Archive for January, 2009

Writing fiction

“Fiction writing is great. You can make up almost anything.”

Ivana Trump, upon finishing her first novel.

Say that again, please?

Yes, well … I think that’s what fiction is, something made up in the writer’s imagination.

That is what I love about writing fiction; you can make up interesting characters, imagine beautiful (or dangerous or horrible) settings, create compelling plots and generally let your creative juices loose, flowing in interesting directions.

I love it when characters take over the story and you have no idea where they will take the reader – and you as the writer.

I love it when the plot I have in mind or on my outline page suddenly twists away, taking unexpected lane ways, leading me on a merry – or dangerous – chase through a land unknown.

I am delighted when unplanned, unexpected and delicious endings pop out on to the page.

The foundation of  fiction

Despite the imagination being the driving force behind all fiction, I believe it is important to realise that all fiction also has one foot in reality. Every story, even wild, out-of-this-world fantasy and SF, has to have an internal logic based on reality. If something is too illogical, the reader will switch off or stop reading.

Sure, some stories need a certain suspension of belief (eg a talking animal, and ogre who falls in love or an alien who speaks English), but once that is achieved successfully, the writer can blaze ahead.

The characters must also ring true to themselves, the setting must be based on places the readers can imagine and the plot must be feasible. I find more and more that I draw on real places, real people and real events for writing fiction. Many of my stories are based on true events; my imagination draws on those  events and asks, “What if..” Using this technique my imagination can run off in all kinds of directions.

An example: some time ago my brother told me of a skeleton he found on a sandhill on his farm. All we know from the investigating detective  is that the man was shot in the head twice and that he was not an Aborigine. I used the discovery of this unfortunate man and came up with a 4000 word crime and murder mystery story. My lecturer gave me a high distinction and she is a hard but fair assessor.

Let your imagination soar, and good writing.

Writers and their critics

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics
is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs.”

~ Christopher Hampton

The writer of the above  quote has obviously had a few poor, perhaps even devastating experiences with critics. His statement is therefore quite understandable.

Over the years I have had a few critics of my writing. Nothing as distressing as to make a statement like that, but disappointing at the time. The important thing about critics is one’s reaction to their criticisms. Most writers I suspect are like me and have a difficult time remembering that the critic is talking about your writing, not you. To depersonalise the criticism and then to take a cold, hard look at the criticism is often the path to becoming a far better writer.

This idea has been drummed into me over the past year while  I have been working on my Master of Arts in Creative Writing. Most pieces of writing, be that non-fiction, fiction or poetry, that we were asked to produce had to be presented at a workshop. The lecturers, tutors and fellow students were the critics. Having your writing critiqued like this was very confronting at first.

After a few sessions I became very comfortable with the process. I quickly discovered that I could no longer be precious about what I wrote. If ten other people are all saying that something stinks, I’d better rewrite it. We often get too close to our work. It becomes ‘our baby.’ How dare anyone say anything negative about it!

If, however, only one or two people say something is not working, I learned to listen, look at the issue raised and then make a decision on whether I needed to rewrite. Often I would make minor changes, sometimes I went with my gut feeling and left it unchanged. The final decision was always mine as the author.

Critics and critique groups can play a very important role in helping writers  improve the quality of their writing. I’d encourage all writers to find one or several trusted people they can use to critique their work. Family and close friends are not recommended, unless they are writers themselves. Unless they truly understand what is at stake they are better left out of the equation until the work is published. Then encourage them to buy a copy.

Good writing.

Blogging can make you a better writer

I haven’t written about blogging on this blog about writing for some time now. Of necessity my blogging activity has been rather limited over the last 12 months because of my studies. Getting my Master of Arts in Creative Writing has taken precedence over blogging. Despite that, my three blogs continue to tick along quite nicely.

In the previous 2 years I was blogging daily. In fact, I was almost a full time blogger, which kind of hindered my other writing. Writing an average of one article per blog per day  over two years has had some interesting flow on effects on my general writing.

  1. I am now far more disciplined in my writing life, especially in the amount of writing done each day.
  2. I am far more productive, turning out far more words per day than ever before.
  3. I can write ‘on demand’ and rarely wait for inspiration. The act of writing generates its own inspiration and I can also write a lot faster with fewer mistakes.
  4. Searching for ideas for my writing is no longer a problem, because constant blogging generates a momentum of its own, with one article often generating many more.
  5. My writing skills have vastly improved. One of my lecturers commented many times that she can see that my blog writing has helped my other writing develop too.
  6. I have gained a great deal of satisfaction from the comments of readers and the interaction between readers.

There is no doubt in my mind that blogging can vastly improve your skills as a writer. I’m not the only one who thinks along these lines. Jenny Cromie has written an excellent article as a guest blogger on ProBlogger. It’s worth reading.

Good writing.

Writing Goals for 2009

I believe in setting goals for my writing. This is an important part of a writer’s life – and for almost every other pursuit in life.

Short term, regular Goals

On a regular basis I set daily, weekly, monthly and annual goals for my writing. These include:

  • setting goals for the number of words written
  • setting goals for the number of hours of writing
  • setting goals for inservice training such as attending conferences, workshops, reading and other forms of self education.
  • setting target dates for the submission of manuscripts.
  • setting minimum number of posts on my blogs

Long term goals

Late last year I took some time to map out some longer term goals for my writing career. I set some goals for each year for the next five years. This may seem a long view of things but it helped me to clarify where I am heading with my writing. These goals included such things as the number of publications I would like to accomplish as well as some projected – and hopefully realistic – income goals over the next five years. All these goals are flexible and wil be adapted to suit changing circumstances.

My specific goals for 2009

It is always good to set some specific goals for the immediate future. Some of my goals for this year include:

  • Completing my Master of Arts in Creative Writing – this is well under way with one year to go. I should be finished by this time next year.
  • Writing a 40,000 word novel – this will be my thesis paper for my degree. The novel must be of a publishable standard. That’s my big challenge this year.
  • Submissions to publishers of manuscripts written during my course last year. This includes several picture books, a short novel for young children, dozens of poems and several short stories.
  • Continued posting of articles on my three blogs (see the links in the sidebar).
  • Averaging 1000 words per day for the whole year (up from 700 per day achieved last year).
  • Averaging 5 hours per day on my writing, a target I achieved last year. This might not seem much until you try – to average 5 hours per day I actually had to  do many days over 10 hours to achieve the average. There will always be days when no writing is achieved due to illness, holidays, family responsibilities and so on.

I can see that it will be a busy year – again.

Good writing.

Write what you love

“You’ve got to love libraries. You’ve got to love books. You’ve got to love poetry. You’ve got to love  everything about literature. Then, you can pick the one thing you love most and write about it.” Ray Bradbury

I love libraries – all those books on all those different topics, all those wonderful adventures to be enjoyed and pictures to be enjoyed. In fact, I love libraries so much that in another life I was a librarian for about eight years. I loved buying new books for the library – especially seeing it wasn’t my money buying the books!

I love books too. I have a huge collection of books. I can’t bear to get rid of any books. Throwing out  a book is akin to loosing a child. Talking of children, I love visiting my adult children, especially my daughter, so that I can become reacquainted with a part of my library. To be fair, some of her books grace my library shelves – only on a temporary basis of course – until I’ve read them.

I always loved poetry too and I’ve written my fair share of poems, from the slightly ridiculous, to the positively banal and some that are absolutely brilliant (IMHO). This year my skills at writing poetry have had a great boost while doing my Master of Arts in Creative Writing course.

But back to the quote from Bradbury.

Writers must be readers. Read widely and voraciously. Love and cherish books. Get your hands on as many as you can; read, read, read, devouring books in numbers.

Then you can pick the one genre or form or discipline you love most, and then write what you love.

Good reading and writing.