Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Once I realised I had a lot to learn, I threw myself into learning with gusto. First I read books about getting published. Then I read books about how to write. Perhaps it would have been better to read these in the opposite order! The best book I came across at this point was by Irina Dunn. The Writer's Guide was available at my local library. Although it was a few years old, and the ebook market was just starting to emerge, it gave a wide range of hints about the path to publication. Another book that came in handy was The Australian Writer's Marketplace.
Monday, March 24, 2014
It was the dream. I had 6 months off work, all above board, approved, work handed over, and a job to return to. For the first time in my life I had long service leave, and my boss had approved me taking it at half pay for twice as long; 3 months became six. 'What are you going to do?' people asked. My workmates were more likely to ask, 'Where are you travelling to?' They looked at me with disbelief when I said I might not travel. It wasn't their fault, I wasn't exactly candid about my goal. I wanted to write my book. And as it was going to be a bit raunchier than the last one, I didn't want to alert them to the fact. But that was my plan. The holidays started well enough, family Christmas by the beach in Lancelin. The days between Christmas and New Year hurried past, shops had sales, then it was the first day of the year. As is tradition with my friends, we dressed up and took ourselves off to Perth Cup. I love the idea of spending New Year's Day in a nice dress, heels, drinking wine and champagne, betting (or my case, donating) on horses and watching them race at Ascot. Afterwards we took the free bus to the casino, and danced amidst the glitz of the revamped venue. What I like most about starting the year this way, instead of having a big NYE, is that I don't start my year with a headache. Okay sure, the second of January may bring a slight dullness of mind, the after-effects of a great day out, but the first day of the brand new year, with all the possibilities before us, that day starts clear headed and dressed to impress. I didn't expect to do any writing on the second of January; that day was designated for Recovery. But I did expect to start writing on the 3rd. Or the 4th. Or sometime the following week. I didn't. What I did instead was plop on my couch and watch some terrible TV for two weeks. Heck the Australian Tennis Open hadn't even started yet, and with friends on holidays I hadn't managed to borrow their promised TV series. I had nothing good to watch, time off, no excuses - yet I could not get myself off that couch. It is, to be fair, a particularly comfy couch. 'What am I doing?' I scolded myself. 'I can't sit on the couch for 6 months. This is not why I got approved for this time off.' It didn't work. Nothing moved me. I surrendered. Then something strange happened. After two weeks of being deathly dull, not even having lunches or nights out to fill my free time and keep me entertained, I was well and truly bored. Completely. Out of my skull. Then two things happened. The tennis coverage started, and I enjoyed it, feeling like I'd played every shot with both players, every match. And I started to jot a few ideas down. I'd had my laptop on my table for the entire two week slothathon, but hadn't used it. The only pivotal thing that happened in that time was an IT friend who insisted on helping me set up my 'new' laptop, the one I'd purchased on the 30 June 2013 in time to include it in my tax return for that financial year, but which had remained in its box until then. He set it up, I left it out on the dining room table, and I walked past it every day for two weeks. But now that the tennis had begun, and I finally had something worth watching, I found that I began to tinker. I opened it. I turned it on. I wrote a few sentences. I moved around a few scenes. I checked the total of pages I'd written so far. I found a freebie minicalendar I'd been given and wrote out a plan. I really didn't want to spend the next month being as slack as I had been in January, so I wrote up aims for each day in February. I decided I didn't have to count it as procrastination until the end of January. I allowed myself the time off to be bored and unproductive. And slowly, bit by bit, I started to work. Until one day I realised I'd missed most of an exciting Nadal match, because I just had to finish the scene I was writing about. 'Just had to'. I have always loved talking about writing, but now, after fits and starts, I felt that inner calling. I was ready. In a nutshell, this is what I've learnt: Never underestimate the power of allowing yourself to get well and truly bored. I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the creative nonfiction writing schools in the USA are in the 'unexciting' interior states, the midwest. Likewise Perth's nickname of Dullsville just might have come in handy. Emptying the vessel makes room to fill it with something else. I was finally in the right mental state to do something about my goal, not just talking anymore.
Monday, March 17, 2014
It's official. As of the end of today, I will no longer be able to shock people when they mention my home internet. 'Just download it,' says one unsuspecting person. As if telling me to go away and do it myself is being helpful. I almost enjoy the sense of what is coming. 'I can't,' I say. 'I only have dial up at home.' You can see the surprise on their faces. Every time, it's the same. Confusion. Dismay. Incomprehension. 'I thought that had gone by the wayside?' one said. 'No. I've still got it. Had it for five years.' That last bit was intended to shock them some more. It works. 'How do you cope?' they say, heartfelt in their angst for me, the digitally deprived. 'I use it at work if I need it. Or I wait.' Wait. That four letter word is the end of them. The conversation stalls, until I take pity and change the subject. So it is with great sadness that I shall no longer be able to use this phrase. I realised that I had slid into the digital dynamic when I noticed my latest monthly internet bill, and worked out that I hadn't actually taken out my landline, stuck it in my laptop, hit several keys and waited for that familiar screeching tone for at least three months. Why not, I wondered. Then it dawned on me that my smart phone, the cheapest, prepaid I could find, the one I got under sufferance so I could stay abreast of the e-tide while not paying a fortune, well it also had a cheap internet option which I had used now and then, whenever I needed it in a hurry. I just didn't need dialup anymore. Not that I'm going to change my habits. Right now, I'm typing this at the local library. But it also got me thinking. I'm having leave from work, with the aim of finishing a sequel to Road Wench. This past month has seen me take the book ahead in leaps and bounds, and I have kneaded it into the shape of a full story. DRAFT ONE IS DONE! I want to call out loud to share my joy at this progress, but I'd better not. As I said, I am in a library. However, the impending cutting of the modem line got me thinking. Maybe my technological home setup has helped me achieve my recent writing goals? I wonder whether I would have got so much done if I had ready access to blogs and research tools online at any minute of the day? I've had to discipline myself, and yes here's that word again: WAIT, so that any online research is kept until the afternoon when I permit myself a library visit. The morning has been designated for writing, the evening I'm allowed to edit if I feel like it, but I've delineated the dead zone of the afternoon when I'm most likely to nap as the only time to go online. And I really think it's helped. So even though my plan is to get better internet access on my mobile, I am going to put that off until later. Once I've rewritten the first draft, and written a synopsis, and so on. I suspect that the latent Luddite in me has been the key to finishing book two. I will miss shocking people with my dial up revelation, but perhaps this has been a more useful revelation about my writing process. That's all for now. The library is about to shut: another enforced deadline.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
When I finally got writing, it didn't take long to complete the book. I started with 144 pages done, and soon made it to page 200, then 220, 240 and so on. When I reached 245 I had a sudden realisation. All along I'd been aiming for around 350 pages, the length that I feel as a reader has given me value for my purchase. Yet I also realised that my story was nearly complete. It flowed. It made sense. It had a beginning, middle and end. The only problem was that it didn't fulfil my initial aim, which was to include all the good bad and crazy stories from across four seasons on the road. My first book was solely about my first season, applying for the job, getting through the training, surviving the first season of tours, getting asked back. It seemed nice and neat to enscapsulate all the other standout stories in one volume. How hard could it be? But the book took on a life of its own, and soon enough it was apparent that I had enough material from my second season (which was, incidentally, far worse than my first season - and probably the reason why it had so much good material to make use of) for an entire book. Once I had this thought, I fought it. I didn't want to accept it. I had planned to write, well to finish, one book over my sabbatical. Certainly not two. But after a few days pondering the problem, I had to listen to my instincts. The story was done, and if I didn't try and fill it out with extra incidents, it meant I could use the extra words remaining to add things like character flaws, brief descriptions of places, interesting titbits. My book was nearly done. The catch - I have to write one more, in order to fit in all the most outlandish incidents. So it's 'sort of' good news. The other problem, once I accepted this solution, was that my first draft FELT finished, but wasn't actually finished. Since then I've spent the past two, three, perhaps more weeks going over it and adding bitsa. Bits here, bits there. Rewording a sentence or a thread of dialogue. Adding in aspects I hadn't covered yet but were integral to that season (such as the outbreak of foot and mouth and how half the clients became vegetarians overnight). Checking whether I could substitute a better word. Checking the flow. Thinking about names that match the character best. Making notes of where I should do extra research and consider adding some history or trivia. Working out which bits are longwinded (like this post!) and how to cut them down. Reordering scenes so they make the most sense, insofar as revealing aspects of life on tour. And so on. This is continuing right now, even though I had a self imposed time limit of March to have the first draft in a readable format. It is readable, it's just that it also includes lots of notes for the handful of people I've coopted to be my sample Readers, and for them to answer as they read through. I've put perfection on hold. I'm happy that the story seems to flow, it works now, the order is fine, and it's self-contained. The rest of the finetuning will have to wait until April. Most writers advise putting your draft in a desk drawer and coming back to it in 3 months time, in order to look at it with fresh eyes. I don't have that kind of time to wait, as I want to utilise the sabbatical period as best I can. However, I will be taking a month, and hopefully that will be enough. What I have learned: The story will tell you when it's done, not the other way round. The need to be flexible and adaptable when the story speaks back. Finetuning is a black hole of time. I've spent almost as much time tinkering as I did writing. And now - time for a break.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Next, I started doing courses. I found the ones offered through UWA Extension to be worthwhile. I met my copyeditor at one of these day courses. I did a short creative writing course through Tuart College. While very general, it did give us a weekly set of homework to aim to complete, which helped get me writing. I also realised how weird it can be to hear someone read their work, especially if the subject matter is a bit unusual. One student was working on a crime thriller, but when she read the excerpt about the crime, set out in painstaking and graphic detail, we couldn't help but look at her and wonder what part of her that came from. I wrote whenever I was in the mood, and somehow once I got going, I was always in the mood. The more I wrote, the more I wrote. Then, within 8 months of sucking up my pride and returning to that writing group I'd found, I realised that I had completed my first draft. The next step was to get some reader feedback. This time I was prepared to be told things I might not like, as I was ready for it. I was playing the long game now. I didn't need it to be perfect, I needed to work out how to make it better. Changing my focus was crucial. My writing group hostess was fantastic. We wrote in entirely opposite genres, mine was memoir in a conversational style; her's was speculative historical fiction. Yet she took my 300 plus pages of A4 printouts, and went off and read every page. Better still, she wrote comments on every page. I used her feedback to improve my draft. It was time to polish, and time to learn. I was so excited to be at this stage. It seemed like my goal was in sight. However, what I didn't realise was that it would be another two years before I had my book published, and it would be a rocky road ahead.
Once again I wish to thank the bookshops that are continuing to support local writers by stocking copies of my book Road Wench. The Dymocks store at Midland Gate recently restocked. Other stores with stock on the shelf include Beaufort Street Books, Oxford Street Books and Planet Books. Besides these, Mill Point Book Caffe might have one - but if not, and you ask them, they will be able to order it in. Interstate, Readings in Carlton have some copies too. The Brisbane and Adelaide stores are out of stock. If you are in a state without a bookstore that stocks it, email me at roadwench AT hot mail DOT com (sorry, have to put it like that, else I will be spammed relentlessly) and I can sell to you direct. Thanks again to the wonderful bookshops who have, but especially to the ones that continue to stock Road Wench. Go check them out - they're fun and you feel sexier, cooler and far more intelligent just by entering their doors (I guarantee it!). Shannon Meadows
Monday, February 17, 2014
About a month after we met, I turned up to meet the members of the ad hoc writing group. There were four of us, and each had brought a few pages of our recent work to share. The group leader was serious about writing, having completed the entire Curtin University writing course part-time while also working. 'Show don't tell,' she said to me. I didn't know what she was on about. 'Don't use so many descriptions after dialogue. He said or she said is better, and even leave them out if you can.' There were lots of good tips. At the time I didn't want to follow them. There's more than one way to write. We're writing in different genres. What does she know. I'm reluctant to admit that all these reactions were swirling around in my head. It was fun to meet with other writers. I'd found it hard to keep focus doing it all alone. Writing is done alone, but eventually it's meant to be shared with readers, and it was nice to share the experience. We planned to meet each month. One benefit of doing it this way was we each had a deadline, and aimed to have done at least something before the next meetup. It's easy to let a month or two whiz by with nothing written, when it's just you keeping check, and when life and the job that pays the bills gets in the way. I really like the idea of the writing group. In theory. I just wasn't so good at it in practice. After being told lots of useful hints that my hostess had gleaned across an entire, and reputable, writing course, I still wasn't convinced that they knew better than I did. But what I was most keen for was their critique of my work in progress. I brought a sample to our second meeting. When we swapped each other's samples, my heart was in my mouth. Getting feedback from other writers, this was what I was really here for. I couldn't wait to be told how funny my stories were, or how well I'd worded a paragraph, or how entertaining it was. I'd have a long wait. When the samples were returned, we went through our feedback in detail. It was an interesting process, until it got to my chapter. 'I think you need to show more, there's too much exposition,' said one. I didn't even know what that meant. 'I think you could add some dialogue, to break it up a bit,' said another. 'You've got a rough draft, but I think you need to start again,' said the third. In my head, my reaction was WHAT THE HELL WOULD YOU KNOW. I was affronted. Offended. Riled. Disappointed. I didn't let on how outraged I was at their attack on my perfectly fine chapter, but I did look deflated. When I got home that evening, I swore I would never again bother going to that group. Who needed them? What did they know? And so I didn't. I stayed at home on the monthly Tuesday nights. But another thing I also didn't do - I didn't write anything else either. I was stymied. I didn't know how to go on with it. Plus I didn't feel like it. There was already a book about touring out there, so what was the point wasting my time trying. Then around about seven months later, it occurred to me that maybe, if I wanted to get writing, I needed to talk to people who knew how hard it was. And I needed to make minigoals, like we had when we set targets to achieve for our next meeting. And if I wanted to improve my writing, and widen my target audience, maybe just maybe the other writers had something they could teach me. I texted the hostess out of the blue, and asked if I could come to the next meeting. She replied to say fine, and it was on the following week. Knowing it was so soon, I went off and started to dabble with a few sentences. And when I went back, the other writers in the group were so welcoming, and so helpful, that I realised their advice had been constructive criticism after all. I had a lot to learn. But I'd already learnt the first, most important lesson - to open yourself up to criticism, and grow a thicker skin, in order to try and do better. I'll always be grateful to them for their comments, but also for not commenting on my absence while I was being a sullen cow. So go grow that thicker skin and get writing!