Archive for the 'Quotes' Category

Succeeding as a writer

I disagreed with a piece of wisdom printed in our daily newspaper today.

‘You can’t get to the top by sitting on your bottom.’ The Advertiser, Adelaide, March 27th 2010.

In many walks of life that aphorism is very appropriate: you can’t succeed unless you are willing to get up off your butt and get working.

I believe the opposite is true – in one sense – when it comes to success in writing. You can’t succeed as a writer unless you apply your backside to a seat and start writing. I guess the meaning is still the same; it’s just the way you do it that counts.

Many people are in love with the idea of ‘being a writer’ but are not prepared to put in the hard yards, the lonely hours at the keyboard, the frustrating wait to hear from publishers and all that other stuff that goes with being a writer. They want to have written, but do not want the many hours, days, months and years or dedicated sacrifice and hard work  it takes to become a writer.

So I’d like to amend that proverb so that it is true for writers:

‘You can only get to the top as a writer by sitting on your bottom and writing.’

Good writing.

In love with your writing

Adelaide Writers’  Week 2010

On a number of posts over the last few weeks I have written about the writers who were speakers at this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week (click here to read more).  I have also written about some of the things Australian writer Tom Keneally had to say. Here is another quote:

“I am still in a marriage with one book when I fall in love with another story.” Tom Keneally, 2010 Adelaide Writers’ Week

I know that feeling well.

I start off all enthusiastically on my work in progress. I marry myself to The Story. I do everything possible to please her, pamper her and see her grow in beauty. I am head over heels in love with her demands, spending long hours wooing her, meeting her every need and seeing that nothing gets in the way of our delightful nuptial bliss.

Then unexpectedly, with no warning sirens blaring, another Story comes mincing seductively along the path, knocks provocatively on the door of my heart and whoosh…. I am carried off in flights of imagination, falling madly in love with this New Story. Something has triggered my heart into believing that this New Story is the Love of My Life.

Practical help

In this situation I know I have to remain faithful to the original story. I need to keep focussed on what I am doing to the exclusion of all else. A very practical way of dealing with this new distraction is to spend a few minutes jotting down the salient points of the new story. File it away – in such a way that it is easy to locate  again in the future. Then forget all about it. She will sulk, she might whine and carry on for a few hours but eventually she will settle down and bide her time until she can take her rightful place in your life.

Good writing.

Some thoughts about writing from Tom Keneally

Adelaide Writer’s Week 2010

I had the privilege of hearing Australian writer Tom Keneally speak several times during this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. On each occasion he was in fine form and proved to be not only a brilliant speaker, but also funny and instructive – often at the same time.

I didn’t take many notes during the week but preferred to just sit, listen and soak up the wonderful atmosphere while listening to such a fine parade of great writers. I did take a few notes for one of Tom’s talks.

“I am the one who needs my books – the world goes on perfectly well without them. I am no longer under the delusion that the world needs my books.” Tom Keneally, Adelaide Writers’ Week 2010

This is a sober reminder about the world and about books. He is perfectly right, of course. The world will continue functioning as it does without that novel or short story or poem you are slaving over. It will make no difference at all if that piece of writing is never published.

Tom is also wrong

At the same time, I believe that Tom is also wrong. The world may not need that novel, non-fiction book, sonnet or article, but there is surely someone out there – perhaps only one person, or a handful of people – whose lives can be changed, influenced or even enhanced by what you write. This is why we must, as writers entrusted with divine words, always strive to write the very best we possibly can.

Our writing can – and should – make a difference.

Good writing.

Tom Keneally opening Adelaide Writers' Week 2010

Tom Keneally opening Adelaide Writers' Week 2010

Writing when you don’t feel like it

Last year I bought a copy of the Garry Disher book called Writing Fiction: an introduction to the craft. It was the required text for the fiction writing unit in my Master of Arts course.

As I read the first chapter I underlined the following: …new writers… believe that the best writing grows out of powerful feelings and intense passion.’ (Disher, 2001, p.5) While this can be true I have found that it is not always the case. Sure, intensely experienced life events can be a wonderful source of writing inspiration, but if that is all we had to write about we’d never have much to say. Most of us lead such deadly dull and boring lives that we should restrained from hoisting that on our readers.

Disher goes on to say that even the most mundane incident, can give rise to a story or novel, and the best writing and creative insights often come from writing calmly and with detachment… day after day. Don’t sit and wait. Start writing, and write regularly – for the practice, and to find what it is you want to say.’ This has been another benefit of doing this and other writing units in my course; the regular enforced writing exercises and the requirement to hand up finished works.

While it is writing under intense pressure at times, I believe that it is excellent discipline for the aspiring writer. To succeed, the aspiring writer must become a perspiring writer.  Over the last three years I have, in part, developed the skill of writing on demand. This was in relation to my blogging. I set myself the difficult task of writing – on average – three articles of 300 – 400 words each per day. I haven’t succeeded entirely, especially last year while studying, but I came close to it before commencing the course. I have learned to very quickly come up with ideas, plan and then write rapidly. The more I’ve done the less editing and rewriting is required, so my skills are definitely developing.

Later in the chapter he says: It’s pointless to wait for inspiration… Write whether you feel like it or not.’ (Disher, 2001, p. 12-13) He suggests setting definite goals with writing, say a 1000 words per day. When I was blogging solidly over recent years I had goals for each day regarding word count, number of hours of writing, number of articles written. I also had weekly, monthly and annual goals. All that discipline has helped me during my year of study and will be of great help in coming years as a writer –  especially if I ever have looming publisher deadlines.

Good writing.


Disher, G, 2001, Writing Fiction: an introduction to the craft. Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest.

Writing a novel: a writer’s journal part 3

It takes character

To write a short story or novel it takes character. The character of the writer, that is. If the writer has the characteristics of discipline, persistence, patience and a good idea, the story will happen.

But the story also has to have characters. Novels have plenty of them; short stories can get away with one or two, maybe three and not many more.

There are stories where the novel is heavily plot driven. Adventure and stories high in action are like this. In other stories we observe that they are firmly character driven. What motivates the characters? What is their problem?

Australian writer Garry Disher writes: ‘I believe that character is the central element of fiction writing. Characters help fiction writers enter, tell and shape their novels and stories, express ideas and drive and develop plots.’

Over the last few days I’ve been doing some intensive work on the characters in the novel I am writing for my Master of Arts thesis paper. This is even before I have written a single word of my novel. I am getting to know my characters before they appear in the story, even before I start  some major plotting work.

Who are the characters in this novel?

Here is a summary of what I have done so far:

  1. I have decided on who is going to be the main character. This changed early in the planning stages because my secondary character took over my thinking. At first I was focussed on an Australian boy living in rural Nepal. But Adarsh, the Nepali boy, started taking over my thinking. He was demanding to be the focus.
  2. Who are the secondary characters? These need to be sketched in detail, but not as detailed as my main character. These include the Australian boy Joshua, and the older brother of Adarsh. Two secondary characters is probably enough at this stage, but others may emerge in the writing.
  3. Then we come to the minor characters, people like the parents of the boys, other siblings and people living in the village.

Focus questions:

The next stage in my planning was to ask some key questions. These questions will focus my thinking on various aspects of the people in the story.

  1. What are the goals and desires of the main character Adarsh?
  2. What motivates and excites him?
  3. What does he like and dislike?
  4. What frightens him?
  5. What worries does he have?
  6. What are his dreams?

Then I came across some further ideas in Garry Disher’s book which will head me in the direction of plotting.

  1. Which characters help Adarsh?
  2. Which characters hinder Adarsh?
  3. Which characters influence Adarsh?

It’s all starting to develop nicely in my mind. Even thinking about the characters has thrown up a few plot ideas which might make it into the novel.

I’ll keep you posted in a day or so.

Reference: Disher, G. 2001: Writing Fiction: an introduction to the craft. Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Go to the contents page to read more articles in this series.