Daniel Radcliffe is his own toughest critic

 

envious of his inside edge.. maybe!

I know that Alan Radcliffe was a literary agent before he took on the responsibility of being the full time chaperone to his young son Daniel,  as he in turn took on the role of a lifetime as Harry Potter. So it might be a tad snarky of me to suggest that Daniel Radcliffe might have an easier road to hoe than most when it comes to getting anything he writes, be it poetry or novels before an agent or publisher for assessment.

But oh thank goodness Daniel too struggles with the ‘gremlins’ in his head (otherwise known as the itty bitty shitty committee) that compel him to believe that what he writes shouldn’t see the light of day.

“I try and write at the moment. I don’t know if I’m any good, as, normally,   when I write I’m so self critical that it’s not long before I have to throw  away what I write.”

It’s encouraging to know that other wannabe authors struggle with believing that they can produce works that other people are willing plunk down hard earned money to own something we have produced. Welcome to the club dude, welcome to the club!

Remember the USB Drive

 

Life has taken a lot of twists and turns during the past year for me. Writing, I must confess, has not even made onto a top 40 list of things to do. But as the downward spiral has started to even out to a more regular pattern of life I have felt the stirring of creativity again. Until one day it didn’t seem overwhelming to think of pulling out 90,000+ word novel and starting the editing process. But this creative inkling has led to a much more important awareness.

I thought for sure I owned at least two copies of my almost completed novel. I had two external hard drives, so it made sense I would have two copies of my work, right?  I plugged in external hard drive number one… ‘oh! It must be on the other one’ I thought. I really didn’t keep a close track of what I had stored on those modern marvels of extra data space; I just assumed that everything I wanted and had worked on would be there. I mean, honestly. Why would anyone be dumb enough to not make a copy of something they have worked on so hard?

Only when I went to plug in external hard drive number two I was faced with a horrifying possibility. There wasn’t a copy on that drive. Quickly I switched back to the first drive… maybe I had over looked it as I tend to glance at things rather than look carefully I rebuked myself. Nope; nothing there. I double checked the second drive again too. Just in case. Because scanning and rescanning the list of documents three times just isn’t enough. Maybe if I opened the hard drive often enough the right document would magically reappear.  Apparently not. I don’t mind admitting that after years of working, the idea of not having a copy of the work anywhere had me in a right royal tizz. Freak out might be a better, although somewhat less academically superior manner of description.

After hours of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that years of my creative work had gone down the drain (well at least 20 minutes worth), I dimly recalled a rather doleful little USB drive that I had thrown into my drawer of my desk.  At the time I was certain that I had transferred all of the documents from it to one of the larger external hard drives, but threw it back into my desk out the of the sheer want of a nearby rubbish bin. Now it held all my hopes. It was the only piece of modern technology left that could possibly hold a copy of this most precious manuscript.

Even now as I relieve the memory, I can hear the heavenly angelic choir singing as up on the screen appeared a copy of my novel. Only another person who has feared the loss of work so important to them will understand the incredible sense of relief at seeing the document in the list. And now a warning to all wannabe writers; learn from my stupidity. Back up your work in more than one place and know what is on each of your hard drives or memory sticks. Because you never really know what the future holds, but you should know what your external hard drives do.

Ranting that Writing is an Art Form….

writers paradise?

I have been told by other writers that Ireland reveres its writers so much, that they allow them to live tax free in the Emerald Isle. Now I’m not sure if this is true or not, and perhaps some investigation is in order, but if that rumour  isn’t reason enough to love the country, I don’t know what is!

It seems to me that often than not, if you are an art-tist  in almost any field of creativity, you are given special treatment by the people around you.  Fashion – especially haute-couture is seen (by its loyal followers) as art.   In fact, it takes something as drastic and hideous such as an anti-Semitic  rant to push society, who has forgiven your foibles such as rudeness and temper tantrums over the collective edge and tell you your behaviour is totally unacceptable, because, well, as an art-tist you are highly strung.   Although, as an aside, if Natalie Portman hadn’t been the shoo-in for the Academy Award this year, garnering her so much media attention, would her statement of shock and disgust, that appeared to be the nail in the coffin for Mr Galliano’s career at Dior, have had as much strength behind it? And, just for the record, where is the news coverage of all the other shocked and outraged Jewish actors and actresses? What is the truth behind this story? Has this drunken, slurry rant, that allegedly occurred not long after Galliano’s lover had died, been around on a mobile phone for several months and only now just released at such an appropriate time as to best get rid of a designer that a fashion house had been struggling to set itself free from? Or am I just seeing conspiracies behind even hedge?

                                          

Visual modern art works, (Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire  or  Jackson Pollock  Blue Poles) even if the work looks, to my obviously uneducated eyes, like paint splatters or vaguely of a war medal, that my six year old can do and it is considered high art. Misogynistic or bimboette music stars are considered artists and paid millions for their work. As are people in Hollywood for pretending to be people  they really are not, doing things they really cannot.

 But ask the average punter what a writer is, and the term ‘artist’ is one that they will more than likely not be the one to out with. In fact, whilst reading of the demise of a favourite book store back home  I was stunned to read in the comments that some people hold the opinion that books were not works of art. They were simply blocks of bound paper printed in the tens of thousands for the making of a profit.

Contrary to Corrie Perkins, I don’t see books being “works of art”. Art is a one-off creation; books are printed in their tens of thousands, by companies, for profit. They are indeed commodities. Authors such as Bryce Courtney, Wilbur Smith, Jackie Collins, etc are not artists, they write for a living, and often to a formula.  au contraire | nsw – February 23, 2011, 8:09AM 

 

I’m sorry….? Stories aren’t works of art? Excuuuuuuuuuse me?  Unless you have spent hours in front of the computer researching, writing, editing, and sweating the small stuff such as word counts; if you have not poured over books and websites researching how to get an agent interested in your work (much less a publisher,) you have no idea of how hard a writer has worked for that piece of ‘non art’ you read for enjoyment or learning. Even the formula ones.  And is there no greater sin in the book reading world than to be a profitable, commercial writer? Must all writers be starving, wondering when their next paying six month column gig in a local news rag will come along? Have a look at how much actors, actresses, music stars, reality television stars are commanding for their ‘art’ and see if there isn’t a hint of profiteering in there. And don’t get me started on the whole profiteering of artist’s such as Monet or Van Gogh with jigsaw puzzles, paint by numbers, bags, tea towels and whathaveyou!

All this ranting from reading one innocent article in the Irish newspaper,  The Independent?  Well thank goodness somewhere out there a nation sees writers as artists and worthy of being treasured.  And  phew –    just imagine if I had planned to get up on a soap box and preach!

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

For five long months I was tortured.  I was in the midst of educational philosophy and the amount of brain power it took to read and more,  actually comprehend  what I was reading  for my university studies severely limited the amount of free time I had to dedicate to writing. In January I was able to concentrate on writing for a solid two hour block when Bronwen was at school. But the amount of work that came with my university course meant that for the last seven weeks I basically had to give up any and all creative writing and work solely on my mini thesis. In fact, I promised my Life Make Over group that I wouldn’t touch any creative work because I was finding it all too stressful to try and do it all. But I would look longingly at the spiral books that I enjoy writing by hand in and moan to anyone who would listen that I couldn’t wait to get back to my fiction writing.

Well get this. I finished the course last week.  For the last seven days I have been free of the academic writing and I am struggling to get back into the swing of creative writing.  I now lack the quiet spirit that I had cultivated last year and the idea of sitting for two hours and churning out 1000 words fills me fear and a certain awe; I used to do that five days a week?  There are just too many distractions right now. The house has gone to pot whilst I was buried in my books, so I could spend every day for a month cleaning. My daughter has been gifted with bags of clothing that needs a permanent home, resulting in my needing to weed out the clothing too small to make room for the new, meaning I’m  going down memory lane with every single item of clothing I’m having to put away. Having read so much educational stuff  over the past five months, there is now a pile of books from the library >this big< that I want to lose myself in.   And the World Cup has started.

So I remind myself that it was a scant week ago that I sent my work in. That seven days after five months of hard slog isn’t so very much. But I really ache to get back to my writing. Of churning out 1000 words a day.  Of the ‘muse’ returning and the words flowing easily.  Maybe I can fool my brain into thinking creatively rather than academically by writing this blog post.  That or I’m going to have to get strict and force myself to write a smaller amount (500?) of words growing to larger numbers and simply train my head to get back into the swing of things.

I forsee hard work ahead.

Carrots, Cake and Ruth Saberton

 carrot cake
Everyone thinks that they have a great story to tell hidden deep within them.  Everyone thinks that writing 70-150,000 words that follow a clearly defined overall story arc is easy. Everyone thinks’ telling compelling stories with characters that are intriguing, real enough to be believable yet fictional enough to keep you out of a libel case at court is easy.

I’ve been honestly learning and reading books on the whole publishing industry gig for a couple of years now. I’ve read the statistics in a tonne of books on writing. Ive read the blogs of some people getting writing contracts literally thrown at them and I personally know of writers who have amazing stories to tell that have had nibbles from publishers but havent quite got over the finish line and landed the deal. I know that its practically impossible for someone to write a book and get it published.

But for those of us called to write our stories, its the carrot before the donkey. We know the realities of the uphill battle, and yet we keep going, because we feel compelled to write. But when that manuscript is in your hands, edited to within an inch of its life, what then? Of course, that carrot of publication dangles there, urging the writer on.  And carrots aren’t even my favourite vegetable (bring on the pumpkin!)

It’s not just the writing of a book that takes time and the personal conviction that what you have written is really good – publishable even. Ooooooh no, no, no. It’s the finding and convincing an literary agent to take you on as their client to sell your work. It’s the agents skill in finding a publisher who will take a risk on simply reading the first 50 pages of an unpublished author’s manuscript.  It’s not so easy.

Which is why I find the humour and the courage of Ruth Saberton  inspiring.  I find myself wondering, would I be brave enough to put a manuscript through the mail box of someone linked into the publishing industry? And that’s why I need to put this story up on KindaSassy. To remind me to never give up, no matter how mad the idea. That the carrot in front of me can eventually be turned into carrot cake if I’m just creative and sassy enough.

Resolutions? Dreams or Plans

Vision boards sound like a wonderful thing; if that’s what floats your boat. But I’m not really one to stare at a piece of cardboard and sigh with longing for all the pretty pictures of things that are supposed to represent my dreams.

 Several years ago, when all my friends from my Life Make Over group started creating vision boards and I wanted in on the action.  But me being me, I wanted something that was uniquely made for my way of thinking; I developed a Dream Book. Oh sure there were the odd photos of my family in there, a map of Europe,  and other key symbols, but for the most part, it really is a book filled with written  lists of things I hope to achieve or experience and descriptions of places I want to go or  things I want to make. But I haven’t ever thought of it formally as a plan. 

But I don’t dream.
                          I usually plan.
                                                       – Joumana Haddad.

Isn’t that the most compelling, inspiring statement?

Dreams are often thought of as unobtainable wisps of fancy that we carry around in our heads to see us through the dark winter days of our lives. But if you have a plan, it becomes real, concrete, something that will be truth. It is the promise of spring after the hard cruel winter.

So  in the spirit of not dreaming, but planning;

Finish typing the manuscript to my first novel, edit and get it to the point of being ready to send out to professionals with the goal of publication.
Write a killer query letter for agents and publishers for my novel.
Plan, develop and write my second novel.
Continue to write here at Kinda Sassy about my growth, failures and more importantly successes in my journey towards publication.
Work hard with my writing group and learn everything I can from four ladies whose writing blows my mind.
Find markets for my work and learn to write for magazines and newspapers.
Attend workshops to learn new skills to improve my writing.
Keep reading. Books, magazines, internet websites, whatever takes my fancy and whatever I can learn from.
Use the Draft in 30 Day’s planning method and apply it to my writing and see what develops.

That plan should keep me going for a year.

Write a Draft in a Month?

30_Days book cover

I’m really very proud of the fact after years of procrastination and doubt, I got my first rough draft done before my official deadline of December 31st. But that still means that I was working on the draft for a full nine months (talk about it being my baby!) And people like Nora Roberts seem to churn out new books every six months or so, which got me wondering: how?

How does Nora get her ideas, transfer them to paper, write, revise, adjust, and get through the official editing process so quickly?  I’ve read that she is a much disciplined writer, spending eight hours a day in her office writing, which would be helpful.  And I would love to be able to write at such a speed and for such extended periods of time in the day. Of course, I don’t think Nora Roberts wrote so prolifically when she had young children (although I truly have no idea as I haven’t followed her career all that long) and until Bronwen is in school full time and has the ability to understand what “Pleeeeeeease… leave me alone” really means when Mummah is sitting at her writing desk, I’m not going to be getting eight hour writing days anytime soon.

But I do have a book on my bookshelf that suggests it’s possible to pull a first draft together in 30 days. I’m only glancing through the introduction where is fully exposes that really, the first draft is actually a very detailed outline that is about a quarter of the whole books length, but that according to the author, having completed such a detailed outline means that writing the missing bits will be easy.

I like the idea of having such a complete outline in a month. I’ve used an outline for my first novel (that is still –  *STILL* nameless!) and found it really helpful to make sure  correct seasons were described at the right time of the year and that the flow of the story happened over the same passage of time. There is nothing worse than an author who writes about a winter Christmas in Australia for one character and how delightful dying Easter eggs is in what would be August for another! Details people – details. I like the idea of being so clear about what will happen in the story that you can see the strengths and weakness’ at a glance, making revision somewhat easier.

So I’m going to read the book this week and see if I can start learning the art of  the whole ‘outline/draft in a month’ skill set. Because the idea of whipping out books at such a speed sounds like a wonderful thing to impress an agent or publisher with – don’t you think?

First Draft in 30 days; a novel writers system for building a complete and cohesive manuscript.

Karen S. Wiesner, Writers Digest Books, 2005

ISBN: 13: 978-1-58297-296-1

ISBN: 10: 1-58297-296-6

PS.

There are 137 (!!) copies of Twilight in the Ottawa library. I’m number 30 on the waiting list but the notice says it’s in transit which means I will get it in about two weeks (this Friday is New Years Day, so no library time). Reviews from other readers on the library website either love it or hate it. Wonder what camp I will fall into?

Honouring Actions

courtney writing March 30th 2009

 

Working towards a personal goal as a member of a family unit can make you feel selfish at times.  You worry that you’re asking your family to sacrifice much in an effort to honour your own dreams. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to write books.  Earlier this year I came to a decision that if I didn’t have at least a draft completed that was at a stage I could send out enquiries to agents and publishing houses by the time I hit 40, then I should probably shut up about writing, that it wasn’t ever going to happen because I wasn’t passionate enough.

Sometime in February I started writing. Not a lot at first, maybe 500 words a couple of times a week. I would head downstairs to the communal sitting room complete with its fake fire and scratch out a few paragraphs; I didn’t want to jinx myself by aiming too high. I’ve always been able to churn out three or four thousand words to start a story, but the panic of trying to expand and write a whole novel often overwhelms me and I give up.  I set small goals for myself. I started off with the goal to write three times a week.  In April I got more ambitious. I worked out that if I wrote 360 words 25 times in a month I would make a 9,000 word count goal.  In August I worked towards the goal of 12,000 words, missing it by only 800; I achieved it in September.

Spending time writing means that I can’t spend time playing with Bronwen at the park. It means I can’t take her for a bike ride; I can’t sit down and watch a movie with Matthew or cook delicious meals or cakes on the weekend. It means that I must monitor my down time and ensure that I focus on achieving word counts, sometimes working through the night to reach them.  Most of the work has been written by the light of the TV in my bedroom so that I don’t disturb others slumbering and often its only very late at night when everyone was in bed that I finally get the silence I crave to hear the words flow through my head.

When I was struggling with the whole home school or government education for Bronwen over the summer a couple of friends suggested that by sending her to school I would be able to write during  the day.  When Bronwen made the decision that she wanted to go to school, I made a vow to be very strict and spend each 2 ½ hours each school day writing – no internet! In the first full week she was able to attend (after the falling mirror and almost severed toe deal) I wrote 5000 words. It was then I made a decision that I would write 1000 words minimum every day Bronwen was at school as a way of honouring the time she is away from me.  We must make the oddest couple; when I pick her up from the bus I ask her how her day was and she asks me if I got lots of writing done.

Over the weekend Matthew decided to go out and buy me a new mp3 player as the      i-pod that I’ve had for five, possibly six years now has become infuriating in that despite having spend $80 on a new battery just last year, it now can’t carry a charge longer than 20 minutes before it starts flashing an empty battery symbol at me and suggests ever so helpfully that I should shut down the machine or risk losing all my music.  Although it wasn’t part of the plan, Bronwen decided that she wanted to go out with her Daddah. Now I have to share that it is not usual for her to choose shopping with her Dad, but we decided to not make a fuss about it after having warned her that it could be boring; she was insistent.

I viewed the time alone as perfect for housework.  With the dishwasher unloaded, I had one load of laundry in the drier and was about to start the washing machine for another. I had already scrubbed the toilet bowl till it sparkled and was about to get a start on the shower.  It was about 45 minutes later when Matthew called to share what Bronwen had just explained to him. She had decided that she should go with him so that I could have some quiet time; some time to write.  She had gone out with her Daddy so that I would have some uninterrupted time to concentrate on my writing.

After talking to Bronwen and having her explain to me that I should be writing; after getting a little teary that my little girl was so incredibly generous of spirit I gave up on all the other chores I had planned  to do and sat down to write another 1000 words towards my novel.  It was my way of honouring her sacrificial actions. Her belief in me spurs me on for another week.

A Desk of One’s Own


I’ve been complaining (somewhat bitterly at times) that I have not have a space of my own in this ‘new again’ home in Ottawa. Not that I had my own space in Melbourne – far from it in fact, but here I feel I am allowed to crave somewhere for my own peace of mind. To have an area that is mine, a place that my creativity can rest in.

 But there is precious little space in a two bedroom apartment for private space. Having a space to call ones own is a luxury that until now, I have not been allowed. Bronwen takes over the master bedroom because the only working TV is there and heaven help us if we miss an episode of Mr Maker; she will be an artist of some sort one day, of that I’m sure. Matthew is in the second bedroom with his computer, and I have, until now, been relegated to sitting at the kitchen table, spreading out my work and scraping back up everything I deem important in the goal of creativity for every family meal. It has been an issue of frustration and of loneliness for me. I think, I if I am honest with myself, I’ve been yearning for space of my own for years.

The other day Matthew lugged up from the basement and set up a small desk for me in the family room. The desk is made of redwood polished to a high gleam. The top opens up to reveal a green leather writing base that is embossed with beautiful gold filigree work. There are small compartments that can hide any number of notes or books. A single pen drawer has a solid brass button handle to hide away pens and tubes of glue. I find my hand gliding over the top of the desk, feeling the silky wood and the earthy grain of the leather. On the inside of the desk, there are criss-crosses of elastic that have been nailed in with brass tacks, to slide in postcards, or words of wisdom and encouragement. The hardware of the desk is brass, giving it an old world look that stands somewhat formally, but not unpleasantly against the dark stained wooden IKEA bookshelves that groan under the weight of my embroidery book collection.

The view from the other side of the kitchen table was much more pleasant, with the distant hills covered in trees. The only view afforded me here at my new desk is of the freeway in the distance, the other apartment building and the rooftops of homes. I confess that its not so pretty, the smooth geometrical brown roof tiles and the creamy brown bricks with flashes of white balcony edges and a swirling ribbon of black that carries scurrying multi-coloured beetles along the busy journey of their days. But even this view offers its own inspiration in that there is nothing to distract me as I sit and work on my story writing, or type up blog entries. I have more than enough daylight to work comfortably, but nothing to draw my eyes away from the work at hand.

OK. It’s not a room that I can close the door on and be alone. It’s not a place I can pile well read and loved or soon to be loved books around me, with baskets of embroidery materials, skeins of thread and several UFO’s (Un Finished Objects) projects scattered safely around. Buts it’s a desk, with a top that I can close. It’s a place I can put my notebooks on and write without staring at the crumbs left over from Bronwen’s morning breakfast toast. It’s a place that I can learn to love as my small space of serenity, or poetry or manic energy. It’s my small space in this small space of life.

 And I think, when I become better acquainted with this space that hold my small desk, I may well just fall completely and utterly in love with it.

Story Telling the Story


courtney-writing-march-30th-2009 

I used to think a story was all about getting from point A to point Z with lots of interesting things in-between. That to write a story you sat down in front of a computer, wrote the first line of the story and wrote in a straight line from the start to the finish. So it comes as no surprise that I really didn’t get anywhere with writing stories and that I failed many times. Writing became something I couldn’t do. It was overwhelming, exhausting and the worst thing; demoralising. I expected the story to reveal itself in an easy to follow flow and when it didn’t, I punished it. To my great shame, I confess that I struck each little story’s fingers with rulers; I spoke to story’s with a cold voice, thinking that I could whip them into shape with strong discipline. It never worked, and I think I may have even scared several story’s away.

So this time when this new Story, still so small, came quietly creeping into the back of my mind, she was, no doubt scared from the repeated warnings to stay away that the other story’s I have lurking there. Story’s who wrongly assumed that they were unloved and unwanted because they were un-worked; who might have tried to tell this new Story to find another mind to be birthed into. But this precious Story is stubborn and strong, she has taken up residence for the last few months in a corner of my creativity, prodding me every now and then to remind me that she does indeed exist but far enough away that I can’t yet call her my own; its self preservation I’m sure.

So I have taken a different tack to try and lure her out of her hiding place. Coxing her with gentleness and proving my worth by having a hand holding a pen, asking Story to reveal her brilliance when ever I can find the time to dedicate to her. She hasn’t started the story at the start, my new friend Story; and instead of reprimanding her, telling her to be sensible and do things in order, I have simply sat and listened, written and smiled. I am to write, even if it is without any kind of order. Higgledy piggledy is good enough for me right now.

 Truth is, I’m not sure how Story really begins at all. There is a general idea of the story arcs for the three main characters that she has shared with me, and there is a loosely based plan of getting them from one situation to the other…. but the details are sketchy. Each day I write, I say to the voice in my head that I now recognise as Story, “OK Story, what are you going to reveal to me today?” And Story seems to like it this way. Who am I’m to argue with her? She holds the glory within her; currently it would be generous to call me her typist.

There are times when Story tells me about the same situation twice, with different twists each time. I like to think that it’s a sign that Story is starting to trust me and that she expects me to sort out the little hiccups and make the flow orderly. I like that she trusts me to use the cut and paste tools on my computer when I transpose the handwritten to the computer screen to smooth out the wrinkles.

Because I’ve discovered that sitting at the computer does not work for Story and me. Maybe it’s the clacking of the computer keys that scares her away. There is the very real possibility that I have to still allow a small chunk of mind to work on the mindlessness of getting the right fingers to the right keys, and Story is jealous and wants all my mind for herself when she is telling me the story, I’m not sure. But when Story is in full flight, she is demanding and wants my full attention. So we have come up with the solution of using the piles of notepads I’ve had stored in my writing bureau for the longest time.

There is something relaxing about holding a pen in my hand, feeling the sweep of the outside of my hand brush along the paper as I weave Story’s words in the ink. I’m particular about the pen I use in our writing sessions. It has to be the ‘right one’ – whatever right means at that particular moment. Story understands this about me; she isn’t the only one who has issues. I enjoy the sound of Story’s voice and the nib scratching over the top of the paper, ink leaving indelible proof that I tried, just one time more with Story to fulfil the gift I think, hope, sometimes believe has been placed in me. I enjoy looking over the number of pages filled with ink at the end of a session of writing, feeling the thrill inside that together we have come so far.

 I’ve learnt, even in this short time with Story, that it’s OK to write in messy patches. That sometimes things don’t have to go from start to finish, and most of the time life isn’t like that anyway and who was I trying to kid? All those books I’ve flipped through teaching me how to write, and never once did I stumble across the idea that it’s OK to write in a mess and piece it together like a puzzle later. But now that I’ve been shown how and have cut myself some slack, I read more and more published authors write in the same manner. I find it comforting, and I don’t mind that Story is gloating at me; so she was right, good for her; good for me!

I’m not ready to share anything that I’ve written with Story. It still feels too new, too raw. In my youth I was eager to show pieces written much too early to people who didn’t truly understand what writing as a medium was like. It was schooled into me that there should be a beginning, middle and end to the writing of a story, which really screwed up my writing for years, and Story has shown me that that’s just not true. But rest assured. Story seems to be gaining in strength. I can’t wait to see her in full flight.