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First Monday Mentoring May 2017 – how to write while you sleep

Last month I discussed the importance of happiness to your writing. Following that, I was asked why we get some of our best ideas just before sleep or as we’re waking up.

The reason is our state of mind at these times. The floaty time before we fall sleep is called hypnagogic and the time before full awakening is hypnopompic.  These times between sleeping and waking can be rich sources of inspiration.

Writer Robert Louis Stevenson, composer Wolfgang Mozart and scientist Albert Einstein are among the great thinkers who’ve said they produced some of their best ideas during these periods. Writers today can discover the same. The sense of mental and physical relaxation as well as the kinds of brainwaves we produce, may be the magic ingredients.

Alpha and Theta

Measured by an encephalogram, we are known to produce Alpha and theta brainwaves as we sink into sleep, or return to wakefulness. These are the slower brainwave cycles when it’s easier to form new ideas. By practising mental and physical relaxation techniques, you can learn to produce these waves.

Like acquiring any habit, you first use your conscious mind to access the alpha-theta state. Many recorded guides are available to help. You may need to try a few to find one that suits you. I try to do a 30-minute relaxation exercise most days.

When you’re able to achieve a tranquil mood and can sustain it for a little time, you can try using it to solve writing problems or access new ideas.

Drop the problem or question into your mind like a pebble into a pool, then let it go. Don’t try to force ideas to come. Instead, trust your mind to keep working on the problem while you sleep.

Have a notebook or smart phone handy to record whatever comes up at the end of your relaxation period. While the times just before or after sleep are rich sources of inspiration, they’re not good for storing short-term memories. Unless you write your brilliant idea down you’re likely to wake up knowing you had a great idea if only you could remember what it was.

While you rest, information you may not have been aware of gathering can become more accessible. You’re also more likely to experiment with new thought combinations that you might resist if you were fully awake, a process called sleep synthesis.

5 benefits of writing while you sleep:

  1. The times right before and after sleep are rich sources of inspiration not always accessible when we’re wide awake.
  2. Of the four types of measurable brainwaves – alpha, beta, delta and theta – the alpha-theta mix is most connected with ideas and problem solving.
  3. You can teach yourself to produce alpha-theta brainwaves by learning and practising a relaxation technique.
  4. The benefits of these mind states are refreshment, reduced anxiety, creative freedom and better information processing. That’s why when you’re struggling with a writing problem, you may be advised to “sleep on it.”
  5. Keeping a notebook or smart phone by your bedside lets you capture any ideas and thoughts that come to you in alpha-theta meditation. In this state we don’t tend to store memories so you’ll recall having a good idea, but not what it was.

Have you thought of a great idea as you drifted off to sleep, or awoken knowing the answer to a writing problem? I’d love to 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

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,

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 February – What’s the point of writing anything?

Lately I’m hearing this question a lot from writers, both aspiring and multi-published. They say creating a work of entertainment seems pointless in light of the political upheavals all around us, and shared in confronting detail on social media.

They’re questioning the wisdom of billionaire businessmen as romantic heroes when the paradigm is undermined by world leaders and politicians in the real world.

We have been here before. Waking up to the horrors of 9/11 in Canberra Australia, I first thought it was promotion for a movie. Would that it had been. Instead we all had to deal with the awareness that our world would never be the same again.

As terrorism became an escalating threat, I remember discussing with colleagues whether sheikhs could ever be heroes again, right when I had a romance novel called Desert Justice on the drawing board. Sheikhs have long been a romance staple, along with twins, secret babies and characters with amnesia. Readers enjoy these stories, especially when writers put our own twist on the trope.

I concluded that my sheikhs had nothing to do with reality and never had. They were fantasies I shared with readers all over the world. Mine were mostly reformers anyway, to fit my feminist inclinations. So Desert Justice went ahead.

Then there was the Y2K bug, (for Year 2000 bug) when we feared a worldwide computer meltdown because programmers had routinely shortened dates to two digits – 99 instead of 1999 – potentially causing every system in the world to go haywire or crash when the program spun over to 00. Time Magazine’s slightly tongue-in-cheek cover blared, “The end of the world? Y2K insanity. Apocalypse now! Will computers melt down? A guide to Millennium Madness”

time-magazine-cover-jan-18-1999

Tongue in cheek or not, Time’s publishers set up a bunker in their basement, equipped to produce the magazine in the event of catastrophic breakdowns. None of which, as we know now, were needed. The Y2K disaster never happened.

But most such fears have some basis in reality.

Nor do I mean to make light of our fears right now. In Writing in Difficult Times Kristine Kathryn Rusch blogs about her feelings after 9/11 at http://tinyurl.com/hwq5ke5 and says, “Writing didn’t matter when faced with the loss of life and the outpouring of grief. It didn’t matter in the face of the kinds of horrors human beings can impose on each other.

And the irony was, for me, I had been writing a book that I believed did matter, that it was about things people needed to know and see and understand. I felt passionate about the book, until the world changed.

“…And that was when I had my epiphany. I realized that escape is rest. It’s important. It gets us away from the horrors, the terrible things, the stresses and upsetting moments of everyday life.”644244_605309199480761_1647106081_n

I understand her feelings. Writing has never been easy even when you have a reliable publishing path and keen readers. When you have neither, the journey seems endless. But pointless? Never. I’ve been at book signings where my readers say they’ve stockpiled my books to help them through upcoming surgery. Or that something I’ve written has directly changed their thinking in some way, or given them comfort in a time of struggle. How can this not be valuable? In her blog, Kathryn sets out some sensible, doable steps to help deal with whatever crisis you’re facing. If it’s getting out there and applying your skills to help out, do that. If it’s donating money, or raising awareness, do that. It’s OK to give yourself permission not to write while you handle the crisis.

Then, when you’re able, get back to the keyboard and write your truths in your own way, as novels, movie scripts, articles or blogs. When you write from your own inner truth, your words will affect readers in ways you can’t even imagine. That’s a valuable contribution, too.

By making sense of your own world, you help your readers do the same. As long as you keep writing.

How are you dealing with the world today? Has it affected your writing? Comments are moderated to avoid spam but  appear right away for subscribers, or after you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is OUT NOW,

3 books complete in one volume for summer reading

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

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

First Monday Mentoring January – 5 things smart writers won’t take into 2017

 

Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring for January 2017. Not too many people are sorry to see 2016 over, as it came with more than its share of tragedy and loss. But focusing on loss is a good way to encourage more of the same. Better to focus on what we do want in the coming year, rather than what we don’t.

Anita in Honolulu with the cocktail that inspired our joint writing project

Anita in Honolulu with the cocktail that inspired our joint writing project

I hope as writers you have exciting plans for the year ahead, and lists of goals you’d like to achieve. I suggest breaking them down into bite size pieces so you can cross off small steps rather than have to wait to cross off one big step. For example, “write a book” is a giant step. A better approach is to list “start a new book” if you’re at that stage. Or if not, “develop book idea” then “outline book” and so on. “Write X words every day” is a good choice. Whether you choose 50 words or 500 matters less than having a measurable number you want to complete every working day.

My big goal for 2017 is writing a novel in collaboration with the much-loved writer, Anita Heiss. Neither of us has written a book with two voices, and we spent a few days in December brainstorming content and how the project would work. In line with the small steps advice, we plan to complete a partial for our agents to shop around, then work with two key characters each, the story alternating between them. Excited? You bet. I’ve already met my goal of writing the first 500 words by New Years Eve. Did another chunk to celebrate New Year’s Day. We’ll tweet and Facebook as we go along.

Anita and I after our brainstorming getaway

Anita and I after our brainstorming getaway

Check out Anita’s blog on the project  https://anitaheiss.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/52-weeks-of-gratefulness-week-50-working-with-the-best/

Now for 5 things smart writers won’t take into 2017:

1 – A cookie-cutter story. Whatever genre you write in, push yourself to write something special, unique to your voice and interests.

2 – Lack of respect for your readers. You need to bring your A-game to whatever you write. Every story is worthy of your best work, for yourself and your readers.

3 – A blasé attitude toward craft. Even if you indie publish your own work, make sure you hire a good editor, cover designer and whatever else you need to put your best work forward. Trad pubbed authors also need to address these concerns in conjunction with your agent and publisher. Never stop learning and developing.

4 – Lack of faith in yourself. Over many years I’ve found that insecurity is a hallmark of every successful writer. Even New York Times’ Bestselling authors feel unsure if they’ve achieved what they wanted for their books. Rather than letting their fears beat them, they push themselves to do better with everything they write, and so can you.

5 – Buying into the gloom and doom. As I said above, it’s better to aim for your highest goals rather than run away from what you don’t want. Writing a book is tough enough without dragging along the baggage of bad news, political angst and fear of the future. What will be will be. If you have to, watch or listen to less news, and focus on the good in your life. Bring that to your writing and I guarantee you’ll see a difference.

Share your thoughts in the comment box below. Comments are moderated to avoid spam but  appear right away for subscribers, or after you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Thanks for your support. Have a happy and creative New Year!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is OUT NOW,

3 books complete in one volume for summer reading

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

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

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring December 2016 – a writer’s 12 (auto-corrected) Days of Christmas

On the 1st Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

A voice app to write my story.

On the 2nd Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Two purple loves, and a voice app to write my story.

On the 3rd Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Three French men, two purple loves,

And a voice app to write my story.

On 4th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me

Four balding Sirs,

Three French men, two purple loves,

And a voice app to write my story.

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On the 5th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, three French men, two purple loves,

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 6th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Six priests for laying, five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, Three French men,

Two purple loves,

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 7th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Seven swains a-drinking, six priests for laying,

Five bold young things, four balding Sirs,

Three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 8th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Eight maids a-willing, seven swains a-drinking,

Six priests for laying, Five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 9th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Nine shady answers, eight maids a-willing,

Seven swains a-drinking, six priests for laying,

Five bold young things, four balding Sirs,

Three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 10th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Ten auto-corrections, nine shady answers,

Eight maids a-willing, seven swains a-drinking,

Six priests for laying, five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

409734_298928983485799_198200690225296_921464_1952604955_n

On the 11th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

Eleven vipers typing, ten auto-corrections,

Nine shady answers, eight maids a-willing,

Seven swains a-drinking, six priests for laying,

Five bold young things, four balding Sirs,

Three French men, two purple loves

And a voice app to write my story.

On the 12th Day of Christmas my agent sent to me,

12 nervous breakdowns, eleven vipers typing,

Ten auto-corrections,  nine shady answers,

Eight maids a-willing, seven swains a-drinking,

Six priests for laying, five bold young things,

Four balding Sirs, three French men,

Two purple loves,

And a voice app deleted with glee.

As a writer, what gift would you most like for Christmas? Hopefully not this app. Have you suffered from the dreaded “auto-correct?” I love sharing your thoughts here. Comments are moderated to avoid spam but appear right away for subscribers, or after you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Thanks for your support. Have a safe and creative holiday season, and the happiest of new ears…er…years.

Valerie

valerie-parv-outback-code-dec-16

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is OUT NOW, from Harlequin MIRA, 3 books complete in one volume for Christmas giving

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

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

First Monday Mentoring November 2016 – five ways to start writing when you’d rather watch paint dry

Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring when we discuss aspects of writing not normally talked about.

For instance, the art of watching paint dry. I’m doing it a lot lately, not literally, but in the sense of not wanting to sit down at my desk and write actual words. After being published for four decades, and ninety books, this is a strange experience.

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I’ve found all manner of things to fill the time, from reading to giving my home a spring makeover. Watching too many real estate and renovating programs may make one thing springboard off another. I also wonder, is this how people fill their time when they don’t have stories and characters chattering away in their heads?

After a while you start to wonder if the muse has deserted you for good. Not that I’m a big fan of the muse, believing that professional writers write, inspired or not. Over many years, when I’ve been unable to conjure up the exact words I want, I’ve given myself permission to write any old how, telling myself it will be edited later.

This process has never failed me – until now. But as with everything to do with writing, there are no absolutes. The process of writing is what spy thriller writer, Len Deighton, called “a muddled system of trial and error.” He said the hardest lesson to learn is that thousands of words must be written and then discarded or rewritten before the “keepers” emerge.

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Deighton said he softened the blow by keeping his early drafts for months before throwing them away. If nothing else, this gave him the objectivity which is mostly lacking when confronting our freshly written drafts.

Writers trip ourselves up in dozens of ways. The most common, fear of failure, can lead to making sure we have no time to write that best seller. Spring makeover, anyone? Social media, while being a useful promotional tool, can feel as if we’re writing, without contributing a single word to a manuscript.

So here are five ways to stop yourself watching paint drying – or real estate programs.

  1. Find your best writing time and protect it ferociously

The time needn’t be from nine to five, unless it suits you. If you are most productive in the early hours or late into the night, keep these times free from distraction and interruption.

  1. Have your own writing place

Even if it’s only a corner of a room, or in your car, having that space and associating it with writing can be a powerful tool.

  1. Develop a writing habit

Victor Pineiro, blogged here http://tinyurl.com/zym8cq4 about writing his first novel by working on a laptop during his hour-long train trip to work. He says, “The key was not getting angry at myself for writing pure garbage some days. This was just an experiment — nothing to lose. As you’ve read dozens of times, once you do something for thirty days it becomes habit .” Once his laptop was open, he says, he felt obligated to write and it slowly became a habit.

  1. Use the small chunks of time

Like Pineiro, you can write while commuting; dictate story notes on your hands-free phone as you drive; plot the next step in your book while awaiting an appointment; or read reference material online while the kids play sport. This frees up your writing time to generate actual words.

  1. Write for yourself at first

I’ve blogged here about the critic over your shoulder, the inner voice insisting you can’t write so why bother? Somehow we have to overcome the critic and write anyway. Writing for yourself alone, and not letting anyone see your work until you’re ready, often helps. You can also do what Kate Grenville told me she does – put a sign over your desk, reminding yourself, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.”

What every writer's conscience should look like

What every writer’s conscience should look like

Now all I have to do is take my own advice. Right after I check out this Tiny House makeover.

Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click 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

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is available from Harlequin from November 21  

outback-code-21-nov-2017

 

 

First Monday Mentoring August 2016 – What writing gifts will you share with your readers?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and look at the realities of being a writer.

This month’s blog was inspired by two things – meeting a new baby in my adopted family, and some exciting reprints of my books. How do they go together? Well, the books are my babies, the legacy I’ll leave to the future, not least through the ongoing collection of my literary papers by the State Library of New South Wales.

Amelia baby 2

Meeting my gorgeous new rent-a-grandkid

Seeing my older books reprinted and in new languages – the latest being Chinese and Lithuanian  – tell me my stories still resonate with readers decades on. What will your books leave? Will you have written them or kept them in your mind or computer, unshared, all that inspiration lost forever? Because make no mistake, when you write, you inspire others. You show them how the world might be instead of how it truly is.

Given how bad things are in parts of the world right now, any shred of inspiration is badly needed. Despite being so often belittled, romance novels play a key role. My first, Love’s Greatest Gamble (1982), dealt with the aftermath of a family member having PTSD. It wasn’t known by that name then and the effects even less understood. You came back from a war and got on with it, burying your struggles in alcohol or – in the case of my heroine’s late husband – gambling. She was left to deal with the fallout and the huge debts left to a powerful man.

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My novels have also dealt with miscarriage, adoption, self-image, eating disorders, and a very current issue, domestic violence. The book, Man Shy, was challenging to write while keeping  a balance between the issue and the love story. At one point, I almost gave up but my editor encouraged me to continue, and the book has been reprinted in any number of languages.

If you want to write about  a serious problem, you must take it seriously. Before writing about the heroine’s miscarriage, I researched widely and interviewed  friends who’d had the experience, in order to deal respectfully with what – to the mother – is the loss of their child. No trite dismissals or assurances it was “for the best” and “you can always have another.” One of my friends remembered her son’s would-have-been birthday for the rest of her life.

Another favourite is Man and Wife, where the heroine is a corporate maven ridiculed in the media for her clothing choices. No man goes through this. Furious, my heroine hired a man to be her “wife” and give her the same domestic back-up most businessmen enjoy. This connected with readers on so many levels, most telling me they needed a wife themselves. That he turned out to be her industrial rival made the story more fun, but the undercurrent of gender inequality in the corporate world lingers today. Man and Wife came out in 1984.

I’ve been published in book form for 40 years. One of my personal inspirations, Star Trek, debuted on American television 50 years ago this month. Why has that show endured when so many others have vanished without trace? Again, I believe it’s the inspiration the show provided. Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, one of my writing mentors, dared to explore racial equality, gender roles, the morality of war, and many other issues – all in the guise of a science fiction show. The pre-CGI effects, cardboard sets and rubber-suited monsters were the best that 1960s television could do. But it was the careful thought behind the scripts (not all, but a significant number) that has kept the show relevant for half a century.

 

Every writer is asked where we get ideas. It occurs to me now that they may be asking about the substance behind the boy-meets-girl story. On August 9, I’ll explore this question via a Masterclass at the Canberra Writers’ Centre on how to blend our real-life experiences with fiction.  Click here for details. Only on writing this blog, do I see I’ve been doing this my whole career. My own struggles with weight, constantly moving house and being the new kid on the block and the like, form a subtext to much of my fiction.

My beacons science-fiction series published earlier this year by Momentum (Pan Macmillan) are new-kid-on-the block stories, except in the guise of aliens with strange powers, living among us. I didn’t set out to write that issue and only see it now, with hindsight. As it should be. Using stories to bludgeon readers over the head with issues doesn’t work. Instead, you take real people as your characters, figure out what they’re struggling with in their lives, and write that story. How they overcome their struggles is your plot, the inspiration being a by-product of their journey. The readers will “get it” as mine have for the last 40 years. As Star Trek fans like me have been “getting it” for 50 years.

Beacon Starfound3

What of yourself do you or will you give to your readers? I believe it’s why we need to tell stories, and why readers soak them up. We all need inspiration. If it’s not out there, maybe it’s inside you, waiting to be shared.

What do you think? What books have inspired you? What do you want to share? Your thoughts are welcome in the comment box 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.

Happy writing and inspiring others,

Valerie

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

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)

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)

 

 

 

 

 

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
via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)
Google Play (All devices except Kindle)
iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)
Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

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