The Procrastinate-Busting Power of Podcasts (Yes, Podcasts Can Bust Procrastinating)

Hi all,

as you may be aware, I recently finished National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Last week, I wrote about my experience here. NaNoWriMo was a success for me, not simply because I wrote the 50,000 words necessary to “win”, but because I created (most of) the first draft of my middle grade WIP.

However, NaNoWriMo did take its toll. By the time I hit 50,000 words on 27th November, I was exhausted. My brain felt like a fried egg and I fell into a literally heap.

I may have won NaNoWriMo but I had lost my will to write any more of my NaNo work.

I could think of nothing worse.

A break was needed. A distraction, something to recharge my enthusiasm for my project.

So for the next week, I mindlessly surfed the biggest distraction of them all: the internet…

procrastinating…

one day after the other…

…until I stumbled upon a podcast guest hosted by an agent I met during last year’s trip to New York City for the Writer’s Digest Conference.

This agent’s insightful feedback and advice struck a cord with me then, and has remained with me since, so I was interested to hear what he had to say. In this podcast, he spoke about what makes characters entice a reader to read past the first few pages: who the characters are, how they got to where they are, what they want, and what stands in their way. It was all stuff I’ve heard before but, for some reason, hearing it again from him had a profound effect on me.

My brain woke up. It was like my characters knocked on my head yelling, “Hey, what are you doing? You heard him. We have so much more to say. Your characters are your book. Get writing!”

The podcast reignited my interest in my project.

Now I’m a huge fan of podcasts on anything to do with writing, whether that be on an aspect of the craft itself, on the business and marketing front, or as a guest speak with one of my favourite authors. There’s something special, almost intimate, about podcasts. It’s as though the speaker is only talking to you.

And in our time-poor world, their ability to educate, inspire, and empower – whether you’re on the commute to work, or while you cook, clean, or exercise – makes them a fantastic multi-tasking means to an end. We all get stuck at times with our writing but by listening to podcasts, at least you feel like you’re doing something about it. Well, don’t you? And maybe one might just be the thing you need to get moving again.

The Write Life recently updated their list of  twenty inspiring podcasts for writers. If you haven’t introduced yourself to the world of writing podcasts, this is a good place to start for a bit of binge-listening 🙂 (Or if you’re in a literally heap 😦 ) And my favourite of the Australian podcasts is the Australian Writers’ Centre So you want to be a writer podcast, with Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait.

Hopefully, you’ll hear something on one of these gems to pull you out of any procrastinating slump.

And fulfill your writing goals.

Until next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

Are you a fan of podcasts and, if so, which would you recommend to writers, and why?

And have those who NaNo’d this year been able to maintain momentum after December 1st hit?

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NaNoWriMo 2017 – the Surprises (and the Real Win) for Me

Hi all,

yesterday I passed the 50,000 word mark on NaNoWriMo, three days before the deadline, meaning that officially I have “won” NaNoWriMo 2017 – yes, that’s why things have been so quiet on the blogging front this month; I’ve been kinda busy writing and counting words…

For those not familiar with NaNoWriMo, I explained what it is, and what I was getting myself in for, in a post I wrote last month. Check it out here: NaNoWriMo – I’m Looking at You 

Now this is the first time I’ve tried this marathon of the brain, and it has surprised me, not because I actually managed to write 50,000 words (I can be pretty dogged at times – just ask my husband), but in what I discovered along the way.

So here is a quick run down:

  • That no matter how much you plot and plan (I spent the previous two months outlining and preparing for NaNoWriMo), there will be deviations in your story in ways you least expect. For example, while writing a key scene with a major supporting character, I realized this male character should be female – pity it took me all the way to the story’s climax to realize this, a few days before I finished. Major rewrite ahead.
  • That no matter how much you prepare, life can, and will, throw curveballs at you, whether it be in the form of sick kids, unexpected work (who doesn’t need to put food on the table?), school and sporting commitments going into overdrive, and attacks on your health.
  • I should have written some “side” and “back” scenes, as I like to call them, from the point of view of supporting characters before November 1st. I wrote these scenes two-thirds of the way through the month when I ground to a halt. Thankfully, they were instrumental in getting to really know my characters and helping to get me back on track to bring it all home. My original character outlines, it turns out, did not have enough depth.
  • NaNoWriMo made me accountable to the only person who really mattered in all this: ME. It didn’t matter to my family and friends if I reached 50K or not, their opinion of me wouldn’t change in the slightest. But it mattered to me, my writing matters to me, so I was determined to see it through (there’s that dogged nature again).
  • Saying that, the level of support I received from family (none are writers) was something I am eternally grateful for – okay, now this sounds like an acceptance speech. Hand me the tissues. But it’s true, especially from my husband. And given that he does not write nor fully understand through no fault of his own how HARD it is to write a novel at the best of times, makes me so appreciative of his willingness to pick up my slack while I banged my fingers (and, at times, my head) against the keyboard for twenty-seven days straight.
  • The level of support from friends who are not writers. They know how important writing is to me and were there to cheer me on and encourage me to reach 50K, even if some thought I was crazy for trying 😉
  • And, of course, the level of support from other writers, whether they are undertaking NaNoWriMo themselves or not. I already knew writers to be a generous bunch, but was still pleasantly surprised by the extent of the support and well wishes I received. For instance, I joined a Facebook group established by fellow Australian writer, Anna Spargo-Ryan, and the friendship and camaraderie that developed within this group in a very short time frame was priceless. We held virtual hands through bleak periods of self doubt, exchanged suggestions when writer’s block reared its ugly head, and cheered each other on when stepping-stone goals were achieved. Reaching the official 50K milestone became secondary to achieving individual goals, whether that be completing an emotional scene or getting back on track after a major plot setback. And now? We’ll support each other in finishing our manuscripts and through the rewrites and edits that, no doubt, must be done.

The community spirit I experienced through NaNoWriMo 2017 was the real win for me 🙂

So for all those NaNo’ing this year, I hope the experience has been an uplifting, and maybe a surprising, one for you.

And whether you write 50,000 or 5,000 words during November, you’re all awesome for giving it a go. There are many too fearful to try.

Next next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

NaNoWriMo – I’m Looking at You

Hi all,

Last month, I decided, after several years of thinking about it, to participate in NaNoWriMo this November.

NaNoWriMo Logo

For those not aware, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and is where writers attempt to write fifty thousand words during the month of November. That’s right, fifty thousand hopefully non-rambling words in thirty days. For some, that equates to half a novel. For others, more. As I’m planning to write the first draft of a middle grade novel, I’m hoping it will equate to a full novel (probably brimming with fluffy superfluous words I will slash and burn, come December).

You sign up at the NaNoWriMo website, make friends with equally crazy online writing buddies doing the same, and track your work’s progress. There are also loads of resources and associated events to help keep your motivation up and creative juices flowing – I won’t go into more detail than this; you can check it all out on the website.

So why am I doing it? Well I’ve spent the best part of the last few months developing my story structure, along with detailed scene and character outlines, for the middle grade idea I’ve had for over a year. With a personal preference to lean toward pantsing over plotting, I’ve decided to grit my teeth and try a new approach this time, care of some words of wisdom from author, K.M. Weiland who points out that:

“…a correctly wielded outline can be one of the most powerful weapons in your writing arsenal. Outlines ensure cohesion and balance in the finished story. They prevent wasted time pursuing dead-end ideas, allow you to craft resonant foreshadowing, and, most importantly, provide you a foundation of confidence and motivation.”

And that’s what the last few months of planning and preparation has taught me: the confidence and motivation to write this story. Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I don’t usually outline, but in this case it is much more in depth. I’m hoping that translates to a quicker first draft.

Now in terms of NaNoWriMo itself, I’m not delusional. The pace must be consistently fast, averaging 1,667 words per day, every day. And I know I may not reach fifty thousand words – life has an annoying way of throwing up curve balls. But does that mean those who do not reach fifty thousand words do not succeed? Surely any attempt to put bum on seat and fingers on keyboard (or pen to paper) is better than sitting back, waving your hands at your computer, and protesting that it’s too hard. And at least however far I get will be something to continue with once the sun sets on NaNoWriMo 2017.

When I told my husband of my plans, his response was, “Well, I won’t be getting much sense from you in November.” No, probably not, and blog posts may also be scarce during next month. But if I can wave my first draft in the air once the first of December comes around, it’s a small price to pay. 🙂

Well, isn’t it?

Until next time,

Rebecca

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you done it before and, if so, how was the experience?

 

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Hi all,

Laini Taylor is masterful at weaving worlds, conjuring characters, and creating conflict, making her one of my favourite authors. Her talent at writing compelling descriptions of scenes and emotions, using words I would never consider stringing together in a sentence, leaves me in awe.

Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is one of my favorite series, even though it took me the best part of fifty pages to get into the story in the initial book. Strange the DreamerAnd that’s my main issue with Strange the Dreamer, Laini’s latest offering. This one took half the book: it’s so slooow.

Now don’t get me wrong, Laini is such a gifted writer. It’s just that the aspect of her writing that I applaud the most, the one I struggle with most in my own writing, began to grate on my nerves while reading this novel: descriptions, pages and pages of them. Add loads of internal exposition which felt, at times, repetitive and unnecessary, and the plot dragged, bogged down by the length and weight of it all.

Maybe it’s my fault. After all, I’ve read a lot of fast-paced action-fuelled books recently, some of which, I admit, could’ve used a little more description. But Strange the Dreamer is so laden with poetic prose and flowery words that I struggled to read too much of this novel in one sitting, needing to take a break more often than usual. It took me three weeks to read this book, a lot longer than for most. The descriptions came close to overpowering the fascinating plot.

So speaking of plot, Strange the Dreamer starts with the death of a character (it was like, Wow! What a start! when I read it) before falling back in time to the story of Lazlo Strange. Lazlo’s a bookworm obsessed with an “unseen city”, a place whose name disappears in an instant and which becomes known as Weep. Without giving away too much of the narrative, Lazlo’s character eventually becomes intertwined with Sarai, a godspawn brimming with conflict, conflict, conflict!

The characterization of Lazlo, Sarai, and others is fantastic – I especially love Eril-Fane, with his cursed nickname of Godslayer, and Azareen, his long-suffering wife. Saying that, there are an awful lot of secondary characters whose relevance I failed to see. Maybe their relevance will be revealed in the upcoming sequel, The Muse of Nightmares.

Strange the Dreamer’s backstory teems with magic, science, love, and war – such a powerful mix – and the world-building is extraordinary, to say the least.

This novel is a love story unlike any other; the ending pulled at my heart strings. I was hoping against hope that my suspicions would not be confirmed but, alas, they were. I’d guessed how the story ended, or rather, the dilemma to tempt us to read the sequel. Damn, I hate it when that happens…

So will I read it, The Muse of Nightmares? Yes, I’d like to know how the story continues.

It may just take me a while to get through it 🙂

Until next time,

Rebecca

Persistence Is Key (As Shown by a Balloon)

It’s funny how life sends you a sign. Or, in this case, a balloon.

Persistence is key, writers are told. When writing. When editing. Especially when querying. And all writers know that it’s easy to lose faith. In your ability. In your work. In your tenacity and will to succeed in this fickle (and slow) world of publishing.
I was pondering my own trials and tribulations on the weekend, as I leant on my decking balustrade and watched the sun travel toward the horizon. And that’s when the balloon floated into view. From where it came, I do not know.

It was a vibrant orange, full of life, hope, as it danced toward my backyard. It entered on a slight gust, like a finger prod from an invisible giant, and flew straight into my ash tree. As it weaved its way through an obstacle course of branches, I waited for the “pop” that would announce its defeat.

Yet it did not come. Instead, the balloon escaped its woody snare and drifted across my veggie patch to be grabbed by a gum on the far side.

This is it, I thought, its end is near.

But the balloon, its orange burnt bright by the approaching sunset, wriggled its way between the gum’s limbs. And those of the pine behind it.

Until the balloon was free to continue its journey.

As it disappeared over the crest of the hill, I couldn’t help but see similarities between this orange circle of stubbornness and a writer’s life: the struggles to succeed after setback (after setback), and to continue on your path in spite of those who tell you, “No”, those who question why you do what you do, and those who have given up themselves.

Persistence is key.

Rebecca

Have you seen or heard anything that has served as a metaphor for, or become symbolic to, your thoughts or feelings?

Book Review: New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

I’ve always found the idea of time travel to be quite scary. So much can go wrong. The same can be said for writing time travel novels. When I came across Daniel Godfrey’s novel, New Pompeii, with its “Gladiator meets Jurassic Park” concept, I was intrigued.
In this novel, a company called NovusPart has worked out how to transport people from past to present and uses this technology to yank citizens of Pompeii through time (right as Vesuvius is erupting in AD 79, I might add). It brings them to a replica city in modern time, New Pompeii, where the citizens believe they have been saved from the eruption by the deity emperor, Augustus Caesar.

After exploring the dungeons of Rome’s Colosseum in June, and having visited Pompeii itself on a previous trip to Italy, I was fascinated with where this story would travel (so to speak).

The protagonist, Nick Houghton, a history graduate brought in by NovusPart as an advisor, soon learns that the company has not thought through every implication of its actions. For instance, NovusPart gives New Pompeii’s citizens fairly limited rights and freedoms, and seems to overlook that these citizens come from a society responsible for many of the advances we utilise today:

“So, Nick,” said Whelan. The NovusPart operations chief took a step forward. “What do you think the most important thing is, in making all of this work?”

Nick’s mind cycled quickly, trying to find an answer that wouldn’t make him look stupid. The buildings? The logistics? The technology?

No.

The people.

New Pompeii’s residents have been told by NovusPart men (assumed to have been sent by Augustus) that it is too dangerous to travel outside the city as the Italian peninsula has been severely damaged by the eruption and is in turmoil. However, these people are intelligent and questioning, which is especially apparent in the small details, read, anomalies, they observe (for example, carrots in AD 79 did not have the added colour of carrots grown today). Their increasing doubts and concerns serve to build tension between the two cultures.

I enjoyed reading about the political and cultural aspects of Roman life – what a fascinating period in human history – but found a few errors in depiction. For example, those of relative importance such as our protagonist would usually travel with an attendant in tow. Yet Nick took off on more than one occasion to explore New Pompeii on his own, without a thought as to what the citizens would think of this and how they might judge him. And with limited regard for his own safety in a community becoming more and more on edge.

And then there’s the second story running through the narrative concerning a dead girl in a bath, which I found more distracting. Although it ties in with the main plot near its conclusion, I thought it added little to the novel and could easily have been left out.

For the most part, New Pompeii was a decent read, with action-packed scenes, and articulate characterization and dialogue. However with such an intriguing concept, the author could have done so much more in terms of the clash of eras and its potential ramifications. Instead, the narrative fell short and the conclusion was less than satisfying. Saying that, I am interested to read Empire of Time, the sequel released a couple of months ago. I’d still like to see where things “travel” 🙂

Hope your own travels are great!

Rebecca

What time travel novels have you read that you liked, or didn’t like, and why?

Setting Source – Using Settings I Discovered During Travel to Enhance My Writing

Hi all,

I’ve been busy the last week working on a short story for an end-of-month deadline while I fight a dreaded cold (well, it IS that time of year in Australia). On top of this, I’ve continued to develop the outline for my next WIP, my middle grade novel. One key part of this is determining the most suitable settings for my story.

As mentioned in a previous post, Character Source, I spent time on my recent European trip researching possible settings for the parts of my story which take place on that continent. This setting made the short list – know where it is?
IMG_3215

Okay, that doesn’t make it easy.
IMG_3230

 

Here’s another pic:

 

 

Any idea? It’s really not that hard 🙂

Anyway, to get to my short list, I made another list, one of suitable criteria to consider before a setting was included. Or chopped. They were:

  • Location (obviously) – from broad particulars such as country, state, city/rural, etc. down to specifics such as streets, houses, schools, businesses, roads and landmarks.
  • Geography – including the climate, topography and ecosystems, and possible obstacles such as mountains, deserts and oceans. Man-made influences, such as graveyards and marketplaces, also provide extra authenticity.
  • Time – including time of day (down to the hour) and week, seasons, holiday periods, event anniversaries and commemorations. I also consider the length of time that has elapsed since the previous story setting, especially the effect this can have on characters (their age, mood, etc.)
  • Atmosphere – one of the main reasons I’ve short-listed the setting in the above photos is due to the mood I hope to create in this scene – scary with a sense of foreboding, due to its hidden dungeons and chambers (yep, another clue). Other influences on atmosphere include weather, lighting and temperature.
  • Population – from a desolate lonely place, to one bustling with people, animals and traffic (in which is it easier for a character to hide? Or attack?)
  • History – past events that took place in that location, including its ancestral past, which may be incorporated into my plot.
  • Social and Cultural – including the political climate of the location.

I need to be ruthless when deciding which settings will enhance my writing the most.

That is, they must all present conflicts or obstacles to be overcome.

They must all provide the POV character with an opportunity to grow or change.

And they must all provide the most suitable backdrop for revealing plot points and advancing the story.

All of the above criteria impacts how I (and readers) visualize a setting. Try comparing a tropical beach during a hot summer’s day to a deserted house on a cold Halloween night. The first is relaxing and fun; the second, not so much.

IMG_5098And then there’s utilizing all the senses. It’s all too easy to write what I’ve seen on my travels, but if the tunnel was dark, and the wind howled through its long corridor, and my hair brushed my face while trembling fingertips found their way along its coarse brick wall…

Anyway, you get my drift 🙂

So how do you decide on settings? Do you have a list of criteria (mine is by no means exhaustive)?

Would love to hear your thoughts,

Rebecca

 

Book Review: On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Hi all,

“Damn, I wish I wrote this”, is the thought that usually comes to mind while reading books by one of my favourite Aussie authors, Melina Marchetta. On the Jellicoe Road (published in the US as Jellicoe Road) is no exception.

Why has it taken me so long to read this book (first published more than a decade ago), when I absolutely loved Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, Melina’s two previous YA books?

IMG_4977

At least now I have read it.

When I headed off to Europe a couple of months ago, I wanted to take something with me that oozed distinct #LoveOzYa flavour. On the Jellicoe Road fell into my lap a few days before I left, so I stuffed it in my bag and read it while cruising Welsh canals.

And…it…was…wonderful.

So what’s it all about?

Taylor Markham, a seventeen-year-old boarding school student at Jellicoe School in country New South Wales, was abandoned by her mother in a 7-Eleven restroom when she was eleven. At that time, a woman named Hannah began caring for her, but Taylor grows to suspect that Hannah hides knowledge about Taylor’s mother.

When Taylor was fourteen, a hermit whispered something in her ear (which she can’t remember – along with other pockets of her life) before he committed suicide in front of her. Taylor ran away to search for her mother and, on the way, met Jonah Griggs, a military school cadet who, she’s been told, killed his own father.

I love the dialogue when they met:

“Do you know when the next train to Yass is coming?” I had asked.

“Go to hell,” he said, but there was a desolate fear in his eyes and I couldn’t look away.

“Been there. Trust me. It’s so overrated.”

So Taylor opened up to him, but felt betrayed when he called an adult to come and collect them.

Now seventeen, Taylor has put up a wall to the world and is no longer willing to trust. By a weird political process, she finds herself chosen to lead the Jellicoe School kids in the next round of territorial wars between them and the cadets (with Jonah as their leader) and the townies, a group of students who live in town and whose leader has history with one of Taylor’s few true supporters.

Taylor must face Jonah again as enemies. To make things worse, Hannah, the constant in Taylor’s life and the one person she trusts, disappears.

While most of the story is told in Taylor’s first-person point of view, there are also snippets of another tale, told in third-person and concerning a group of kids brought together following a car accident which claimed the lives of some of their parents. The connection between the two stories is beautiful, but heart-breaking.

I won’t say any more – there is so much more I could – except that, after a surprisingly slow start, this story gathers momentum until, by the end, I nearly wept. So many small, seemingly insignificant, details connect in a beautiful tale of the power of family, love, and forgiveness. The characters are memorable, the writing fantastic, and the story completely moving, which only serves to reaffirm Melina’s place as one of Australia’s best YA authors in my eyes.

On Melina, I’ve referred to her in a previous post, when she wrote a great piece on the implications of the Productivity Commission’s proposed changes to intellectual property on the Australian publishing industry, Australian writers and readers. You can read it here:

Alibrandi, Francesca, You and the Productivity Commission

For more about Melina and her books, visit her website.

Now back to my own writing,

Rebecca

 

 

Character Source – Using Personalities I Discovered During Travel to Enhance My Writing

Hi all,

I’ve been off the blogging grid for most of the last six and a half weeks, travelling through Europe with my family – apologies for the lack of recent posts. While the two main purposes of this trip were to visit our extended family and introduce my children to the wonders, both natural and man made, of this intriguing continent, I also spent time researching for my next project, a middle grade novel aimed primarily at boys.

Possible settings was one area of research. Here is one location I am toying with including:

IMG_4960

Ten points if you know where it is 🙂

I’ll have more on settings in a future post for, as well as this, I spent more time than is probably healthy observing people I met along the way.

IMG_3048There was the toothless elderly stall holder in a Rome market, whose eyes sparked with a zest for life and hinted at a colourful past while she handed me my chosen cherries and tomatoes.

Then there’s the dark-skinned French woman in a train bound for Paris, her elaborately-beaded hair rattling with giggles at our joint conspiracy to sit in the best seats and convince the ticket checker – via two languages – to leave us there (it worked).

I can’t forget the rosy-cheeked and robust New Zealand boy, who showed the locals how it’s done with his expertise at working canal locks (all learnt within the previous half hour, I might add).

And what about the curly-haired office worker, who stayed back past 11pm every night in the office block opposite our London apartment? Did he not have anything, or anyone, to go home to?

These are only a few.

I took note of their appearance, their mannerisms, any quirks. I wondered about their history. And their future. I made notes on what I saw, and more notes on what I imagined, and returned home with evolving character sketches I’m itching to develop further and incorporate into my WIP’s outline.

So now it’s back to it. Until next time,

Rebecca

 

Tripping Away…

Hi all,

Blank Norebook

Yep, I know I’ve been a little quiet on the writing/blogging/social media chit-chat front lately, but if there’s ever a good reason to step away, it’s this. I’ve been head down and butt up organising a pretty huge overseas trip for my family of five.

A trip that’s about to start.

A trip consisting of:

four (loooong) flight segments,

four (pretty fast) train rides,

ten diverse hotel and apartment stays, and

three car hires – and one of a narrowboat.

And while helping my children juggle four currencies – and my husband juggle three offspring – I hope to squeeze in some much needed time to research my next WIP. But more on that later…

I hope you’re finding some time to write.

Or at least some time to plan a research, I mean, family trip.

Until next time,

Rebecca