Thursday, January 12, 2012

Internal versus external monologues. And why you should just shut up and write.

So here’s an obvious bit of insight for you. Writing isn't just telling stories for other people to read. It's made up of the stories you tell yourself as a writer—about who you are and what you're doing. These don't get written down but they form the bedrock of our motivation and are kind of what makes us do it in the first place.They can also be the reason we stop dead with writer's block or write ourselves into a wall. They are the internal voice, but sometimes they're also the thing we tell others. Because when people ask that question: 'what are you doing?' it's such of a relief to have some kind of answer. And if you admit to the writing thing, it’s hard not to feel you need to offer something up when they inevitably ask you: what exactly it is you’re writing?

I am writing just to check this idea out. That's it. Just playing around.

I am writing a novel. It is going to work. It is going to sell a bazillion copies and be the next (insert bestseller title).

I have written a novel. It is almost done. It is everyone else's fault that it isn't published, not mine though.

I have written the first draft of a novel that I will be working on for a while. It can't be rushed and I'm writing it for its own sake. As I am a novice, structure is something I lack experience in. So this next draft is going to be a reworking that provides more balance.

In all honesty, I have been in all of those mindsets with the novel I 'finished' last year. The novel I have been querying. The novel I have been talking about to everyone who foolishly shows even a skerrick of interest. Poor bastards. And while it is a bit embarrassing, I don't think it's uncommon. If you've wanted to be a writer for a while, it's natural to do a thousand dances of very public joy when you hit onto something you know is working. It's hard not to go: 'See? I'm not just a directionless twenty-something. I have plans! Bet you didn't know that, hey?'

But it really has a lot to do with ego. Of course it does. And since I have clearly come out the other side of this sad place, I have to wonder about how good it is for the actual writing. The first statement and the last statement don't sound very impressive. They sound like you’re not trying, if you don’t know better. That you’re not ambitious. And they aren’t good for general conversation. But if you’ve really just hit onto something with your writing— maybe just shut up about it for a while. Talking about it until it’s not even yours anymore might be a bad idea.

I would argue that the first and last statements are a better mindset to be in when you're in an early draft. It takes the pressure off the idea and lets it be whatever it needs to be. It sounds so obvious, but it’s a good plan to just stop worrying about the story you have to tell others about where you are as a writer. If you’re as green as hell, and we all know I am, then you shouldn’t feel the need to say it’s finished, or say it’s genius or say it’s trash. A better idea is to just give it room to breathe and get out of your own damn way. Don’t rush. Because you are never finished when you think you are. Sorry, you just aren’t. The most liberating thing I’ve had happen to my writing recently is remembering the obvious fact that I know way less than I’d like. That I’m not always right and that sometimes you just have to suck it up, because this shit is going to get hard. Hope you like long hauls.

What this means for me is that my ‘novel’ has forced a lot of horribly painful epiphanies on me. It is two novels, packed into one small space. I feel oddly excited about splitting these conjoined twins apart and helping them survive on their own this year. It’s going to be an amazing year. It’s going to be a trying year. And I’m not going to jinx it by talking about it into the ground.

What this means for any writers who read this, if indeed anyone bloody does, is up to them. But I can say from experience that it’s never as easy as it seems. What’s more, this fact has to excite you. Try to let it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I'd say my New Years resolution was to update this more..

,,,but we all know what the statistic likelihood of New Year resolution failure is.

This year I have so far managed many things:
* Finally hooked up my old record player so I can listen to PJ Harvey on vinyl. Discovered it skips and that one of the speakers doesn't work. Worth it!
* Ate things.
* Contemplated becoming a high school English teacher who constantly talks about writing a novel but never does.
* Decided against being a teacher. Instead planned to apply for a Creative Writing Masters in near future, therefore staving off employability for another couple of years.
* Wrote quite a bit on a new project.
* Went to the first Writing Group for the year. For a while, actually. It's nice to have something like that to go to regularly, to make you feel less alone with your writing dreams and practices. Plus the food is always pretty awesome.

So I am still alive. I have contemplating updating this a fair few times, but the only things to write about is the waiting process when it comes to submitting to agents. And whinging is really unattractive. Ditto with the redrafting process for the first novel. Plus there's a fine balance between the usefulness of writing about writing when you really just want to get onto the writing itself. Plus nobody actually reads this.
Happy 2012, year of the apocalypse joke!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Daisy Steiner-esque motivation

Tim Bisley: You got anything special planned for today?
Daisy Steiner: I have got a bit of a project, actually. I'm going to be as inactive as I can in order to really get into the psyche of someone unemployed, not just vocationally but cerebrally, to see if the predicament of enforced passivity exacerbates itself. You know, does inactivity breed laziness?
Tim Bisley: Are you going to write an article about it?
Daisy Steiner: No, I can't be bothered.

If you haven't heard of Daisy Steiner, you need to go find Spaced, STAT. I'm not kidding. Go. Now.

Daisy is the kind of writer who doesn't actually write. She procrastinates. There is a choice episode of Spaced in series 2 where she reapplies for benefits. Anyone who has been off and on Centrelink can't help but relate to it. Let's just say that in my current situation, I can confirm that the quote above is horribly, horribly true.
So I am job hunting, agent hunting and writing new things. And I am writing. But it's hard to kill the apathy if you have lots of empty time. I am slowly working on a new manuscript. And it's great, don't get me wrong. I have exciting plans for it. But it's still new. I can't work on it every day, I need time to think on it off and on. There's a danger for me, when I have lots of time, that I will over-work something into the ground and kill it. I like to think a new project is a fragile butterfly or snowflake or (insert lame metaphor). And if your routine has been messed with and a lot of things are up in the air, motivation can be hard. Especially if you have an excess of time. It's hard to switch motivation off and on like that, if you need it one second and it's not necessary the other.
So that's what I'm doing right now. How are you?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


It's kind of a given. If you write, you will be rejected. Over and over. I think a key part of writing life is to develop some kind of terminator-like quality in yourself so you never stop going, despite these obstacles. Unless you get crushed flat in a hydraulic press.

Naturally, there will be moments where the self pity is all-consuming and your friends have to nod along with you and say supportive things about how 'your book is very good'. and 'yes I know this sucks but it's the first place you've sent it, so maybe giving up is not the best plan?' All of this of course boils down to one simple fact: no Text prize for me, or even a shortlisting for it. Meh. It's pathetic when you get thrown by things like this, even if you are only in Pathetic Mode for a day of 30 Rock watching and chocolate consuming. If you believe you've done all you can for the work you've written, and re-written and edited and workshopped and had several people read and then re-edited again and then given it another edit for the hell of it. Why, then it's literary agent time.
In the small likelihood that people are a) reading or b) interested, here are some links.
Australian Literary Agents Association - lists several agents, with information on how to submit to them, the particular interests of each agent etc.
Justine Larbalestier's blog post about getting an agent - a nice reality check, and it's great to read this kind of thing by someone who's been there.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Collaborative writing

I can't be bothered writing about being unemployed or Borders being dead, because it's not really much fun. I'd rather talk to the people concerned than blog about it.

I have also avoided writing about a project I'm part of, mainly because I've been wrapping my head around it. I am working on a collaborative novel with a few other Melbourne writers. We are each writing chapters and developing characters, which will be interconnected and move together with a larger plot arc we all share. The process of it has been so different from how I've usually worked, that is has taken some getting used to. But it made me curious about the ins and outs and potential failures collaborative writing can bring. The plus sides are that there are so many more minds to draw from for creative ideas and directions, and as such the content can power along so much quicker with all those people working on it. The downsides are that all of the problems you face as a solo novelist are multiplied by the amount of people working on it. Writing something new, it can often be hard to both write blindly and also steer it into a certain direction. There is a lot of tentative feeling around and playing with what works, and those bits and pieces eventually become interconnected plot strands and a character revealing itself to an audience chapter by chapter. Adding another person to it, you have to be in sync with what they are doing. But if all of you are in that tentative, new stage of growing the story it can come out garbled or not quite connect. It can potentially be more work, especially if you are novices.

If sound like I am criticising it a lot, it's just because I am trying to process how it works and doesn't work as a way of creating new writing. I'd like to work collaboratively in the future, because a lot of professional writing can happen in groups - for example television scriptwriting.

In my travels - well, when I googled 'collaborative novels' - I found a lot of sites dedicated to it. Many, like Novelet and Storymash look like hideous monstrosities from the late 90's. Protagonize is pretty active, but when I had a poke around it felt like a less crazy version of (shudder). So I guess the best way is to learn by doing. And now I've gone full circle. The end.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Waiting for the Titanic to sink.

So, the place I work is closing in a week. I'd like to say that's the reason I have been bad at blogging, but sometimes you don't have things to say. So why blather on about nothing?

Those of us who work at Borders have a 'social media policy'. Which means we are not allowed to blog, tweet or facebook update about the goings on under administration. To me, it's a sad and hilarious policy. It's going down like Titanic guys. If I write about working during the book apocalypse, that's not going to cause the apocalypse. You can't out-apocalypse the apocalypse.

Maybe I haven't written here because this crap is sucking up my poor fragile mind, and when you think you can't be candid about something, it kind of shrivels up that part inside of you that wants to communicate. Don't get me wrong, I am writing fiction. But slowly. The pathetic thing is that most of the conversations I have these days will somehow always end up being about Borders. I am like one of those old people who can't stop talking about their menopausal leakings or prostate. Seriously, I am the crabbiest, most annoying person to be around right now, as I whinge about how shitty and depressing things are in Clearance Land. And though the staff rock like hell, it is depressing. You're seeing the former means of your financial independence being taken apart and sold piece by piece. You are answering stupid, inane questions. The same ones. Over and over like some kind of End Times robot.
1: Oh! Are you closing? But I thought you were staying open?
2. Do you have a new job yet?
3. Do you know what they're going to put in here? (means the giant emptying gulf of shop space being left behind like the soul-shattering void that once was my employment).
4. Do you have (name of book that we haven't had in six months/a month/ever)
5. I am so sad about this!!! (sadness that I am sure is genuine but I am tired of acting out these scenarios of sad with people I don't know.)

Repeat, with variations, until insane.

Though the other day I found out that Readers Feast was closing too, and the feelings of book-related grief were such that I felt like I had a window into the sadness of the customers who talk to me. And I know they probably do mean well.

Mostly, I am sick to death of talking about it, sick of going around in circles like a fish in a tank that will never be cleaned again. Tidying up the few things that are left. Making everything-must-go announcements. I will miss my friends there like crazy, but I am not going to lose them. I think the place I worked is no longer there. I am so ready for it to close. Then maybe my next update wont be another long pathetic retail whinge.

In other news, I am reading 'The Valley of Horses' by Jean Auel. And 'Beauty Queens' by Libba Bray. Both are very good.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


With all the things going on right now, it can be difficult to just let go and muck around with words and ideas for the sake of it. I work at one of the Borders stores in Australia that has an indeterminate time left before closing, as was announced at the beginning of this week. This news is potentially stressful, because I have to find a new job soon. I have to lose all my awesome workmates. And I have to deal with the crazy that an everything-must-go sale will bring. But oddly, I’m not stressed right now. I do have a lot on my mind though.

I am pretty much done with the edits on the novel I was writing. I can only speak for myself but when there’s a lot of crazy goings on, or even when I accomplish something that takes a lot out of me, I can feel depleted at the end. I think I have a flat battery in my brain. And I have learnt the hard way that a way to fix a flat brain battery is not to force it to write. Or to stare at a blank screen willing yourself to get started on a new project. That’s not very inspiring to me, that’s just irritating. Maybe some people can do this, bash their heads against the wall again and again until something comes out that’s useful. Maybe that’s what professional writers do. But why should I? To what purpose? And aside from one collaborative project I have recently started up on, I’m doing this all for me. I don’t have a three book deal or something forcing me to sit at the computer every day that demands results or else. I am doing this because I like it. So there’s no point making myself hate it.

When I am in this space between projects, and in this flat battery stage, I tend to read more. Watch people more. Absorb information without really knowing why I am researching it. Going for aimless walks helps, so you can let your mind wander. It’s a pity it’s getting colder here in Melbourne, because there’s something so good about lying in the local park on the grass, staring up at the trees in the sunshine. I come up with good ideas there, and oddly enough solve problems with my writing that have been bugging me.
There are solutions. Mainly it’s just finding things that are enjoyable, little innocuous things that help set your mind loose so you can write a bit in your head. And it’s about growing comfortable with not ‘writing’ in the sense of typing words down, rather than just playing with ideas and notions in your head and having fun with all that possibility out there.