Sun 11 August 1-2pm

http://tinyurl.com/y52tghw4

 

First Monday Mentoring June 2019 – why most writing advice you’re given is wrong

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I drill down into the reality of being a writer This month’s question comes from a new writer. Confused by the conflicting information available, he asked what writing advice he should take.

First let’s look at a fraction of what’s out there. Start with character. Start with plot. Start with a brilliant idea. Don’t kill the cat. Write from the heart. Show don’t tell. Write what you know. Write what you can imagine.

Write five hundred words every day. Or a thousand. Or five thousand. Don’t preach to readers. Write a morality tale disguised. Start with a theme. Discover your theme as you write. Use the hero’s journey, bullet points, clustering, brainstorming or whatever else is on trend.

The truth is, they are all wrong for some writers. They are also totally right for some writers. The only way to know is to try them. And even that is moot. According to Yoda, the wizened green sage from Star Wars, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

Of course Yoda never said that. He’s a made-up character (spoiler, sorry).Yoda’s wisdom comes from Star Wars creator, George Lucas and screenwriter. Lawrence Kasdan, although Kasdan was credited with that specific line here http://tinyurl.com/y2rr94co. Given the years they put into the writing, I wonder if Lucas or Kasdan would still say there is no try, even though it’s quoted everywhere.

More interesting to me is Kasdan’s observation from the same interview:

“I’ve always felt that genre is a vessel into which you put your story…”If you want to make a western, you can tell any story in the world in a western, you know? It can be about family, betrayal, revenge, the opening up of the country…Those stories never get old, because they are issues everybody faces every day. Who do you trust? What are the temptations in your life?

Even when you get to be my age, you’re still trying to figure that out…  What am I, what am I about, have [I] fulfilled my potential, and, if not, is there still time? That’s what the Star Wars saga is about.”

If you were free to choose the vessel that fits your work best, would some of the writing advice suddenly make sense? Could your story work best in the “vessel” of a romance, a fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, historical?

To me writing has always been a mix of good ideas, good writing and good timing. How many great books were rejected then published to huge acclaim when the market was ready?

When I mentor each year’s winner of the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia, I give what guidance I can then advise the writer to use what they like of my suggestions and discard the rest. To me the author is always the final arbiter of their own work even if the market needs time to catch up.

Then, like Lawrence Kasdan’s comments, there’s advice that make so much sense, it becomes a meme on social media. One such is Nora Roberts’s maxim that you can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank page. In other words, write something, anything. Most writing is rewriting anyway. You write what Nora calls a “dirty draft” you can trim, add and edit to reach a semblance of your story vision.

Accept that there’s no such thing as a perfect story. Humans are by nature imperfect. How can our stories be any different? I’ll leave you with two quotes from acclaimed Chilean writer, the late Isabel Allende –

–          Don’t be paralysed by the idea that you’re writing a book. Just write.

–          Show up and be patient. I can hit my head against the wall because [the writing’s] not happening. But just keep   going. Keep going and it happens.

How do you keep the writing going? What advice speaks to you? Share your thoughts in the box below. I moderate comments to avoid spam. Your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Keep writing. Keep writing.

Valerie

www.valerieparv.com

Appearing at Romance Writers of Australia’s

National Conference Sun 11 August 1-2pm

With my agent Linda Tate we’re presenting

Getting back the joy of writing”

http://tinyurl.com/y52tghw4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yes, we also have multiple personalities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valerie

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

Details:Valerie Parv Award 2019

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

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

 

 

First Monday Mentoring Sept 2018 – where to now for writing conferences?

I’m not long back from Romance Writers of Australia’s national conference in Sydney, having had a great time networking with publishers, editors and writers in all fields and all levels of experience.

In line with last month’s blog on staying open to new learning, I sat in on as many panels and workshops as possible, and spoke at two events. But it was undoubtedly the casual meetings with other writers that were the most informative. Many writers I spoke with were indie published or looking into the possibility; others were concerned at the disruption we’re seeing in traditional publishing. Traditional publishing houses are closing or amalgamating with others, resulting in fewer books being bought for less and less money. Where these publishers have digital-first lines, no advance (the amount paid to an author before their books are published)  is becoming the standard.

There’s also evidence that bestselling books are staying on lists such as New York Times for ever-shorter periods. A book that might have topped the list for sixteen weeks a few years ago can look forward to three weeks or fewer today. This reflects how the industry is changing, with thousands of indie-published books competing for attention, plus the effects of media fragmentation, audiobooks, social media, games and internet streaming gobbling up our limited free time.

A highlight for me was presenting the annual Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia. Regardless of where and how the winner chooses to be published, I find mentoring the winner a unique and special privilege.

The 2018 winner of the Valerie Parv Award, Stella Quinn, accepts her prize

The conference I attended was down on numbers for the first time in many years. With writers striking out in so many new directions,  how does a conference satisfy them all, particularly when a lot of how-to-write content is available online, much of it for free?

Enjoyable as it may be to spend a few days in a posh hotel, networking with friends and colleagues, it’s worth asking  whether attendance is becoming a luxury. As it is, writers increasingly struggle to write while holding down a day job that pays the bills. Many of my friends brought writing or editing work to conference to do between events.

I heard both traditional and self-published authors admit to being pressured by their followers to write more books in less time. No wonder spelling and grammar is becoming so unreliable.

So what’s the upside? Firstly there’s more information sharing than I’ve ever seen before. Where once publishing contracts such as terms and advances were largely confidential, today the details are far more widely disseminated. At the conference I had the pleasure of participating in a “Legends” panel where a group of established authors shared our career insights with the audience.

Authors are sharing their experiences of working with editors, while indies are helping others navigate the hazardous waters of self-publishing. And the best upside of all – books will survive. Perhaps not in the form we’ve known them up till now, but in audio, ebook, heck even holographic form. Interactive game formats suggest readers may “step into” a novel before much longer, “putting on” a character and living the story.

How do you see the future of your writing? What have you, or will you, experiment with? How has it worked for you?  Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course,

www.valerieparv.com/course.html

Sign up for Valerie’s next workshop:  Saturday 27 October 2018

At Canberra Writers Centre

Romance Writing Rebooted

Details and bookings – http://tinyurl.com/ycwbutst

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring Dec 2017 – writing needs the gift of time

We’re all time poor. What free time we once had is now eaten up by social media, online activities and binge-watching TV series. Admittedly these are choices we make, but so much of life is lived digitally now that even restricting yourself won’t free up a great deal more time.

Yet as writers, we need time to think, to play with ideas – what if my character does this or that? As I say in The Art of Romance Writing, writers are working when we’re staring out of windows.

Last week someone posted on Facebook that writers “must write every day.” Past Valerie Parv Award winner, Erica Hayes, bounced back with, “Write when you can. We’re not in prison.”

I agree. Having made a living with words since my twenties, I know life doesn’t let you write every day and you’re not a failure if you don’t.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) finished last week. Now international, NaNoWriMo considers you a “winner” if you produce 50,000 words during November.

The worldwide success of NaNoWriMo shows that the challenge suits many writers. For others like me, it’s their idea of a nightmare. No surprises here. In a high school English class we were assigned to write a story on a set topic during the period. Most students immediately launched themselves into writing while I stared into space, dreaming up my story content.

Ten minutes from the end of the class I started writing. By then I knew who my characters were and what they were all about. I couldn’t have started writing any sooner. I still can’t. I started out as what’s called a plotter, the opposite of a pantser, writers who start putting words down before they know where they’re going. Over time and some 90 books I’ve morphed into a combination of both, plotting a little less and writing sooner while trusting my characters to help me fill in the gaps.

I still need thinking time.

A trip to America a month ago was not supposed to be work. On every flight card under “purpose of travel” I happily ticked vacation. My muse had other ideas.

In Honolulu, I soon found myself up early at the desk in my hotel room, scribbling many pages of notes for a new novel. A few pages in, I glanced out the window to the Royal Hawai’ian Hotel and Waikiki Beach beyond. Even they couldn’t distract me from the story unfolding in my mind. It’s still revealing itself to me as I write this blog back in Oz.

Yet if someone had told me I must write every day of that vacation, I doubt my muse would have co-operated. Even muses need to get out and play sometimes. Last month I wrote about filling the creative well, exposing yourself to new experiences. In Hawai’i I realised  that’s what I’d been doing in Houston.

While I laughed, talked my head off and explored with my BFFs Sherry and Laura, my muse was soaking up new input. None of it was related to the new book, and yet it was. Had I not given my brain time out to admire astronauts and butterflies, my muse may not have connected the mental dots that led to the new idea.

And when all the note taking and scribbling was done, Waikiki was still waiting.

How do you treat your muse – as a mouse on a treadmill, or a fragile resource? Do ideas come to you when you think you’re goofing off? Please share your thoughts in the box below. It’s 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.

Have a happy festive season however you traditionally celebrate, and enjoy your writing in the year ahead.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

I am honoured to be appointed

Australia Day Ambassador 2017

to the Gundagai NSW community

First Monday Mentoring Sept 2017 – are you the next Valerie Parv Award writing winner

The Romance Writers of Australia national conference is done for another year, and with it the crowning of the latest Valerie Parv Award winner for 2017. She is Joanna Nell whose entry, The Unmentionables, deals with life and love in later years. I’ll be mentoring Joanna during the year of her award.

Joanna is the newest of my minions – the name past winners chose for themselves. They keep in touch, share their achievements, and we hold our annual Minions’ Breakfast at conference each year. Tiaras are worn and Joanna received hers at the RWA annual conference in Brisbane recently.

Judging and presenting this award is an exciting challenge and an honour. Thanks Romance Writers of Australia and Romance Writers of America’s former Australian Chapter where the award began.

As I read the short list I am very aware of the commitment behind every one. I know it’s a cliché but I see every finalist as a winner. You’ve shown you can write a book to suit your chosen market, and you’ve met the contest deadline.

Reaching the finals means your work has something special. I write an appraisal of every final entry to encourage you to keep striving. Minion achievements include everything from RWA’s Romantic Book of the year, to Romance Writers of America RITA awards for published books, and Golden Heart for unpublished. Minions regularly grace the Australian Romance Readers Awards , the USA Today and other bestseller lists and in one case, get reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Congratulations to JOANNA NELL (left)
Valerie Parv Award Winner for 2017

Winners’ books are published by all the major publishing houses here and internationally and their readers number in the millions. You can see who they are on the VPA Hall of Fame at www.valerieparv.com/vpa.html

Entries needn’t be exclusively romance. This year’s finalists included a Regency-set historical with a heroine posing as a pirate; my first-ever heroine specialising in dung-beetle reproduction; a beautifully-handled disabled heroine; a runaway bride and a reunion romance with a cranky heroine. Plus of course, Joanna Nell’s topical romance in later years.

So how do you become the next VPA minion? I take four aspects into account.

  1. You need to write from the heart

Every highly placed entry over the last 18 years has been a labour of love – and it shows. The writer has written a story s/he’s passionate about and can’t wait to share with readers. They aren’t always perfectly written, but they have compelling characters we care about from the beginning.

  1. You need a touch of originality

You don’t have to break the mould with a defrocked nun or a Playboy model character, although we have had a cross-dressing Regency hero, a gnome kidnapping conspiracy, and fairies on crack among past winners. If two entries vie for the top prize, I tend to favour the more original. Yes, there are conventions in every genre, such as the happy-ever-after in romance and the dead body in a mystery, but there should be something that transcends genre, giving us story we haven’t read before.

  1. You need to be a storyteller

I don’t use a score sheet to judge the final entries. I’m more interested in whether you give me a strong opening, a story that comes to life right away, and people I can care about and want to see succeed against the odds. I’m happy to read in any setting or time period and will forgive a few mistakes as long as you tell a gripping story. This doesn’t mean ignoring grammar or spelling, but they can be fixed. It’s far harder to fix a lifeless story.

  1. You know where you want the book to go

The winner can pick my brains, share questions and concerns, and have me critique work as we go along. I read with an editorial eye, helping the author to spot issues they may have missed through being too close to the work. The one thing I don’t do is alter the author’s voice. Ultimately, this is your story told in your unique way.

Finally there’s the X-Factor. Call it natural talent, star quality or the X-factor, it’s the extra something readers recognise as soon as they see it. The moment I start reading I know when the writer’s voice has the power to lift the hairs on the back of my neck. The book may not be the one I want to choose as the winner, but the choice will be inescapable.

Does your story have these qualities? The Valerie Parv Award 2018 opens on April 9 and closes on April 30, 2017. Details at http://tinyurl.com/y74gar78  Have you entered previously, or plan to next year? Share your thoughts 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

STORY MAGIC WORKSHOP, TOWNSVILLE

Valerie will present her Story Magic Workshop in Townsville, Queensland
on Saturday October 7
Valerie will also attend a Romantic High Tea on Sunday, October 8
Contact the
Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s 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

First Monday Mentoring March – 3 ways to get your writing mojo back

This week I was reading Marie Claire magazine, the subscription a generous gift from my agent, Linda Tate. She was skiing in Vail while I slaved over a hot manuscript – literally, it was 44 degrees C in my town – so a touch of conscience? Whatever, it’s a lovely gift that keeps on giving.

One article in the April issue caught my eye: The Confidence Game by Melissa Gaudron. She talks about being overwhelmed, over-scheduled and out of control – feelings shared by many writers. If published you’re working on deadlines, reading proofs, promoting on social media, and planning future projects. Unpublished writers have the added pressure of finding homes for your books, whether with trad pubs or indie.

Nagging yourself, even when your conscience looks like this, doesn't help

Nagging yourself, even when your conscience looks like this, doesn’t help

This quote jumped out at me from life strategist, Shannah Kennedy, “No-one forgets to charge their phone every night, but we’ve forgotten how to recharge our own batteries.”

Many writers I know struggle to cope with a family and a day job, as well as produce new words and keep up with the demands of a writing career.

Some have given up, putting their writing on hold perhaps indefinitely, while they handle everything else. This is a sad state of affairs. In my experience, writers are born to tell stories. Having them in your head and never giving them voice is like cutting off a part of yourself. Yet I understand the temptation.

I’ve often wondered what non-writers do with all that spare time. Even watching TV or a movie would lose some appeal if I couldn’t second-guess the writer, try to spot the foreshadowed plot points, or mentally rewrite the ending more to my liking.

What would I think about in bank and supermarket queues, in waiting rooms or on long flights?

As Shannah Kennedy says, “How can [you] back [yourself] for a promotion or a major work decision, or to make a career change, when [you] have lost who [you] are and what [you] want from life?” Substitute “writing” for work or career, and you have the dilemma facing many writers today.

Have you lost the joy that writing used to be? Has it become another chore on a never-ending to-do list? How do you recharge your personal batteries each day? Here are three ways I recharge mine. You don’t have to use the same ones, but try to think of at least three ways to suit your own needs.

1 – try something different

If you’ve been writing murder mysteries, would you enjoy trying a new genre – science fiction, say, or romance. Or family history. Write exactly what you feel like writing without thinking how it might fit a market. Some of the most successful novels have been those where the writer had no expectations beyond the work itself. 50 Shades of Grey, anyone? My latest project is a book co-written with Dr. Anita Heiss. Neither of us has written a novel with another writer before. It’s a huge adventure and we’re loving it. This book is “grip lit”, edgy women’s fiction with a smidgen of time travel all set in Hawai’i. Go figure. Writing with Anita, bouncing ideas around, is a breath of fresh air for us both. Try something new, something you’ve dreamed of writing. Have fun. See where it leads. That’s what we’re doing.

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2 – stop writing

This may seem odd advice when you’re already struggling to get your writing mojo back. But sometimes taking the pressure off can be the best course. Shannah Kennedy says right now we’re in a constant world of comparison – which affects women more than men. Taking time out to do something different is an ideal way to destress. Would you like to craft or paint? Do that. Read War and Peace? Do that. Walk in the park, sit on a beach or meditate in a corner of your garden. Chakra meditation which I’ve done for decades, is a great safety valve. Don’t try to be “perfect” at whatever you choose; do it for the pleasure it brings. Ignoring your writer voice for a while can have it clamouring for your attention. Two late great writers, Morris West and Maeve Binchy both announced their retirement at one point, then went on to produce new work I’m sure even they didn’t know was lurking in their subconscious.

3 – share the journey

Even if you’re a fairly new writer, you can exchange critiques with someone else at the same stage. If you’re farther along, share what you’ve learned with local groups, at conferences and writing centres. I love to teach, generally gaining as much from the group as I give them. On March 25 I’m launching a new workshop called Story Magic at the ACT Writers Centre in Canberra – details here http://tinyurl.com/gwedj7z I put the focus on the “magic” of writing – bringing readers into your fictional world; making them care about your characters, and stay with you to the last page.

I also mentor the winner of the Valerie Parv Award, held in April each year by RW Australia. I’m excited to see which entry will catch my eye. Winners have written everything from supernatural to sci-fi, historical, crime, fantasy and suspense. I work with the winner for a year, chasing their writing dreams. Nearly all the past winners are successfully published.

Do you struggle to balance writing with other life demands? How could you recharge your creative batteries? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re moderated to avoid spam, but comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie

Check out my shiny new website http://www.valerieparv.com

I’m on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

My latest book, Outback Code, is out now.

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

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

First Monday Mentoring October 2016 – Where does money fit into your writing life?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I open this blog to discuss aspects of the writing life we don’t usually get to talk about.

Money is a big one, misunderstood by almost everyone. Either you’re seen as a millionaire or living in genteel poverty in your garret. The truth is usually somewhere in between, and the vast majority of writers have paid their dues  well before hitting the big time if, in fact, they ever do.

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I was moved to discuss the money question after reading an interesting blog by Rita Award-winning writer, Barbara O’Neal at http://tinyurl.com/gwzh6mc

O’Neal’s blog was, in turn, triggered when young writer, Merritt Tierce, penned an essay despairing of being able to make money as a writer. She’d had her first novel published to some acclaim and sold 12,000 hardcover copies, not enough to earn back her unspecified five-figure advance.

Tierce’s essay revealed a problem common among some writers – a sense that they are entitled to live what they see as an author’s life on the strength of one book, sometimes while writing that book. They feel that society owes them support to follow their writing dreams.

As a mentor to emerging writers who win the Valerie Parv Award http://valerieparv.com/award.html set up by Romance Writers of Australia, I had one winner state that by the end of the mentorship she wanted to be living off her writing and keeping her family as well.

In her case it was innocence talking, and by the end of our year together, she’d become more realistic.

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Not long ago I came across a crowd funding site set up by a writer whose publisher had abandoned her series mid-stream. Her goal was sound – finish the series to keep faith with her readers – but she went a step further, asking for money to allow her time to write.

Logically, to finish any book, you need time. Many people write around day jobs, or in whatever time they can scrounge from everyday life. Those same writers resented her sense of entitlement and were so viciously critical that she felt bound to take down the crowd funding site.

From a young age I knew writing was my vocation, but far from feeling entitled , I accepted that funding the dream was up to me. Early on I set up an office where I wrote press releases, a weekly newspaper column, contributions to a gardening encyclopaedia and some twenty non-fiction titles including my now-infamous book on how to do your own plumbing.

Plumbing was never my passion but I delivered the book I’d been contracted to write, because that’s what professionals do. Afterward,  I resolved to find a more fulfilling way to write and still make a living. That’s when I tried my hand at romance novels, eventually writing over fifty titles for Harlequin’s London editors, then for New York and Toronto.

Had I known then that they received some 10,000 submissions of which they accepted about ten, I might have been less eager.  Not that I rushed in, spending months researching their books and market. Only then, I wrote the book I couldn’t find on their lists, and Love’s Greatest Gamble was eventually accepted.

While waiting for Harlequin’s response I kept writing non-fiction including the one I’m most proud of: The Changing Face of Australia, a 200-year environmental study years ahead of its time.

I was doing what O’Neal said she wanted most to tell Tierce, “get back to work. Write another book. Write three. Write ten. Keep writing until you find the next thing.”

This is good advice for any writer. No-one knows which book might be the charm. Bestsellers are made by readers, movie moguls and plain random chance. All we can do is write the stories we feel compelled to share; the work being its own reward. If more comes, wonderful. If not, we’ve honoured our gift.

It’s great to be paid for writing and I know how lucky I am, as well as how hard I’ve worked. As agent and author Donald Maass commented on O’Neal’s blog, “Money? Yeah, well that’s nice to have. But it’s not everything. When people envy writers, it’s not their income that they envy. It’s their freedom.”

To me, that freedom is priceless.

How do you feel about money and writing? Share your questions and comments in the box below. 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.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi  series is OUT NOW

from Momentum/Pan Macmillan

http://momentumbooks.com.au/authors/valerie-parv/

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