Tag Archives: Writing

Where I’m at

Author versus self-confidence
Author versus self-confidence

Thunder Road readers are overdue an explanation. For the purposes of this exercise I’m seeing you guys as the parent while I play the recalcitrant teen:

You: “Where have you been?”
Me: “Out.”
You: “What have you been doing?”
Me: “Nothing.” (Checking phone.) “Stuff.”
You: “Don’t look at your phone while I’m speaking to you! I’ve been worried sick about you. You drop off the radar, you don’t call to say where you are or when you’ll be back. And when I ask what you’ve been up to, I get, ‘Nothing’… It’s not good enough!”
Me: (Shuffling feet.) “Got it.”
You: “I’m going to need to see some changes. If you want to be treated as a responsible adult, you need to show me you can behave like one.”
Me: “Yep.”
Pause
Me: “What’s for dinner?”

Apologies for casting blog readers as parents. You don’t need that sort of pressure. The real heat is on yours truly because it’s almost a year since I posted that I’d finished a manuscript. What the heck has happened since then?

Before I answer that, I probably need to fill in some gaps. Provide some context.

The years that I spent writing Game as Ned and Five Parts Dead I worked part time for a website run by an author-tolerant employer. When I had a publisher deadline, I worked less paid hours than usual or stacked my hours differently so I could clear my head for writing/rewriting/editing/rewriting.

When the website got taken over by a big company I had to change my approach and behave, like, all grown-up and professional to keep my job. When the big company was consumed by a monster company, my workload and responsibilities grew proportionately more intense.

About this time, I discovered I was unwell. I had one operation and learned I needed another, plus some clever treatment, to get things back to where my family and I could sleep easier. After much deliberation, I quit my job to concentrate on rest and recovery.

Best laid plans
The vision was to get healthy while working part-time on several freelance gigs and writing my next novel. I did a heap of writing, including belting out a concept and three chapters of an ill-fated side project. But I was naive about a) how much I’d be affected by the surgery and treatment and, b) how ambitious a project this story is. As I posted here, the manuscript is the longest thing I’ve ever written. It may be Book 1 of several or a third of a long book. I don’t know. Smarter brains than mine may make that decision.

Anyway, I was getting close to finishing a draft when I got a job offer out of the blue. At that stage I hadn’t had a regular income for 1.5 years. It didn’t feel like I could say no to any form of legal employment.

Before I fronted up for day one back in Corporate Land I took the terrifying* step of sending my story to three people. (*Sending a whittled chunk of your imagination out from the shade and safety of your workshop into the sunlight is daunting. Really sleep-wrecking scary. Because if it’s crap, you’re about to find out.)

Person 1 read the manuscript and felt it needed more work. Person 1 was correct. And then I panicked. I was freaking out that a) my story was rubbish, b) I’d lost any ability to write and c)I’d wasted all that time. I asked persons 2 and 3 to stop reading and clutched my manuscript back to my chest.

Detour
Then I put a collared shirt back on and fronted up to an office.

It’s been almost a year back in a job-land. Authoring has had to take a back seat to parenting, partnering, staying healthy and earning a grown-up wage.

All that time, the story has been growing inside me. The characters have been maturing, making decisions and altering their futures. The universe has been evolving. I’ve been increasingly antsy and eager to dive back in.

Last week I took unplanned leave and ploughed through another draft. Then sent it to Person 3 again, plus Person 4. Still scary. I’m clueless as to whether it’s any good or how much panel-beating is required.

But I’m closer than I was a week ago.

Warriors, worriers and the winding road

Japanese New Year traditions include the purchase of blank-eyed papier mache Daruma dolls. The recipient fills in one eye when they make a wish. Then, whenever they see the one-eyed doll, they are reminded to persevere, to fight on towards personal goals.

If the goal is achieved, the second eye is added. At the end of the year, whether goals are achieved or otherwise, the dolls are taken back to the temple they were purchased from, thanked for their service and burned.

My Daruma doll will finish 2014 with only one eye but that doesn’t mean it failed me. Maybe its lesson was to remind me to keep believing, keep working and focus on small steps towards the main goal. As the sign on the bakery wall said, ‘Look at the doughnut, not the hole.’

One eyed Daruma doll
One eyed Daruma doll

As the Thunder Road twists towards 2015 it’s a good time to review the year gone by. I’ve written a lot this year, probably more than I’ve ever managed before. I’ve spent many hours in schools, hopefully lodging a splinter or two of storytelling wisdom. I have a manuscript that’s teetering out into the world like a toddler taking its first steps. And another manuscript with a publisher, waiting to see if it slots into the complex 3D jigsaw that is a publishing schedule.

I’ve also made a return to journalism for the immediate future. Two employers came calling the day before an opportunity I’d been waiting on as an author evaporated. The universe can be less than subtle at times.

Over summer, I’ve set myself another goal, not quite the equivalent of NANORIMO but not unrelated, either. I’m writing quickly, as often as possible, about characters that danced into my consciousness and started talking. Listening to their banter has been great fun. Depending on how the story takes shape, and reactions from my intended crash-test dummies in the caravan park, I might even blog the chapters next year.

In the meantime, here are some of my reading, viewing and listening highlights for 2014:

Reading: I’ve spent countless hours in Westeros these past few years and can only doff my cap to Mr George RR Martin for his epic and detailed imagination. I’d been waiting to finish A Dance with Dragons before tackling Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North but ultimately couldn’t wait. I’m glad I didn’t. The Man Booker prize winner is visceral and confronting and worthy of multiple readings. I also finished Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy. Amazing stuff.

Watching: Am loving True Detective and The Walking Dead. At the cinemas I enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow and The Fault in our Stars, both of which had their origins in YA novels.

Listening: Chet Faker’s Built on Glass; Coldplay’s Ghost Stories; new CW Stoneking and official recordings of the Springsteen concert I attended.

Thank you to everyone has read my work, listened to and hosted me at schools and libraries, and stocked my books this year. Those who have attended my workshops will know I rave on a bit about the importance of spell-check and proof-reading so I’ll sign off with my favourite typographical errors of the year, sourced from entries in a short story competition I judged in October:

  • “We were being pursued by Mongolian worriers.”
  • “The uninhibited backyard was overgrown with weeds.”
  • “Mum and Dad scarified themselves for me.” (Ouch!)
  • “I must be imaging things.”

There’s already a meme out and about but, inspired by these latest errors, perhaps I should adopt it for 2015: ‘Be a warrior, not a worrier.’

 

Post-Halloween jitters

Milestone achieved. I set myself a deadline to complete a hard copy read through of my latest manuscript by the haunting hour of  Halloween. (OK, I missed by a day or so but got there close enough that Pumpkinstein was still mournfully inhabiting our living room.)

Pumpkinstein has the manuscript jitters
Pumpkinstein has the manuscript jitters

So here’s the skinny. I’ve written what I think is part one of a trilogy. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written. I’ve already made inroads into part two.

But I’ve no idea if it’s any good.

I enjoyed writing it. And, maybe, cosmically, that’s all that matters.

I’ve constructed a universe that I’m still exploring and that’s great fun, too.

But the nervous wait has begun.  Self-doubt is part of any creative job but it is particularly rampant while you’re waiting for feedback on your work.

Will anyone else like it or think it has merit? I take nothing for granted.

But the pumpkin soup was fine.

Book Week: Hits & memories

When students ask about my ‘writing process’, I sometimes tell them about spending three months in a shed to finish the manuscript for Game as Ned. No Internet, no email, no music. Phone switched off. Very quiet. Very productive.

When I describe this regime, I see teen audience members recoil. ‘That must have been torture’, their frowns say to me. ‘Why would you put yourself through anything so gruelling?’ Social media deprivation would appear to be more dastardly than water-boarding.

Truth be told, many an author would beg shamelessly for regular access to a quiet space with minimal distractions and the chance to listen, uninterrupted, to the voices in their head. These moments are golden. Silence is when the imagination is best able to flex its muscles.

That’s why there’s an element of relief when the peak public speaking period of the year is over and normal writing routines can be resumed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had an excellent month sharing in Book Week and other literacy events. Getting out and talking about writing and the power of story is an important part of my job. But when I’m immersed in a manuscript and nearing the end, part of me just wants to lock myself away and get the job done.

Assuming the planets align, the cat is not having a bad fur day and those ninja assassins don’t uncover my whereabouts, my plan for tomorrow is to plunge back into my fictitious universe. That’s why I need to report back to you all now – before I return to the bunker.

Book Week (Month) throws up all sorts of incidents but I’ll leave you with three that made an impression on me:

1. I watched as a boy was suspended indefinitely from a school after being caught wielding a knife at another student. I didn’t see the incident, only the aftermath. But, studying the face of the alleged offender, I couldn’t help wondering what led to him taking a weapon to school. My gut feeling is that his back story would be very powerful indeed.

2. A student who had been studying Game as Ned was asked to write an epilogue or extra chapter for classwork. She shared it with me after a writing workshop and it was fantastic. I was blown away by the life she’d given characters after the story I gave them ended. Kudos, big time.

3. Schools are complicated, sometimes chaotic places and the bane of the teacher and public speaker has to be the regular mid-class public announcements along the lines of, ‘Excuse me, staff and students, would George Thessaloniki please attend the office at recess because his mum has dropped off his cardigan’ or, ‘Would the following students attend the vice principal’s office immediately for post-camp tattoo removal.’

My favourite PA interjection of the month went as follows: “Attention staff and students! I apologise for the following interruption.”

And that was it. No news bulletin. No fire drill. Just a random, but polite, interruption. Job done. You’ve got to laugh.

Many thanks to all the librarians, English teachers and students who have hosted me, not just in the past month but throughout this year. I’ve had great fun.

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