Friday, May 25, 2007

Writers' Rest

I wonder, do writers ever rest? Since deciding to put my writing in 'full throttle' mode, my life seems to have spun out of control.

Naturally, writing doesn't cancel out the other compartments of my life. And those compartments were full to bursting before I decided to squeeze in writing. So how do writers do it? I imagine that, like me, they 'juggle', and perhaps it explains why writers are always interested in other writers' routines. 'When do you get time to write?' is an oft repeated question, and writers everywhere crane their necks to hear the answer, hoping it might yield a secret to how to do it better.

When I decided I was going to give my writing a serious chance of succeeding, I didn't imagine how it would take over my life. Yes, I had to make room for writing, while the usual demands remained - family, work, household chores and keeping connections going with friends, which are the important threads in our lives. Without these, there would be little to write about.

Creating room to write has definitely put a squeeze on everything else. My house is messier than it's ever been, my husband has less time to spend by my side in the evenings, my children - loved to the extreme as they are - forget excursion notices and party invitations in their school bags, because I'm one of those bad mothers who forget to check!!! I only ever skim the newsletter, and one day my husband delivered the youngest to a deserted school only to be told by the bemused office staff, that it was curriculum day. And yes, it had been advertised in the newsletter for weeks. Obviously one of the bits I'd skimmed - repeatedly.

To compensate for this 'squeezing' effect, the less-important things had to go. One of those was spare time - LEISURE. Now, that is a sad thing, and I think my writing has missed it. Lately I have been besieged by migraines that are aggravated by lack of sleep and no time to relax, so I have decided that my writing future is demanding back some of that greatly missed spare time. Bring back a bit of TV time-wasting, I say. There are some great romance movies that will inspire my writing in all sorts of ways. Plotting, dialogue, characterisation, setting and visual stimulus, which I thrive on. And watching telly always brought with it another pleasure: knitting. Perhaps if I force myself to have some 'down time' in front of the telly, that other love will be revived and I'll finally finish the beanie I started three winters ago.

Yes, it's definitely time to make a pledge:

Tomorrow, I welcome leisure back into my life. My dear, dear friend - also a writer - AbFab and I will meet for a brunch and a chat, and when I return home, I vow to spend Sunday on the couch. Sunday on the couch - it sounds so decadent, but isn't that what Sundays used to be for? When I was a child, my mother (the devout Catholic) used to tell me it was a sin to work on Sundays. If a button came off my father's shirt, she would refuse to sew it back in place, on religious grounds. She - the ever industrious housewife - had a dispensation from the Pope to have some time off. So where's my dispensation? Six days of work deserves a day off. Tomorrow I will start to claim back my seventh day of leisure. For the sake of my health - body and mind - and for the sake of my future writing career.

If I'm a good girl, I'll allow myself some writing time after dinner. Promise.

Queen of Procrastination

Procrastination must be my middle name. Good thing I seem to hear it's a familiar theme amongst other writers. Blogging is a great procrastination tool, as is checking out other people's blogs, interesting websites, etc. etc.

The last few days I've been busy with work (yes, we do have to make a living until the publishing contract kicks in - and then don't quit your day job is the advice from many published writers) and family commitments.

Then there are always other distractions that come even when I've got all my writing paraphenalia arranged attractively around me, the computer is turned on, I've rubbed my magic stone (a present from thoughtful sister in law) and my fingers are poised on the keyboard. That's the moment I think, 'I'll just play a quick game of Solitaire, or Spider Solitaire, or Freecell, or Hearts until the creative juices flow.' That's the theory, anyway. What usually happens is that I end up staring at the screen - bug eyed - for a half hour or longer, thinking nothing about my characters, plot, setting or anything remotely useful. Yes, if I was using the half hour to dream up, or recall some frisson of passion that would end up on the page, that would be useful. But no. Computer games are a total waste of time. And just when I thought I might have finally become bored with the card games, finally managed to get a grip on my dependence, something happened...

I bought a new laptop. The new laptop has newer versions of all my old favourite games, and then some new ones I'd never even heard of. Enter: MAJONG TITANS! Oh, my God! Another way to waste precious writing time glued to the screen, thinking nothing about writing. It's such a satisfying game, too. All those gorgeous little tiles with decorative images, and the dragons and flowers make rewarding sounds when you match and remove... Oh, I feel like playing a game now. But I won't. Time to write. Chapter 4 beckons.

I made a start yesterday, and a good start, too. My hero and heroine confront each other. After I'd put 5 pages down, I realised it was all a bit of fancy 'how-de-doody'. A lot of hollow chatter that seemed to address their issues, but didn't feel quite right. My heart wasn't in it. It was only when I'd been away from the page for a few hours that I thought: nothing happens. My scenes work best when there's an event, an action - something happening. So I thought that tonight I will return to the page and make some changes. My hero won't just turn up wanting to dredge up the past (for a whole lot of complicated reasons to do with his emotional conflict). He will turn up bringing with him SOMETHING from the past. An object, something that the heroine will connect with her past with him.

Now I should go and make a start, shouldn't I? Well, that's just the thing with procrastination. I do believe that in my case, procrastination has a lot to do with fear. I put off going to the page because it's so hard to create the vision in my head. How do I convey all the details of setting, character and pure gut-wrenching emotion I've built in my head. The written product always seems to fall short of the mark. So to avoid that feeling... I procrastinate. But procrastination doesn't solve the problem, doesn't improve the situation. Only facing the fear - or the page - does that. So goodbye dear cyber-friends. I now prepare to remove my armour and face the page. Wish me luck.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Describe... or not

Being a visual person, I tend to over-describe in my writing. As my friend AbFab said, 'You see everything like a movie, and you want the reader to see what you see.'
'You're exactly right,' I told her.
She then proceeded with some terrific advice. I'd been told before - mostly by her - but this time it really hit home. She said, 'Don't put in description for description's sake. Only put it in if it moves the story along.'

Of course, I thought. I knew she was right. I had sent her my 2nd chapter, you see. I'd polished it and was quite pleased with myself. It was 22 pages long. In this chapter, the hero and heroine meet again after 18 years apart. The chapter is a chronicle of the evening's events before they reach that moment. I switch between their POVs, in increasingly smaller sections. I thought this would heighten tension, make the reader want to reach the point where they come face to face.

She e-mailed back a lukewarm response, and suggested I cut out what was unnecessary. In her opinion, my 'stringing' out their meeting for so long actually dissipated tension. She said she found herself 'skimming' the writing to get to the vital point. My reply must have sounded so disheartened that she was on the phone in a few minutes. We talked for over two hours, going through what she thought was superfluous.

Now you might be wondering why on earth I would let someone tell me to slash a quarter of my chapter, but it's easy. Her writing is absolutely fabulous, and I trust her judgement. So I got off the phone at about eleven at night, and couldn't go to bed without fixing my ailing chapter. I finished making the changes after midnight and sent them off to her. My chapter reads much better. Paragraphs of description that weren't central to the characters or plot are now a sentence - and some that were completely irrelevant are gone altogether.

As I said, I'd been told this before, but Saturday night, I really GOT IT. Now I tackle my chapter 3 with renewed focus. No more waffling, useless description. As AbFab said, it diffuses tension rather than increasing it. And the big question is: can I stick to it, or will I fall back into my old ways?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


My dream of having a romance novel published is still that... a dream. I have two great writing friends (one of whom has been a close friend for years and was a work colleague in a previous life) who are striving ahead beautifully. The old friend has had a full manuscript requested by Harlequin and is frantically keeping her fingers crossed. No need to be so nervous, I tell her. Her writing is absolutely wonderful. I wish I could write that well. And the other friend, the newer writing buddy has also had a manuscript requested. Her writing is very powerfully evocative, so much so that when I'm reading encounters between the hero and heroine, I feel weak in the knees - as if I was there. Her request for a full manuscript came about as part of finalling in a writing competition, not through submission, which shows there are several ways to 'get there'.

Either way, their journey has begun in earnest, and I hope to soon join them. Every day, when I check out my letterbox, I expect to see the Harlequin letter sitting there. It's giving me mail anxiety, let me tell you! And it's hard to believe it could be good news, but a dream doesn't stay alive without positive thinking.

Still, positive thinking doesn't write books. At the moment I'm writing the third chapter of my current manuscript. I've veered off the track of my usual Harlequin line: Harlequin Romance (Sweet, here in Australia), by tackling a new line: Harlequin Everlasting Love. These novels are slightly longer than the usual 55,000 word Sweets, and follow the 'history' of a romance - think 'The Notebook'. This manuscript is my first novel ever written, which I just kind of shelved. I knew I didn't have the experience and skill to tell the story the way it ought to be told. It's amazing coming back to it now, after three years and finding half of it is redundant. There is so much that isn't central to the story, or to be more precise, so much that doesn't move the story along. There are minor characters that wouldn't be missed if cut, so of course I've cut them, along with the subplots that would do well in a long-running soapie, but have no place in a 75,000 word novel.

So, I take heart in what I've learned and keep at it. Amazingly, my desire to write has only grown. The pleasure I take in it is quite addictive. Most nights I sit at my laptop fiddling - or scribbling - to my heart's content.

Tonight I have to fix the part where my hero and heroine meet again (after 18 years). I have to approach the scene with more courage. When I first wrote it, a couple of nights ago, I just had my heroine running away! She just ran out of the crowded room (an art gallery exhibition) into the night. Imagine that! I am such a coward. It was only later that I realised how I was dodging the conflict that makes novels great. Of course they have to talk, I told myself. But what are they going to say to each other? What can they say after all that time? Their history wasn't a happy one (they had a teenage love affair with dire consequences), so they both would like to avoid stirring up the broken pieces they left behind. So much to convey, and so difficult to do it just the right way...

Sunday, May 6, 2007


It's now my 4th year of serious writing. It's been an amazing journey so far, and though it's been difficult at times, turning back is not an option. A huge romantic at heart, I've focused my efforts and talents towards writing romance (of course).

With a manuscript in the post, I'm now dedicating my writing time to a new novel while I wait for the verdict!!! This is my writing journey.