Finish the damn novel*

One of my favourite podcasts which I’ve mentioned before is ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ by Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait of the Australian Writers’ Centre. They have notched up over a hundred episodes and I’ve been a subscriber from the start, listening to the great mix of news, tips and tactics and an amazing array of interviews with writers from all backgrounds, as well as publishers, editors and other creative folk. If you don’t already subscribe, do your writing self a favour and sign up for the podcast.

Last week’s episode (# 104) stood out for me. The interview was with Pamela Freeman, who also writes as Pamela Hart. Freeman has written over 30 books across a range of genres, and whilst this was her second interview on the podcast (first was episode 58 ), there were a couple of comments which really resonated with me.

The first was discussion around the benefits of writing courses. Can you teach people how to write? Freeman drew an analogy between opera singing and writing. An opera teacher works on techniques to improve the student’s voice, and writing courses work in a similar way. They can help with method and approach, but the student’s input – the voice – remains unique.

Freeman also had words of wisdom around the need to finish the first draft, rather than perpetually revising, tweaking, making major or minor changes whilst never completing the novel. She suggested that you promise yourself that you will do as many drafts as you need to fix any inconsistencies or plot holes or whatever it is that keeps pulling you back rather than freeing you up to actually finish the work. As she said, most novels fail because they are incomplete.

Simple but powerful advice.

Now I’m off to keep writing my novel without a backwards glance.

Do you get caught up in tweaking rather than actually writing?

*This has been referenced in a couple of the SYWTBAW episodes as something that was spotted on a t-shirt at a writing conference. 

[Photo of mural in Blackheath]

The rhinoceros in the room

In interviews with published authors, one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘where do your ideas come from?’ It is the writing equivalent of a silver bullet, as if by being able to reliably generate ideas that are worthy of expanding into a poem, short story, novel, screen play or any other variation, life would be easier. Well, who wouldn’t like an infinite resource that generated ideas?

The source of creativity is as varied as the individuals who spend time and energy expanding thoughts, ideas and inspiration into something tangible that can be shared with other people. Some people keep track of the stray thoughts and ideas that they encounter in a book or online file that they can flick through when they are looking for inspiration at a later date. This can be a few scribbled words, images, or snatches of dialogue that can be expanded upon when ready. Sometimes these snippets form an integral part of a piece of work; other slivers may never be incorporated into something else, but unless you gather and retain this information, how would you know?

In writerly circles there are few things more discouraging than a blank page. By having something – anything – to refer back to can provide a starting point. It works in a similar way to prompts, but usually with a longer lead time. Both approaches can be used as a starting point or a mind-mapping exercise which results in something more solid.

Ideas for me sometimes come from simple acts of observation and imagination. It is often recommended that you spend time in a cafe, watching other people interact, imagining their back stories, making up what you can’t discern. I recently tapped out the following points whilst waiting in a restaurant. An older lady was also waiting:

  • Floral twin set, dark blue camisole, white sandals
  • Cameo necklace, tapestry handbag and matching tote
  • Permed hair, coloured
  • No rings, gold watch, blue stone bracelet, possible medical purposes
  • Looking people up and down, inspecting them, finding them wanting in some way
  • Tapping fingers in a silent rhythm, impatient but controlled

There was something about this woman at the time that made it worthy of recording, and I know that she will appear in my writing in some form (perhaps more than once) in time.

How do you keep track of your ideas?

[Photo was taken at the Japanese Gardens in Cowra, NSW]


Writing every day. Well, nearly.

I go through periods of consistency with my writing. Having a routine to make sure I get the writing done early, before the day gets too far underway, works best for me.

I listen to podcasts on my daily commute. Half an hour each way slips by that much quicker as I listen to ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ with Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait, or more recently ‘Your Creative Life’ by Vanessa Carnevale. The interviews with authors  provide interesting insights into the habits of working writers. I am inspired by people who aim for a minimum number of words on the page, such as 500 a day. It doesn’t sound that much, but there are days when even a relatively small figure such as this is harder than I would have thought possible.

When the words flow there is nothing quite like it. Everything else seems to recede into insignificance, my fingers fly, I can see what is happening and what might happen next. It is enthralling.

As a grand gesture on 1 January 2014, I started working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. There are still elements of the workbook that remain in my life, and the morning pages are the most important. I write slowly by hand but every day I churn out my 3 pages. They contain a mixed assortment of thoughts and plot points and story ideas and dream fragments and the odd rant about someone or something that has annoyed me and that I can’t quite let go of yet. Until I write it out.

Sometimes I flick back through these pages, and there is reassurance at times in knowing that I got through something that seemed insurmountable, or I find the essence of an idea that ended up working its way into a short story. Or I stumble across the seed of an idea that I can now expand upon.

Now if I could only challenge this discipline into working on my creative output every day. How often do you write?