How do I write?

Good question. I would like to say that I write every day, no matter how little it ends up being. Even producing 100 words can be an achievement. There are days when I don’t meet my goal, or else perhaps I am in editing or review mode, which of course is all part of the writing process.

Writing on a paddle boat on the Murray at Echuca.

The location is important to me. The bulk of my writing takes place at my desktop computer because it is there and it is convenient, but there are a lot of distractions around as well. The fridge might call to me or perhaps the plants need watering, or even a load of washing needs to be put in the machine. Often I chase rabbits down lots of social media holes. None of this is good for productivity.

Other days, I’ll find somewhere else to write, either with my laptop or just a notebook. I’ll find a café or a quiet corner of a library or even recently the forecourt of a local cinema, where there are lots of tables. I choose my cafés carefully, as I don’t want to incur the owner’s wrath by nursing my coffee for a couple of hours at one of their tables during peak hour. Knowing that I have to make the most of this time, I usually knuckle down and produce some solid work.

Another advantage of working in a new environment is that it’s more productive for brainstorming. I’m a loose plotter rather than a pantser, so often I’ll start a story without knowing the exact ending, or what twists might happen on the way there. A different location stirs up the creative juices and potential paths present themselves to my pen.

If I’m staring at a blank screen with no idea what to write next, I’ll usually swap to pen and paper and move away from the computer. Even if I just start by jotting down dot points, or snippets of ideas, I soon find that words are starting to organise themselves into paragraphs and appear on my page in some sort of coherent form. Writing in a notebook is often more practical in a café or similar external location anyway. For that reason, I usually tuck a notebook into my bag when out for a walk. I never know where I might be when the muse strikes.

Recently, I was walking down the main street in Echuca when a sudden rainstorm hit. I dived for the shelter of a large umbrella in front of an ice cream shop, and there I sat on the picnic bench for the next half hour. With the steady rain keeping me anchored to that spot, I produced another 500 words. Just as well I had my notebook with me.

Writing with other people is a good incentive to focussing and actually producing work. I’ll often participate in writing sessions, whereby we all just sit in writerly companionship and write. Occasionally there will be a bit of discussion or diversionary activity but predominantly we write and knowing that this is the purpose of the day, it’s what I do.  It’s a great incentive.

I currently have a day job, and so cannot dedicate my day to my writing. I will often produce a few hundred words early in the morning or a few in my lunch hour. I still have that daydream time through the day, when a snippet of dialogue or a new twist suddenly comes to me. The current work in progress is never far from my mind.

How do you write?  What stirs your muse?

Do you have to like your lead character?

I didn’t, and this was a big problem for me in developing my last novel. I got to know Melissa in the first book, and there was not much about her that was endearing. She was arrogant, rude to people and self-absorbed. She was a secondary character then and so I only got to know her through the eyes of other people, but it was clear that they were not impressed and so I wasn’t either.

Then she did something really stupid and life-threatening; not just to herself but to someone else as well. She ended up looking a bit pathetic really, and once the crisis was over, she was easy to dismiss and to focus instead on the more pleasant people in the story. Nobody felt sorry for her in relation to the humiliation she experienced.

She scored a passing reference in the second story, but was largely a withdrawn character, with her actions in book one still hanging heavily over her. It was probably a conscious decision of hers to remain distant, but her presence was not generally welcomed either.  Surprisingly, she did show concern for one of the characters who fell seriously ill, but still this was a passing reference in the story.

Not sure why, but I decided that the third book in the series needed to be about Melissa. There was a problem though.  From what I knew of her, she was obnoxious.  I meandered around in circles for a while, trying to break into the story, but I didn’t feel comfortable with her. I had to sit down and get to know her back story.

  • What sort of childhood did she have?
  • What was her current family situation?
  • What was she passionate about? (photography) 
  • What was she afraid of?
  • What innate beliefs did she have about herself?
  • How did she behave when she was by herself?

It was only as I got to know her as a person, and the drivers that were dictating the way her life had unraveled that I was able to develop the plot.  Mostly, romance novels are written in the third person, and changing point of view is frowned upon. Currently, the first chapter also shows the point of view of the antagonist as he also gets to know a woman from whom he has learned (in previous books) to maintain a respectful distance. Both he and I were skirting around her.  Melissa developed her voice by the second chapter though, and from then on the book was firmly lodged in the third person.

 

The novel is still in the review stage, and so I will probably address the point of view issues in the first chapter – not because I want to but because it can send publishers into a frenzy. The challenge is how to do so without losing the essence of that chapter.

 

I’m curious. How do other writers get to know their characters?  Do you always like them? What do you do when you don’t?

Book Three in the Trilogy

I’m writing the final chapters of the last of the Centralian Trilogy.  This book tells the story of Melissa Gilbert, who was first introduced in The Red Heart.

That may seem surprising because Melissa wasn’t the nicest of people – possibly readers would not have thought that her story warranted telling. She was rude and obnoxious and it was due to her behaviour and fabrications that she and Kathy Sullivan were put in a life-threatening situation when the aircraft Kathy was flying had to make a forced landing in the bush. Melissa had to make a humiliating admission and apology.

I started to wonder about Melissa and what drove her to act the way she did. As I was to learn though, there was more to her than most people realised. Living on Plenty River Station, Melissa and her father did not often get into Alice Springs and as most of her schooling had taking place in Sydney, she never got to know other young people of her own age. Consequently, she remained a bit of a local enigma. What others saw as a haughty reserve was a cover for her true feelings and emotions.

Getting to know her was initially a challenge but I have enjoyed writing the book anyway. A comment from a beta reader who has been assessing the first chapters is that there are significant differences in style between the first and third books and I like to think that it is indicative of a maturing of my craft.

My working title, Picture This – quite likely to change but it gives me a focus, and these photos that have been the background to the structure of my writing.

Can’t wait for the ending to be revealed!

Romancing Melbourne

I moved to Melbourne a few months ago and since then have been looking for new writing connections. I have discovered the Melbourne Writers’ Group and also the local Romance Writers’ Group and have made valuable connections in each. Having the support of like-minded people is so helpful on what is a solo journey. I have also submitted some work (a short story and a couple of poems) to an anthology that will shortly be published by Melbourne Writers with the theme “Ties that Bind”.

I am currently half-way through book three, which will be the last of the series set in Alice Springs. This novel, with the working title of Picture This, features Melissa Gilbert, who was a rather unlikeable character in book one, The Red Heart. Getting to know Melissa has been a challenge and I really had to delve into her backstory in order to understand what motivated her to behave the way she did.

Living in an apartment now instead of a large house with all the gardening and maintenance issues has made writing a little easier in that I now have more time for it. I live quite close to my day job and so have time for a short period of writing in the morning, or at least thinking about the plot lines and where it is taking the story. Perhaps when I have finished the current series, the next book will be set in a bustling metropolis as an interesting contrast.

Sunrise over East Melbourne

View from my balcony at sunrise

Happy to make connections with any other lone writers in Melbourne.

Sunstone Success

Time for a few puffed feathers. Earlier this year, I submitted an entry for the RWA Little Gems competition.  This is a short story competition of maximum 3000 words, and it must feature the gemstone that is nominated for that year.  This year’s stone was Sunstone.

Yes, I know – I hadn’t heard of it either and had to do some research.

Sunstone – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sunstone is a plagioclase feldspar, which when viewed from certain directions exhibits a spangled appearance. It has been found in Southern Norway, Sweden and in various United States localities.

Crystal system‎: ‎Triclinic
Color‎: ‎Colorless, yellow, red, green, blue, and ..
Although Wikipedia refers to various colours, all the images depict a tangerine coloured stone.   Google it and you will see what I mean.
I thought that I might as well try my luck and the story came together quickly – a light and amusing romance tale, suitable for reading over a Sunday morning coffee.  To my delight, my story was selected as being one of the finalists and was included in the anthology of fourteen stories.
Each entry is assessed by three different judges and the comments and scores are forwarded to each entrant after the judging process is complete.  That was most valuable and I picked up some useful pointers on writing style. Also of interest was the fact that a feature one judge commented on as pleasing, another judge found to be a point of criticism so you can’t always please everyone.
The anthology was released at the recent RWA Conference that was held in Adelaide.  Now that I have had a taste of the competitions, I might submit entries in other categories next year, even if just to get the feedback.
 Sunstone Front Sunstone-Back

 

Congratulations to the other entrants and of course to Sheridan Kent who designed the cover.  The book is available at the RWA website.

 

On the downhill run

It has been slow progress but today I have started the last chapter of book 2.  The working title is ‘On My Wavelength’ with reference to the radio station that features in the book but this may change once I sit down and read the manuscript in its entirety. The problem is, when you take so long to write a book, you forget the finer detail of what you wrote in the beginning. I have resisted re-reading at this stage though as I know that I would get side-tracked with editing and re-writing and instead I want to focus on the final page.

Significant parts of my plotting for this novel have taken place in a local coffee shop. I tend to go for a lengthy walk on Sunday mornings and of course this takes in a coffee shop as well. I find that away from the distractions of home, I can get quite a bit done in the way of character analysis and plotting. I may write the first page or so as well, getting far enough into the chapter for the story to then take over. I find that handwriting helps the creativity as well.

coffee,-tea,-hot-drink

There will be a third book in this series, but at this stage I only know who the central characters will be. I have no idea as yet on the direction of their particular journey or what will happen along the way.

This year’s conference of the Romance Writers’ of Australia is taking place in just under a month and as I intend pitching this novel to a couple of publishers, I need to have it finished and polished by then. It’s a good incentive. Time for another coffee to keep me going.

 

How many kilos per thousand words?

My recent visit to the writer’s conference in Melbourne fired up my enthusiasm for getting stuck into book two, which is a sequel to The Red Heart.  This has been helped a bit by the fact that my last position was made redundant, freeing me up to write through the day. This has been both good and bad, as I will explain.

I have no idea what this book will be called, but as it focusses on Sarah, who was Kathy’s best friend in The Red Heart, that is what the draft is currently called.  I’m hoping that inspiration for a truly appropriate name will strike when more of the plot is in place. So far, I am only about twenty one thousand words in. Some sections flow freely and my fingers fly over the keyboard, or else pen scribbles over the paper if that is the mode that I have chosen. At other times though, I stare at the half-filled page, wondering what on earth was in the character’s mind when he/she said or did that and just what exactly are they going to do next?

Sigh. Perhaps I’ll have a cup of coffee.  I wander out to the kitchen. Now that I’m  here, perhaps I’m feeling a little nibbly. Why don’t I have any biscuits? Perhaps some crackers? Cheese?  A few almonds? Before long I am rummaging through the pantry cupboard and the fridge. Just as well I don’t keep chocolate in the house. It wouldn’t last long. As is, I scoff whatever I can find.

These are just diversionary tactics dealing with the hiatus in productivity while waiting for that aha moment when you know just what the response of those characters is going to be. In the meantime, I’m stuffing myself with more food than I actually need, especially as the act of writing entails sitting in the one spot for a lengthy period of time with not a lot of physical effort.  Stroking the cat occasionally doesn’t really count.

I’m not quite gaining a kilo for each thousand words but I can see that writing is counter-productive to maintaining a svelte figure.  How do other writers deal with this issue? I can’t be the only one to have encountered this weighty problem.