Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Posts tagged ‘writing’

First Monday Mentoring Oct 2018 – how lucky we are to be writers

Over the last two First Monday blogs I’ve explored some of the challenges facing writers today. Yes, they are many. Big publishers are amalgamating at a rate of knots. Soon we’ll be down to perhaps three. Rather than taking on new authors, the remaining publishers already prefer to mine their backlists for books they can rely on to sell.

Will we even have a publishing industry any more, or will every person who is so inclined write and publish their own books? This is already happening with Indie publishing. All you need is a manuscript and the money to produce the book yourself or hire qualified people to do the technical stuff for you.

As writers this is our current reality. But there are other aspects to writing that I want to focus on here.  Why we feel driven to share the stories buzzing around in our brains. Why writers who have made significant fortunes – J.K.Rowling, Stephen King, James Paterson and the like – still feel the need to share their stories.

Is it because writers can’t not write?

Maybe we’ll go back to our beginnings. Instead of going into print or ebooks, will we collect followers around whatever passes for a camp fire and revive the oral traditions of storytelling?

Mixed media is very much a thing now. Writers are combining with designers, musicians, painters to bring stories out in very different forms. They are ephemeral but they offer both creator and recipient – is it accurate to call them readers anymore? – the satisfaction of going from Once upon a time, to…and they lived happily ever after.

That may be enough for many storytellers. As a child who thought everybody wrote stories, I printed my own on flimsy paper with illustrations done in pencil. When I was at school in Grenfell NSW I wrote my first book in pencil in an exercise book in response to a class assignment. I may have been the only one in the class who actually produced a book. It was a complete story with a beginning, middle and end and a few very poor illustrations. That book somehow survived the years and now lives among my papers in the State Library of NSW.

Reading it again before sending it to its new home, I was surprised how my writing voice had survived intact. I used a lot of big words I wouldn’t use now, not so much showing off as exploring the sheer joy of language. Back then I’d had no thought of making a living as a writer. I didn’t know what a writer was, and thought everybody made up stories.

Maybe we’ll come full circle back to those innocent times and tell stories for the joy of sharing them. Here are five reasons why we’re lucky to be writers:

  1. We never have a dull moment. Standing in a supermarket line or bank queue, we can free our minds to explore possible stories or solve plot points. Our bodies may be in the doctor’s waiting room, but our minds are away in our invented worlds so that when our turn finally comes, it’s an unwelcome interruption to our thoughts.
  2. Our feelings have somewhere to go. In my indoor bowls group, if they spoil my team’s carefully placed shots, they’re used to being told I will put them in a book and kill them. I haven’t done so yet, but there’s always a first time.
  3. Writers never retire. Even if we develop some physical infirmity, as long as our brains function, we can still write. Stories can be told to someone or recorded via a dictation program or other clever gadget. I dream of the time when I can attach something to my forehead and the words will stream direct onto a screen. Such systems exist for people with disabilities. Properly refined, I’m sure they will serve our purpose in the near future.
  4. Our writing touches other people. This may be the most precious gift of all. We can move people to laughter or tears. We can make them ponder life’s mysteries, or discover invented worlds that become as real to them as to us. Hogwarts, Narnia, Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street, the Star Trek universe, all were born in a writer’s imagination.
  5. What we do is a mystery, even to ourselves. One minute we’re daydreaming, the next we’re scribbling or typing frantically, trying to keep up with our thoughts. We’re often asked where we get ideas, yet none of us really knows. On my wall I have a copy of a Rembrandt painting called The Apostle Matthew Inspired by the Angel. Pen in hand, he sits stroking his beard and staring into space while an angel whispers in his ear. Whispering ideas? It’s as good an answer as we may ever get.

What gives you joy in writing? 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

 

Advertisements

First Monday Mentoring August 2018 – waste not, want not for writers

By now regular readers of this blog get that I believe nothing is ever wasted on a writer – good times and bad, frightening or uplifting – sooner or later they’ll surface in our characters. We won’t always use the details as they happened; in fact, it’s better not to lean too heavily on reality. Instead, take the essence of the experience and embed it in your fictional setting.

This is when fiction works at its best. Not every reader has lost someone close to them, but they all experience loss in some form. The saying that nobody gets out of life alive is true, much as we try to deny it. As long as we allow ourselves to love – a pet, a person, an ideal – we open ourselves to loss.

Staying too close to the reality of your experience can actually push readers away. When instead, you give the power of the emotion you went through to a character, your readers will think, “Yes, this is how it is. This is how loss feels to me.”

Your experiences may have been worlds apart, but the feeling, the intensity, is what you have in common.

In thinking how we can translate our experiences into universal connections for readers, I’m reminded of my mother’s saying, “Waste not, want not.”  Like many of her generation, she meant literal waste of food, or resources. She was telling us that such waste might mean we’d go hungry or in need later. In our world of plenty it seems unlikely, but the phrase stays with me to this day.

Last week I had a vivid reminder of how nothing is wasted on a writer. For more than two decades the State Library of NSW has collected what they call my literary papers. Among them are some childhood writings including the first book I ever wrote in pencil in an exercise book, a scrapbook filled with cuttings from my favourite pop group, The Monkees, and what we now call fan fiction, my stories that continued The Monkees’ adventures after their TV show ended.

These  were discovered last year by Dr Derham Groves while curating an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ tour of Australia. I was delighted to be part of this event and travelled to Melbourne for the launch by Marcie Jones whose group, The Cookies, toured with the Monkees.

Afterward I reflected how my teenage passion for the Monkees could be projected into a character, using current technology and devices. For example, my scrapbook would probably be finessed into a slide show album on a phone. Fanfic may well be posted on one of the many such sites online.

When faced with such a task, you need to go beyond what happened to how you felt and responded. Recreate as many aspects of your feelings as you can. Pay attention to how your body felt and what you did physically in response to the event. Fight or flight responses aren’t the only ways we deal with fear, anger, love and the like. How do you know you’re afraid? Some people run toward their fears, others hide or become angry. What do/did you do? Next time you’re in an emotional situation, stop and ask yourself what’s going on in your mind and body. You’ll have far more resources to use when you want to place a character in emotional turmoil. Waste not, want not.

Now it’s your turn. Are there words of wisdom you remember from childhood? How do you identify emotions you can pass on to your characters? 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

 

Join Valerie for her new workshop:

Romance Writing Rebooted
Canberra Writers Centre

Saturday 27 October 2018

You can also check out Valerie’s online course,

Free The Writer in You

http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring June 2018 – more ways to unblock your writing

Over the last two Monday Mentoring blogs, I’ve explored two sides of the same coin – how do you generate ideas when your mind is blank, and how do you get your muse to show up reliably.

Recently an American Facebook friend and reader of this blog, Marion, said her muse had been MIA for ages, and she was thinking of firing her. Eating chocolate cake was mentioned as an alternative to writing.

I reminded her of the need to be kind to your muse, really your creative inner self. Instead of firing her, I recommended sharing the chocolate cake with Musie, as Marion calls her.

Not a good idea to leave Muse out of the fun

As an aside, I like that she gave Musie an identity, bringing her to life. Another writer calls her muse Rafe, a name that sounds darkly handsome and heroic, the ideal inspiration for a writer of romance novels.

Musie sounds like fun, someone you can hang out and play with – and share chocolate cake. I’m also curious about the name being one letter away from Music because Marion is a talented musician who plays regularly at historical recreation events. Perhaps Musie/Music serves a dual role in Marion’s creative life.

Well, she was smart enough to go with the notion, “sharing” the chocolate cake with Musie. The two of them not only reconnected, but Marion was sufficiently inspired to make progress with her current writing project.

She says Musie still isn’t talking but has hinted that maybe the heroine knows – and can’t stand – the hero because of something that happened in the past. This creates tension and puzzles the hero who is too busy worrying about the safety of his daughter to wonder about the heroine’s concerns. Some of these ideas were already in train when Marion sat down with Musie. But Marion had seen herself as stuck and, as many of us do, blamed the muse for being uncooperative.

 

Muse loves playing games

As a certain sci-fi villain says, resistance is futile. Being tough on your muse is the least likely way to gain their help. Most people including musae* resist being forced to do anything, or else we do it grudgingly and not give it our best.  *Marion tells me this is the plural of muse

If you want your muse – the creative part of your subconscious mind – to deliver exciting and challenging ideas you can work up into stories, it helps to be gentle. A slice of cake doesn’t hurt, either. Here are some more ways you can encourage your muse to cooperate:

Change how you work

If you usually work on a screen, try writing notes on a clipboard, a tablet or in an exercise book. You can use different backgrounds to suit the story mood – pink for romance, blue for sci-fi, green for something environmental, for example.

Change your approach

Take the pressure off by recording your thoughts. Phrase the content any old way; talking as if to a friend. If recording makes you self-conscious, and I confess it does for me, you might write in the form of a letter, a Facebook post or a series of tweets. Writing in point form helps me. As I work, the points become longer and longer until I’m adding bits of dialogue and description, and before long I’m flying.

Change your location

Writing in a different place can give your muse a fresh start. Last month we talked about working in a coffee shop, but how about in a different room at home, at the beach or in a beautiful park? You don’t need perfect surroundings. Sometimes your creative right brain prefers a familiar place where your critical left brain feels relaxed and comfortable.

Write your thoughts down

This beats staring into space and can help you visualize the material more clearly. Write something like, “This project is a (book, article, novella) about…” and fill in whatever details you have. Ramble on; explore the topic however it comes. When it starts to catch fire, you can switch to a more convenient format.

Change your point of view

If you’ve been focusing on the hero and heroine, switch to the villain’s point of view. Write a scene where he/she is watching the good guys and plotting mayhem. Remember, we are all heroes of our own stories. Your villain feels justified in whatever they plan, believing that the good guys deserve what they get. This can be refreshing to you and your muse, with the bonus of ensuring you develop your bad guys as completely as your heroes.

Choose the options that work best for you, and enjoy the process.

If you try any of these approaches, please share the results with us in the comments 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

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

Free The Writer in You

http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring, May 2018 – if you write it, muse will come

Last month my Swedish friend, Agneta Angie Probst, asked about the best places to write. In the comments she wanted advice on getting her muse to show up, a large enough topic to deserve a separate blog and here it is.

Firstly muses are unreliable partners. They arrive when they want and deliver only as much as they choose. But they can be encouraged with the right incentives.

In the 1989 fantasy film, Field of Dreams, an Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner, heard voices telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” Believing that legendary baseball player, Shoeless Joe Jackson, was the ghostly voice, Costner’s character levelled a field of corn and built a baseball field. His neighbours thought him crazy but he was vindicated when the ghosts of history’s greatest players including Jackson emerged from the corn and played baseball on the field. Without spoiling the ending, suffice to say Jackson wasn’t the character’s only muse.

If a voice in your head told you to build a sporting field on your land, would you do it? What about if the same voice urged you to write a certain character’s story? There’s little difference because following your muse is as much an act of faith as Costner’s character ploughing his corn under.

Our stories come from deep inside us, agglomerates of people we’ve encountered, places we’ve been or read about, and events we’ve imagined. It’s said that our brains can’t tell the difference between something real and something vividly imagined so all our experiences end up simmering in the melting pot of imagination, emerging as story inspirations.

Your muse is timid, treat him/her gently

This may answer the question most asked of writers – where do we get ideas? Millions of non-writers have seen Field of Dreams. Few would connect Costner’s response with how we writers react to voices whispered in our ears. Or as I did, see Rembrandt’s painting, The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by the Angel and link the angel whispering to Matthew with my muse talking to me. I was so taken with this idea that I had a copy of the painting made to hang in my home.

Some writers name their muse; others hold that he/she lives in the melting pot of imagination. Or hovers over us, whispering ideas. However you visualise your muse, remember it’s an elusive creature. Here are three ways to coax  your muse to come to you:

  1. Be gentle

Just as yelling at a child tends to escalate a tantrum, mistreating your muse has the same effect. They shrink away and refuse to co-operate. Be gentle instead. When the muse whispers, close your eyes and listen. Be grateful that he/she has come out to play. Even if the muse starts talking when you’re in the shower or at a restaurant,  be welcoming. Keep a notebook or phone app handy to capture whatever you’re given.

  1. Be non-judgmental

As children, we were often told to do our best, fine unless it’s misread as “do it right.” You may automatically add, “or else” as a shadow of some larger person looms. It’s easy to fall into the critical state that was the lot of many children. If they show you a story they’ve written, it takes great self-control to avoid saying, “That’s lovely dear but you could have done this part better.” Thus treated, their fragile young muse may well go into hiding for years or forever. Be strong enough to praise the work without judgment and allow the muse to grow.

  1. Be open

Your muse delivers ideas in many ways. Sometimes the idea is only a beginning. While being gentle, don’t fall in love with the first idea the muse presents. Without criticism be playful and open to where the idea might lead. Look at it from all angles. Ask yourself, “What if?” What if the characters in this idea were children, or very old people. Or very old people who looked like children? What if the first part of the idea was given a different ending? Or happened on an island instead of in a city? Your muse loves to play mental games and may well surprise you when given a little encouragement.

 

Your muse loves to play mental games.

As we discussed in the April FMM Blog, setting yourself up to write at the same place, whether in a cafe or a corner at home, is one of the best ways to get your muse to show up, especially if you aim for the same time each day. As the habit strengthens, the muse gets the idea that this is “writing time” and will show up more reliably, keen to be part of the magic.

For more on muse magic, I recommend Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris at http://tinyurl.com/yc853uer Ruth Harris calls a muse visit a gift to yourself, “tapping us on the shoulder or bopping us on the nose just to make sure we’re paying attention.”

How do you pay attention to your muse? How and when is it there for you? Please share with us in the comments 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

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free The Writer in You

www.valerieparv.com/course.html

 

First Monday Mentoring March 2018 – making unexpected writing discoveries

Whether you plot your stories out in detail, or prefer to let the story unfold as you write, it’s a good idea to leave room for serendipity to play a part.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines serendipity as “making happy or unexpected discoveries by accident.”

These happy, unexpected discoveries are the ideas or story twists coming seemingly from nowhere – the dog you didn’t know your character owned; the plot twist you didn’t see coming; in short, anything you didn’t know was going to be in your story until it popped up.

I’ve been making these discoveries for years and know enough now to let them come. Even if I don’t know why a character acquires a dog, I leave it in. As Kate Grenville says, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.”

If you don’t find a use for that dog, it can disappear as quickly as it showed up. Just don’t be too hasty. I’ve had pets, sisters, plot developments of all kinds arrive, apparently from nowhere, but really from something my subconscious has been mulling over. I leave the reference in until I find, perhaps many chapters later, that it’s exactly what the story needs.

The dog may rescue hero or heroine, or alert them to some bad thing about to happen. The surprise sibling may be a character’s saving grace, downfall, keeper of vital family information…unknown to me until they’re needed.

In my Beacons sci-fi series , I wrote two novellas linking the three books of the series together. The first novella, Beacon Starfound, concerned a character called Guy, the genetic twin of Adam, one of my alien beacons. When I conceived Guy I had no idea of his role. Gradually he became more mysterious and interesting, until by book three, Beacon Homeworld, he proved essential to resolving many story threads.

Having Guy develop as he did was pure serendipity. Or was he?

I think these “happy and unexpected discoveries” are far less accidental than they seem. When a story stalls and I can’t get past the block, it’s almost always because I’ve taken a wrong turn. Once I would have been tearing my hair out. These days I let my subconscious figure things out.

If I try to force the story to go my way, the result invariably lacks a spark. So I wait. Frustrated, anxious, but telling myself I’ve been in this place before and always found my way out.

If I don’t have time to wait, I fall back on my trusty “twenty options” process from The Art of Romance Writing. I’ve blogged about this here and at workshops because it’s such a reliable tool. It’s best done with pen and paper. You can on screen but paper feels more freeing, somehow. Up to you.

Down the left hand side of the paper write the numbers one to twenty, leaving a line of space between each number. Then you pose the story problem to yourself – for example, why does the heroine go to meet the bad guy without seeming too stupid to live.

Then without stopping, you write twenty ways you could solve this problem. For example, he could be the identical twin of someone the heroine trusts. He could blackmail her in some way, holding her dog hostage, perhaps. Or he could fake a message to her from the hero.

Keep going until you’ve listed at least twenty options. I’ve listed over a hundred in some cases. There’s no right or wrong number but twenty seems to stretch you a little while getting past the obvious answers. Generally the first ones you think of are those everybody comes up with. Around the middle you get a little silly, the hostage dog being an example. Force yourself to keep going until you’ve listed at least twenty, or however many more suits you.

When you’re done, read over the list. Is there a germ of something workable in one idea? Could some be combined? If your list gives you nothing useful leave it for a while and try again next day. Persistence pays with this one.

In my current manuscript, serendipity has already struck. My hero owns a valley I plan to use in several books. As I was writing, the hero’s brother-in-law mentioned some additional land for sale adjoining the valley. Hero can’t afford the land because…reasons. BIL suggested a partnership. So far I don’t know why this extra land exists but I’ll go along until my brain works it out and lets me know.

The only thing I know for sure is that the land will have a purpose in relation to the story. In writing, that’s how serendipity works.

Have you ever had a random element jump into a story, only to prove essential later? Share your thoughts in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post appears right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing and may serendipity bless you work,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s book, Desert Justice in Her Hot Desert Fantasy

Anthology – out in ebook and print now

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Birthright

Beacon Novella Starfound

Beacon Earthbound
Beacon Novella Continuum
Beacon Homeworld

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)

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 Oct – what writing festivals do for you

Money’s tight and living costs keep rising, I get that. Plus writing has never been a profession to make easy money. But recently I hear a lot about how expensive it is to attend writing conferences and festivals, many writers saying they can’t justify the expense.

My response is how can you not justify the expense? Perhaps you have a day job and it’s hard to get the time off. Yet writers whose time is flexible still resent the cost and time to attend these events.

Most professions require continued education. Why should writing be any different? In my long career I’ve had millions of words published in a variety of genres and translations but there’s always more to learn. Attending conferences and festivals lets me monitor changes in publishing, book marketing, indie publishing, and the fast-spinning world of social media. I’m also interested in other writers’ experiences. Not everything you hear at conferences and festivals shows up on social media.

The personal interactions are invaluable. We work alone a lot of the time. Getting out and “peopling” as a colleague puts it, not only renews friendships, but lets us discuss aspects of craft that don’t fit into a Facebook post or tweet.

I was reminded of these benefits at the recent Canberra Writers Festival where my agent, Linda Tate, and I presented a session at the National Library of Australia on how we work together, subtitled “how not to be screwed in 21st century publishing.”

Agent Linda Tate (left) and me with my books at the National Library of Australia before our presentation

Even savvy writers can be screwed in everything from contracts to options, advances and royalties. Before Linda became my agent twenty-plus years ago, I dodged a few bullets myself. And I can tell you, it makes a huge difference having someone else track those bullets, freeing me to focus on the writing.

As an indie, you can screw yourself unintentionally in the many details you must cover on your own account. An example is buying ISBN numbers (International Standard Book Numbers) your book’s ID in the reading world. Buying your ISBN numbers from, say, CreateSpace, can mean they are identified as the publisher instead of you. There’s a comprehensive article on ISBNs at the Self Publishing Advice Centre  http://tinyurl.com/yc92hqdx This is just one of many pitfalls indies have to negotiate.

As Linda and I are based in different capital cities, preparing our session, presenting it and sharing the success afterward were benefits of being on the festival program. We outlined how we work together, very differently from most author-agent relationships.  Her background is in the entertainment industry, so she isn’t inclined to submit books then wait months to hear back. Instead, she paves the submission’s way with the editor then calls to see how they’re enjoying the read.

Signing one of my books at the Canberra Festival

Whether you’re traditionally or indie published, if you have an agent and they aren’t keeping up, maybe check with them about new ways you can interact. If you don’t have an agent and want one, ask them to detail how their approach can be tweaked to better serve your books.

Like conferences and festivals, agents come with a cost. However a good agent not only recoups their commission in the deals they make, but the relationship should be more beneficial overall.

Here I need to address the “it’s all right for you” syndrome. Successful authors are supposed to take in stride the cost of attending writing events. Generally we do for the benefits described here, but bear in mind that every successful author started with a first book, building our brand steadily over many years. While nothing beats writing the best book you can,  mixing with writing professionals help us achieve our success, not the other way around.

As a writer do you attend festivals and writing conferences? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you subscribe – click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Workshop Townsville : 7 October  Story Magic Townsville Writers & Publishers Centre https://townsvilletickets.com.au/event/story-magic-with-valerie-parv-5096

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

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 August – why am I so good at putting off writing?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when you’re invited to ask questions and share your experiences of being a writer – not the glamour side, but the realities hardly anybody talks about.

One big question rarely addressed is the problem of not writing. The dreaded P word – procrastination. You know the problem – you desperately want to write and you finally steal a few hours to yourself. You even have a fabulous idea you can’t wait to explore. You sit down at your keyboard and…Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

The words that sparkled in your head when you woke up that morning have been sucked away as if down a drain. You find yourself doing almost anything but facing that blank screen.

Okay, you get the idea. So what is the problem and what can you do about it?

First, cut yourself some slack. Creative work doesn’t run to a timetable. Nor can you produce something new without at least some struggle. That’s why you don’t try to write the perfect novel at first draft. You try to write something approaching your idea for a novel – what Nora Roberts calls “the dirty draft.”

The aim of a dirty draft is to get the story, chapter, scene or sentence down in some form. Even Michelangelo had to throw raw clay into a heap before he could shape it into the vision in his head. And that’s before he tackled the unforgiving marble.

Writers are lucky that we don’t have to work in stone. Everything can be changed. And trust me, it’s far easier to change a rough draft than to stare at the screen until sweat beads your brow.

Instead of going off to clean the fridge, force yourself to stay put. Write something, anything. Write a letter to yourself describing the story in your head. Sneak up on the story by writing around the scene. Draw the scene as a stick-figure cartoon. Write a ransom note from one character to another.

This kind of craziness can have a surprising result. You get caught up in the story almost against your will and you start writing. When this happens don’t stop to edit the work or consider if it’s right or not. Just let the words come. When you’ve done as much as you can, stop and breathe. Admire your achievement. You’ve gone from nothing to actual words. You’re a star.

This is really all there is to writing a novel. Figuring out the first bit, writing that; figuring out the next bit, writing that, and so on till you have your dirty draft. Then you can start to knock it into shape as a sculptor does the clay.

If you’ve tried all these suggestions and a few more and cleaning the fridge still looks good, ask yourself whether the idea is ready to be written? I frequently find that a major block is often a message from my muse telling me I’m going in the wrong direction. Give your story a shake-up, take it somewhere different and see if that helps. Then go do some mindless chore or sleep on the problem.

Writing Homeworld, Book 3 of my Beacons sci-fi romance series, I was well and truly stuck. After leaving the book alone for a bit I woke up one morning sure that the character I’d thought of as male was actually female. Further, she was a weather engineer, a profession I didn’t know existed until I went looking. As soon as she arrived, the book was off and running.

Procrastination is a strange beast. We may find ourselves doing almost anything but the work when actually, the story is bubbling deep within our subconscious and will surface when it’s ready.

Writer E.L. Doctorow famously said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Is procrastination your problem? What have you tried to get back on track? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Coming up – Canberra Writers’ Festival 25-27 August 2017

Meet Valerie and her agent, Linda Tate, “in conversation” at

The National Library Friday 25 August 4pm-5pm, details

http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/Show.aspx?sh=AUTHORS17

 

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 for July – why do we tell stories? Why do they work?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when this blog looks at the realities of the writing craft – the fear of the blank screen that never goes away, the sensation of being an observer in life and wondering if you’re missing the sensitivity gene. Truth is, you’re not insensitive – you’re a writer. Observing life at its most extreme: births, weddings, funerals, is what writers do. Then we translate the experience onto the screen or page and make sense of it for the non writers.

Into the Woods
Recently I read a fascinating book called Into the Woods: how stories work and why we tell them. The author, John Yorke, created the BBC Writers’ Academy and brought a vast array of dramas to British screens.
His book explores the unifying shape of narrative forms, from the archetypal fairy tale journeys “into the woods” to today’s blockbuster movies. Yorke says that stories are all rooted in the same ancient structures.
While he explores these structures in detail and shows them at work in everything from Star Wars to “kitchen sink” dramas, he doesn’t recommend that writers follow structure as a blueprint, but rather as a template to check your writing against after your first drafts are done.

Stories are not paint-by-numbers exercises.

You can follow every writing guru slavishly step by step and still not make a story that speaks to your readers. Writing is similar to baking a cake. We all use the same mix of flour, eggs, butter and flavouring – in our case, plot, characters and setting – but the results depend on how well you do the baking.
Yorke references a lot of writers I’m fond of, from Dr. Who’s Russell T Davies to William Goldman’s iconic Adventures in the Screen Trade, books I have on my shelves and refer to often. I’ve lost count of the number of copies of the Goldman book I’ve given away.
Interestingly, many of these books were written for screenwriters, before novelists discovered them. Many, like Linda Seger have adapted their books for narrative writers, but the originals – for me anyway – are hard to beat.
As Yorke contends, it’s all about structure and in this, readers raised on YouTube and Netflix increasingly expect novels to echo screenwriting principles. Get into a scene as late as possible, and out as early as possible. Keep the story moving regardless of genre. Let the readers do a lot of the work, don’t force feed them. Let them reach their own conclusions. Let them think.

If, like me, you enjoy revisiting classic TV from the 1960s to the 80s, you’ll notice marked differences between then and now. Today there’s far more showing than telling with fewer round-up scenes at the end where characters tell each other what happened and why, as if the reader hasn’t worked it out long before. Like dialogue, character actions are more natural, instead of moving around the page/set like chess pieces.

In the romance genre at least, storytelling was more fun before you could track people by their phones, or build suspense with a “secret baby” – a child the hero didn’t know he’d fathered. These days DNA testing leaves little doubt. Although a full test takes a bit longer than most TV shows and some books would have us believe.
But while limiting some story options, technology can open up new possibilities. In my Beacons sci-fi series, I used modern technology to hijack the space shuttle, and a private jet to launch it, supported by input from the jet’s brilliant designers. Google “Mandelbugs” for another topic I play with in the series.

Recently on ABC Statewide I had a fun discussion about the role of technology in modern relationships – using emojis in place of body language, for example.

Curiously, however far writers go out into space or how deeply into human psychology, as John Yorke points out, the basic story structure remains largely unchanged. The why of storytelling also remains fixed – to explain the world to us, and us to ourselves.

Why do you enjoy telling stories? Have you ever considered structure as a factor and how do you use it? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now
3 books complete in one volume
For international orders, print & ebook formats,
Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e
From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

Tag Cloud