Thursday, June 25, 2009


This was going to be a very sensible post about constructing a plot. I realised today, however, that the plot I was working with for my current book had ... well, I would say crashed and burned, but it was more of a splat and a wet fizzle (splizzle?). I was still in love with the first half of the book, and the final chapters, but the middle had taken a very, very wrong turn.

I tried to fix it. I really did. I battled with it all this week, trying to make it work, but sometimes when you have to try that hard it just isn't meant to be.

Why it was dreadful

1) It felt contrived. Characters were behaving in a way convenient for me, but not in the way they would naturally behave. And they started to protest, and wriggle out of the situations in which I wanted to put them.
2) A cliched character appeared on the scene. She was about as convincing as the frighteningly large cardboard figure of Arnold Schwarzenegger in our local video store. Yes, our video store has probably owned that cut-out since 1992.
3) The characters started Talking About the Plot. The kiss of death.

So the whole section has gone! I have not worked out exactly how many words have bitten the dust (am saving it for the morning, when I feel stronger), but I think it must be about 10,000.

My natural talents do not lie in the area of planning out a good plot. I'm more of a seat-of-the pants writer. I tend to start writing with a character in mind; the character speaks in my head, and I take dictation. After a while I might get a vague idea of the direction in which the story is going, and I might even find an end point for which I can aim. As I make my way further through the book, the plot emerges. This quote describes it perfectly:

“It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” - E. L. Doctorow

My first drafts are pretty messy. I throw everything onto the page as quickly as I can, trusting that it will all make sense later on. If an idea or an unexpected character pops up, I throw them in. "A murder? Sure! I'll figure out why later on." I try to finish the book before making major changes, but that is because I usually feel as if I am heading in the right direction. This time, I felt like I had made a bad decision early on that needed to be corrected before I could continue.

Why it is no longer dreadful (I hope)

I went right back to my plotting basics: starting inside a character and moving outwards. I took my protagonist, brushed him off and sat him down in front of me. I asked him these questions, just to be clear (I had asked these at the beginning of the book as well, but had lost sight of them since).

1) What do you want more than anything in the world?
2) Who and what stands in your way? Do you feel you should achieve your goal, or are you conflicted?
3) How are you going to overcome your obstacles?
4) What scares you the most?

This may sound a bit flaky, but the new plot grew out of the answers to these questions. That horrible stale, empty feeling has gone, I feel excited about this new development, and I can't wait to get started tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thank you!

Just a quick post to say thank you. Firstly to the lovely New Zealand author (and my blogging friend) Mary McCallum, who wrote an enormously kind post about my good news, and who was a tremendous help and source of sage advice when I was going through the agent-hunting process. Secondly, to BestFriendAlly, who also wrote a lovely post full of kind words and Transformers (yes, the robots).

Thank you both so much!

And, for no reason at all, here's a picture of Mink and me napping on the weekend. I love his proprietorial paw. "My human!"

P.S. In response to quite a few comments, no, I do not usually nap with my heels on. This was one of those unplanned naps that happen unexpectedly on a sunny afternoon!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cake disasters

Progress on the novel continues apace. It still feels a bit like the terrible cakes I bake, however: soggy in the middle. A friend suggested I cover it with icing, which is what I usually do to hide my real-life cake disasters, but sadly it doesn't work quite as well with books. Even if the icing is metaphorical. Speaking of which, have you visited Cake Wrecks? I just love the sadistic pleasure of looking at professional cakes gone wrong.

Anyway, I had better get back to work - I want to hit 74,000 words before I visit a friend's writers' group tonight. There are a couple of writing posts lined up for later in the week, when I have a bit more time, and I'm looking forward to posting them. I'd just like to reiterate that I don't pretend to be an enormous expert on the writing and publishing process, but rather am trying to share what I've learned. Everything I post about is something that I have struggled with and have had to solve in one way or another, and I write about each subject in the hope that it will prove helpful.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bright colours and happiness

Thank you so much for all your kind messages and congratulations, everyone! I can't begin to tell you how excited I am about all of this. It is such a relief, after two years of work and striving for publication, to reach this milestone.

At this stage, my editor wants to release the book in early 2011. Which seems like a long time to wait, particularly if you are blessed with the patience of a fruit fly, as I am, until you realise that it needs to be published at that time in order to have the best chance of succeeding. New books are generally released at the beginning of the year, after the big names have released new titles in the northern hemisphere's autumn, in time for Christmas. Early 2010 is only six months away, and so my book won't be ready in time. Hence the wait! I'm just happy that it's all coming true. (Yes, I am still checking and rechecking the emails to make sure it is not an elaborate hallucination).

A couple of you have asked whether I can reveal the title of the book. It would be my pleasure! The book is called 'Ngozi', which is a Shona word meaning (loosely translated), 'vengeful ghosts.' Here's an excerpt from my query letter, where I gave a brief blurb:

"Being a white Zimbabwean in the 1990s is a near-perfect life. Your clothes are always clean and ironed, there is always tea in the silver teapot, gins and tonics are served on the verandah, and, in theory at least, black and white live in harmony. As Mugabe’s presidency turns sour, however, this idyllic and privileged world begins to crumble into anarchy.

Told through the eyes of a young girl, Ngozi follows the struggle of one troubled white family to stay afloat in the collapsing economy and escalating horror of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. When the farm invasions begin, the violence threatens to destroy their way of life forever, and escaping the vengeful ghosts (‘ngozi’) of their past seems impossible. Can they stay, or must they go?"

Thanks again for all your support through this whole process - I appreciate it greatly.

P.S. The lovely vintage bag I'm carrying was a birthday gift from my friend Hannah. My old favourite is out of action after the dastardly mugger broke it, so I'm especially delighted to have a beautiful new bag!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Multiple exclamation marks are needed, for once!!!

I have been bursting to tell you this all weekend, but I wanted to wait until I had made the official announcement to friends and family at my birthday party. Now I can finally announce that, on Friday morning ...

... I accepted an offer of publication from an imprint of Random House UK!

I am so thrilled. I have had to re-check the emails every so often to reassure myself that it is real, and not a crazed fever-dream.

The editor said: "I think she has real talent and the accomplishment she shows in handling the tension and characterisation in this novel is incredibly impressive. I found myself completely drawn into Elise's [the protagonist's] world. I'd love to have Andrea on the list as she sums up what we are all about - quality writing with an international perspective."

My agent is negotiating a few points, and then the contract will be drawn up and signed. I'm heading over to the UK for the month of August, and I will meet with my agent (my agent!) and my editor (my editor!) then. I feel terribly glamorous saying that I am flying to London to meet with my publishers.

Thank you so much for your birthday wishes - it has definitely been my best ever birthday to date!

P.S. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
P.P.S. Hence the happy yellow jumping on Friday.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's my birthday!

I am officially 24 years old. I have a feeling the year ahead is going to be a particularly good one!

Thank you so much for all the birthday wishes, everybody. I feel so lucky to be a part of such a warm, supportive online community. As I've said many times before, I would have gone completely mad working from home this past year if I hadn't had all of you to talk to. I'm very grateful for the inspirational people I have met online, and the lasting friendships I have made with people - often on the other side of the world! - whom I would never have met if it weren't for the blogosphere. Your comments and messages mean more to me than you know.

One such friendship has been with the beautiful Aya of Strawberry Koi, a kindred spirit who has been both friend and inspiration to me. Today she surprised me with an amazing present: this stunning portrait!

(Aya holds the copyright for this image, of course, and all rights are reserved).

Isn't she talented? What an amazing gift, and one that I'll always treasure.

Thanks again, everyone, for your kind words, encouragement and support! I'm having a wonderful birthday, and will tell you all about it tomorrow. I hope you have a lovely weekend, wherever in the world you are.

P.S. And the dress in Aya's picture is the very one I'm wearing today!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This is how I'm feeling today!

19 June 09 002
19 June 09 009
19 June 09 012

P.S. I'm working towards my dream of owning a coat in every colour possible.
P.P.S. Just one day till my birthday!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bits and bobs

Wow, a lot of catching up to do! Thank you so much for all your comments, everyone - I'm a little behind, but catching up fast.

It has been a busy - and very productive - few days. Work is going really well on both books - I resurrected my on-hold young adult one last week as well. I don't usually work on two projects at once: I started working on the young adult one as a Busman's holiday to counteract the occasional fatigue and boredom I feel with my work in progress. Sometimes writing can feel like wading through treacle, and it has been really helpful to switch between the two when my enthusiasm fades on one.

"You might not be at the point where you're stalled because of burnout, or deadline pressures, but if you keep writing, eventually you're likely to hit some variation of this problem. We all seem to run over most of the same ruts in the road sooner or later, after all. If and when you do bounce across this one, keep my busman's holiday in mind. Sometimes the only thing that will set your writing free is to write just for yourself. No matter how tight your deadline is or how desperate you are to get a particular project out the door, remember that your brain is not hardware. It doesn't come with software programmed to produce two thousand words a day, day in and day out. Your mind is a mystery, and one that likes to play. It can do more than you can imagine, but only if you give it a little time of its own, to just burst free without constraints or specified objectives. " - Holly Lisle

I find working on something different and writing with the pressure taken off is more relaxing than taking a complete break from working. It might not work for everybody, but if you are experiencing that wading-through-treacle feeling, it might be worth a shot.

The yWriter5 software has made an emormous difference to the way I work, as well, and has helped me immensely. I'm planning a whole post on this software and its benefits to the novel-writing process soon, but why wait for me to endorse it? It's free! Go download it and have a play.

Thank you so much for all the links you sent me on this post. I have drawn the name of the person who will receive a little parcel of goodies, and it is Elena Lu!. Please leave your email address in the comments, and I'll be in touch.

P.S. I have been thinking of a little get-together for Christchurch bloggers for a while. It would be lovely to meet those of you I haven't, and catch up with those I have. I thought The Tea Room on Lincoln Road would be a good place to meet for tea and cupcakes, and we could go on a little thrifting trip afterwards. Leave me a comment if you're interested in coming along!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Giving and Receiving Critique: or, Learning to Kick Your Ego in the Groin

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." - Winston Churchill
(Yes, but some of us would much rather take an aspirin and ignore it).

I used to be absolutely dreadful at taking criticism of my writing. Like a lot of writers, I can be ridiculously sensitive and insecure when it comes to my work, and it didn't take much to make me defensive and hurt. I was also a big fan of the "Oh, I just dashed this off last night. And I haven't given it a proper edit yet" excuse (The sartorial equivalent: "Oh, this old thing? Just something I threw together," which everyone knows is a lie). It was a form of self-preservation: if they loved it, I felt good because I had produced something good in five minutes. If they didn't, well then, it wasn't because I lacked talent but because I had only spent five minutes on it. I'm sure you can see how ultimately pointless this strategy was.

It took several years and lots of bumps and bruises, but I think that now I'm able to listen to criticism relatively objectively, and apply it where needed (most of the time). I've compiled a brief list of guidelines that I think will help with asking for, accepting and acting on critique - just my opinions, but I hope that some of them will be useful!

Whom do you ask?

In general, it is not a good idea to ask family, close friends or partners for a critique. I say 'in general' because, of course, there are many exceptions. LOML, for example, is a great beta reader. He has a naturally critical, logical mind and is blessed with the personality trait of brutal honesty. I'm very lucky. My mother, however, would be a dreadful beta reader, as she would wander off and forget what she was supposed to be doing. I also have some wonderful friends who are avid readers - and a couple of them very decent writers - whom I would never, ever ask for a critique because I know that neither of us could be objective.

Only give your work to people whose opinion you trust and respect. Don't give it to someone who you think is a bad writer, or at least worse than you, as you'll discount their critique as soon as it arrives. (It might also be interesting to ask yourself why you chose this person in the first place). If you are part of a writers' group or a writing class, the pickings are rich. Don't worry if you don't have writerly friends you want to ask, though: avid and discerning readers can give you just as good a critique as fellow writers - and they'll raise some interesting points that writers, mired in the words, may miss (Can't see the wood for the trees, and all that). Choosing someone who reads within your chosen genre has obvious benefits, as they will have a more specialised take on your manuscript.

Establish a deadline

This can be a bit of an awkward subject to broach, particularly as your reader is performing the service for free. Remember that you are asking a huge favour, that critiquing a manuscript is difficult and time-consuming, and that people read and work at different paces. It is a good idea to establish a rough timeline, however, to keep your reader motivated and to make sure you receive the critique in good time.

Just a small note of caution: be aware who has your manuscript at any given time, and ask for it back when your reader has finished. You don't want an early draft floating around in the ether for anyone to read.

No disclaimers

Don't give your work to a reader with the addendum "I wrote this really quickly/it's the first thing I've written in months/I haven't read over this yet", or any of the other excuses that trip gaily off your tongue when you're about to give your baby up to be criticised. There are only two reasons to give disclaimers:

1. You actually think that your work is rushed, rough and not reader-ready. In which case, why are you giving it to a reader?

2. You think your work is pretty good, and that people will be extra-impressed if they think you did it in five minutes or never practise your writing. They really won't be.

Take charge of your critique

I think you will get the most thorough and focused critique if you give a sort of study sheet to your reader along with the actual manuscript; a list of things to which you would like him or her to pay special attention. Of course, they are free to raise other points as well, but it will be helpful to both of you if there is some focus to the feedback. If you are a decent writer, you will be aware (however reluctantly) of the potentially weak points in your work, and the experimental bits that you hope will work but could fail miserably. You will also be aware of your own personal pitfalls and bad habits. The list will enable you to weed out these potential problems. It is also an opportunity to work with your readers' strengths. If you know someone who's very good at analysing film plots and pointing out where they fail, ask them to pay particular attention to the plot. You get the idea.

I would also suggest being clear on how you would like to receive the critique. I'm a fan of written critique - then, if I have an unpleasant emotional response to a comment or suggestion, I'm having it all by myself and not in front of the critic. It also makes it easier to refer back to the comments when you're making changes, and I believe a critic is likely to be more honest when they're not criticising your work to your face.

If you do choose to receive the feedback in person, however, make sure you are feeling strong. Try to stay unemotional in the face of good and bad comments. If you burst into tears when they tell you they found a typo, they will (understandably) be reluctant to carry on, and will probably temper the rest of their comments. If you get angry or overly emotional in any way, they might not agree to read your work again. They're not criticising you as a person, even though it might feel that way (particularly if your work is at all autobiographical).

Examine your motives

Make sure you are choosing your reader and giving up your manuscript for the right reasons - it will save you some heartache and wasted time. These are just a few examples of possible motives. There are many more.


1) You're feeling pretty good about yourself and your work. You want someone to give you a pat on the head and confirm that your writing is as awesome as you think it is.

Really not a good idea to ask for critique, then. If all you want is someone to tell you that you're the Best Writer Ever, then call your mother or someone else who loves you unconditionally. There's nothing wrong with doing this (occasionally) - we all do! Just don't disguise it as a desire for brutally honest critique. You'll regret it. Like those tone-deaf people on American Idol.

2) You're feeling down about your work and you're looking for some encouragement

I feel for you, I really do. Again, though, it may not be the best idea to ask for critique here unless you give your reader some parameters. Maybe tell them to lay off the spelling, grammar and continuity for the moment, and concentrate on your story. Does it make them want to read more? Do they like the characters? It's even all right to ask them to tell you just The Good Stuff about your work, if you need a pick-me-up. Postpone the harsh critique. The desired result here is to get enough encouragement to keep trucking on.

I gave a set of poems to a friend once - not for critique, just for a bit of encouragement. I did not make this clear, obviously, because the poems (some of which were deeply personal and which referenced people and events she knew) came back to me absolutely covered in red pen and critical comments. It was awful. And entirely my fault. I was not ready for a critique.

Be aware, as a writer, of what you truly want - not what you think you ought to want - and ask for it. If you're only three chapters in and you just want some encouragement to keep going, tell your reader. If you want a critique of the plot and structure but you're not too concerned about grammar and typos at this stage, tell your reader. Be clear.

3) You genuinely want a thorough and honest critique of your work.

Hooray! This is a tough but valuable place in which to be: when you feel strong enough to give your manuscript to beta readers and tell them to be as anal-retentive, nit-picking, brutal and critical as possible, because you can take it. I am writer, hear me roar.


1) They could have a negative agenda (not often, but it happens). For example:

They don't like you/your writing/your story and they can't put those feelings aside to give you an honest critique.

They are embittered or frustrated about their own work, and they want you to feel just as embittered and frustrated.

They are jealous of you and want to take you down a peg or two. Sometimes they are blocked writers and resent your productivity.

2) They don't feel much enthusiasm about your work, or they agreed to read it out of politeness. This means that they don't devote the time and attention to your work that it needs (or never finish it at all), and give you a half-hearted, vague critique.

3) They genuinely want to help you with a thorough and honest critique. These people are valuable. Treasure them, treat them well, mildly stalk them.

If you are both approaching the critique from a position of honesty, encouragement and support, the results will be helpful. If not, not so much.

If you are a reader ...

... Be aware of what the writer wants from you, and respect it. This is not an opportunity to foist your own ideas and style onto the writer, or to act out your own agenda. If you agree to read someone's work, you are agreeing to act in their best interests. If you don't think you can do that, don't agree to critique.

Be brutally honest, but be kind. Simon Cowell is good television but not necessarily a role model. Remember that your words matter. No matter how objective the writer tries to be when she hears your critique, she will take your words to heart - good or bad - and probably remember them for a long time. Be aware of this. This isn't to say you should temper your criticism, be dishonest or pander to her: just be aware. Words matter, and they are permanent.

Treasure the praise

We tend to remember the criticism far more vividly than we remember the good stuff. I have all the bad comments on my work memorised, and can recite them in a loop when asked (great fun at parties, as you can imagine). Make an effort to remember the praise just as vividly. I used to keep a little notebook in which I recorded the compliments I received, which I know sounds a little twee, but it works wonders on those days when you're convinced that you are The Worst Writer of All Time. If you remember an especially treasured compliment, put it up on your inspiration board, or on your screen.

Writers' groups

This post has focused on the one-on-one relationship of writer and beta reader, but it's also worth mentioning that many-headed monster, the writers' group.
"Every group is different, and often, groups are organized on the basis of friendship or general affinity, rather than shared genre or level of writing experience — or, as many hard-working group veterans know to their cost, familiarity with standard manuscript format and/or the rules governing the use of the English language." - Anne Mini.
You will get the best results out of your writer's group if there is a similar level of talent and dedication between you. If you are working with a group of hobbyists and you want to pursue writing as your professional career, you are probably not going to be challenged and constructively criticised enough to improve. If you are lucky enough to have a really great group, however, take advantage of it.

Acting on critique

Bad criticism is vague, personal and destructive. Constructive criticism is specific, objective and not only aims to improve the work, but also suggests ways in which it could be improved.

I think that we have a gut feeling when it comes to our work. We usually know, deep down, when something isn't working. Good, helpful criticism may sting at first, but it should also make us think, "Aha! So that's it." It should open doors of possibility, not slam them shut.

If you don't feel that intuitive sense that the criticism is good or bad, then approach other people with the same problem. If you hear the same criticism from all or most of them, you should almost certainly change it. I completely overhauled my last manuscript when I started hearing the same comments from several different agents. It was painful and difficult, but when it was finished, the book was a million times better. And I signed with an agent almost immediately afterwards!


Thank your critic, no matter what they say. Critiquing someone's work is hard, time-consuming and does not have a financial pay-off. Even if they ripped your work to shreds, they have done you an enormous favour. Take them out to coffee, buy them flowers and say thank you!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Building blocks

[This is the first in a series of posts I'm planning to write on the writing and publishing processes. Thanks for your topic suggestions, everyone! I hope these are helpful.]

Blocks are horrible. When tumbleweed is drifting across your mind; when you wonder if you ever really knew how to speak English because none of these words look familiar; when you want to kill anyone who is having a productive day; when you would rather spend an hour cleaning the toilet cistern with a toothbrush than sit in front of the screen for ONE MORE SECOND. "I am blocked" becomes "I am a terrible, worthless, lazy writer with no good ideas and I am going to starve to death and be eaten by weasels." People who say "Suck it up and keep going," are not really helping, either. We all know that if we were doing any other kind of job there would be no excuse for moping around and doing no work. Electricians can't get electrician's block (as far as I know). But, to some degree, writing is different. It is imaginative play as much as it is work, and imaginative play is hard to force.

I have a theory (the lesser-known "I have a theory" speech). My theory is that writer's block isn't something that just happens. It isn't forced on you by outside circumstances. It isn't because your muse (who I always picture as a Carmen Miranda-type figure in a fruit hat) has decided to take annual leave. I think that we construct blocks for ourselves like kids building towers out of Lego, because, however unpleasant writer's block is, it is less scary and unpleasant than whatever we are trying to avoid. Blocks are caused by fear.

Here is how I deal with writer's block.

1. Take a reality check

It's just writing. You're not a heart surgeon or a pilot trying to land a passenger craft in heavy snow. No one is going to die if you don't do your job properly. I know that's not hugely comforting, but at least it will put things in perspective a little bit.

2. Examine the motives

I'm currently going through a bit of a block, caused by receiving a few publisher rejections in a row. When this happens, I complain for a while and eat lots of fattening food, and then I sit down and try to examine my motives for the block. This time around, I know it is caused by a feeling of futility - I'm tired of the whole process, and when I sit down to write I think, "What's the point? It will never be published anyway because I'm a terrible writer." Which is a silly attitude, I know, but being blocked is easier than writing something that (in my confused little brain) will inevitably be rejected. While that silly fear is festering away inside, it's going to be damaging and discourage me from working. Once it's out in the cold light of my logic, I can dispel it.

Here are some of the hidden motives for creating a block that I have noticed. Yes, they are mostly ridiculous. But that's why you need to track them down!

1) Fear of success - "If I am a productive writer then I will publish this book and become really successful and everyone will hate me/I'll be too stressed/I'll be too shy to do book signings/I'll get bad reviews/my life will change too much," and so on.
2) Fear of rejection
3) Fear of failure
4) Fear of being happy - "If I am a productive writer then I will be happy and I will have to stop complaining/be a nicer person/face my problems in other areas of life/won't be a tortured artist anymore and so my work will suffer."
5) Fear of being unhappy - "If I am a productive writer I will have to become an alcoholic/leave my partner/get sick/be tortured and angst-ridden."
And just to show how deeply odd these things can be, here's a weird block of mine that rears its ugly head occasionally:
6) Fear of pleasing my father - "If I am a productive writer my father will be thrilled and it will prove him right and he'll be smug and tell everyone about it and I'll be annoyed and give it all up to become a plumber."

There are many, many more. It's important that you find out what your particular fear is, though, in order to deal with it.These blocks can manifest in different ways. They all stop you writing, but some of them send you into a desperate panic while others give you a feeling of futility, lassitude, even boredom. Just different responses to the same thing. I have found that affirmations can work wonders with these, no matter how silly you may feel doing them. Go on, try it. My affirmation at the moment is "I am a genuinely talented writer and my work is worthwhile." If you were blocked by a fear of success, your affirmation could be "It is safe to succeed as a writer, and I deserve to succeed." Write it down and stick it on your computer screen so that you can see it while you're working.

3. Start small

We like to make grand plans. Dramatic, sweeping changes. "From this day forward I am going to write 2,000 words a day," we announce, accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets and the soaring voices of choirboys. And we do, for a while, with great enthusiasm. Then a block comes up, and we write nothing one day. Nothing the next. And we get caught in a spiral of freak-out. We add up the days of no-writing like a prisoner notching his cell wall. The longer we leave it, the more insurmountable the block seems.

So, here's my quick-fix solution to writer's block. Start small. Make tiny, unambitious, mundane plans rather than huge, epic ones. Get out your cellphone, or a timer. Set it to ring in fifteen minutes' time. Sit down and write for fifteen minutes. Even if it's not very good, just keep writing until the timer goes. Then take a break. And then, if you feel up to it, set the timer again. It's amazing how much you can accomplish by doing it in bite-size chunks.

4. Be gentle

If a friend told you they had only written a hundred words (or fifty, or twenty, or ten) that day, you wouldn't whack them upside the head with a rolled newspaper and tell them what a worthless, pathetic excuse for a writer they are (I hope). You would say, "Great job! Just keep trucking along, it will get easier. The important thing is that you wrote something." Say this to yourself as well. Shouting and screaming at your psyche does not help in the long run.

5. Do something different

Writer's block is writer's constipation. You need to take some (metaphorical) laxatives and get things moving. And relax!

Here are some of those metaphorical laxatives:

1) If you're stuck in a particular scene that just doesn't work, jump ahead and write a later scene that excites you. You can always come back later. (When I've left a scene out, I mark it with 'xxx' so that I can do a Find search for it later on. When my husband first saw these, he thought I was planning to put sex scenes in there).
2) Take a Busman's holiday. Do something different. Work on another novel for a while; write poems or a short story. Or a dirty limerick.
3) Stop just before the exciting climax of a scene - I know, I know, it's hard - and leave that for the next day. That way you have a clear starting point and some momentum, which will make it easier to get into the groove.
4) Write something FUN, for goodness' sake. Turn away from your harrowing, bloodcurdling, socially-commenting refugee epic and write a story about a bunny. Or a circus performer. Or a cat with wings. Or write fan fiction! I was horribly, painfully blocked for over a year when I worked as a writer and editor on a magazine. I could do my work just fine, but my creative juices had completely dried up, and not a word of fiction could I write. So I wrote fan fiction. About Captain Planet and the Planeteers. It was completely frivolous and ridiculous, but it was fun. And it worked!

Helpful articles:
Holly Lisle on Writer's Block, Part I and II
Timothy Hallinan on Good Days and Bad Days
Laini Taylor on Surviving the Suck and How to Fall Back in Love with Your Story.
Anne Mini on Writer's Block
Simon Haynes on How to Beat Writer's Block

Friday, June 5, 2009

A day of unusual happenings

Just had to write a short post to tell you about this, because it was so bizarre. I got mugged this morning! A block from my house! So weird. I was walking into town, with my iPod on, when this guy ran up from behind me and grabbed my handbag. We wrestled for it a bit - I was screaming at him - and the straps broke. Bastard! It was my favourite vintage bag. He didn't get it, though, because I was hanging on like grim death and swearing like a sailor (on leave). He gave up and ran off around the corner. Then a courier van screeched past me, following him. It turned out that he had robbed our local jeweller (why would you try and grab a handbag when you had just stolen a handful of diamond rings?), and was pursued by the shop-owner and a couple of other guys who had seen it happen - one of whom was a courier. They followed him to a house around the corner from ours, where he had tried to hide. He was banging on the door trying to get in. They pinned him down (by sitting on him - quite comical to watch) and called the police, and we all hung around waiting for them. A couple of lovely old ladies who lived next door brought me out a cup of tea with two sugars - "for the shock" - and then we all gave statements. Apparently at some point I have to go in to the police station and give a more detailed one. So yes, exciting and unpleasant start to the day.

My poor little handbag, all injured and maimed! At least he didn't manage to get it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Am I getting mixed signals?"

Dear Auntie June
Dear Auntie June,

Recently I feel like I have been getting mixed signals from the people I'm trying to attract. It seems like they're interested in me - they pay me all kinds of compliments and they seem to like me - but when it comes to the crunch, none of them wants to commit. For example, today one of them said, "In the end I thought it would be hard to make enough of a platform for this novel to reach a wide audience. It’s lovely and well-written but there were some structural issues I had with the story, particularly the last third. It’s one of those that I did waver over though." What am I doing wrong? How can I get them to take that final step and enter a long-term relationship?

Andrea the Aspiring Author

Auntie June herself
Auntie June writes,

"Well, it sounds like you're in a pickle, Pickle. I'm sorry to say it, love, but it seems to me like they're just not that into you. Actions speak louder than words, pet, after all. It sounds to me like the right person just hasn't come along for you yet, and you need to be patient. It's probably for the best that these attractions haven't turned into relationships; you want someone who really cares about you wholeheartedly, not someone who's unsure. So chin up, ducks! Worse things happen at sea."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In which I get over-excited and post too many photographs

NEW DRESS NEW DRESS NEW DRESS. New, beloved vintage dress! Is another Rejection Dress bought to cheer myself up. My closet has a few of those.
4 June 09
And now I am facing sideways. I curled the front pieces of my hair for the first time today - I like the silent-film look it has.
Here I get delusions of grandeur and try to look sultry. Instead I look like I am mid-yawn.
Delusions of grandeur
And here I crack up because, really, I cannot pose to save my life, and I look like a chipmunk.
I crack up
Back to normal again! Or what passes for it.
Relatively normal
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