Sunday, 20 January 2013

Why you should join a Writing Group...

One of the many things I miss about the UK is Abingdon Writers and I'll tell you why. Being part of a critique group really forces you to think about what you don't like about a piece of writing. What doesn't make sense, what doesn't flow, what needs clarifying. It's lovely to have friends and family gush over your writing and assure that you're going to be the next J K Rowling or whatever but that's not at all helpful. Ego boosting, yes. Making you a better writer, no. Constructive criticism is what it's all about.

I was lucky enough to be part of a writers group that has just gone from strength to strength. From starting off as a bunch of writers who had never shared their writing with strangers, much less agents, to being a talented group of writers, some of whom have become agented and won nation-wide competitions! 

Even if you rarely read your work to your group, listening to the critiquing of other people's work can benefit your own writing enormously. So, someone in your group always gets positive comments on their dialogue - listen carefully to see how you can improve yours. Ask them how they write it, compare it to your own. Maybe someone else often has great concepts but struggles to portray them in words. Take note on what other members are suggesting for ways in which to fix that. 

Concentrate on what your fellow writers home in on so that you can know what readers (listeners?) pick up on. Give a book to five people and they will all have different takes on it, even if they're all readers of the same genre, but there will be something that they all loved. Something that they all agree worked really well - character development, dialogue, plot twists, use of language. The same will be true of your own writing and a writing group will help you to discover what it is you do really well (yay - ego boost!) and the other things that you need to get right.

Depending on the group, you may also find yourself a writing buddy and these are invaluable. These are the people you can email your manuscript to and ask them to read the whole thing. Cover to cover. And they will be honest with you. But in a constructive way. And you will do the same thing for them. They might write in the same genre as you (helpful) or be really good at grammar (great for submission time) or just be really solid at critiquing, picking up holes in your plot or mistakes in your character development.

Your fellow writers will also clue you in to competitions and other groups that you can join such as SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) in the UK or RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) in Australia. AND they will encourage you to enter said competitions, help you to get your piece ready and celebrate with you when you're long-listed, short-listed and win (or commiserate if you don't and then motivate you to keep entering competitions so that one day you will be celebrating).

Plus, seeing your fellow writers morph from 'amateur' status to being a 'real' writer with an agent or writing credentials like being long listed for competitions really gives you the shove up the bottom that you need. There's nothing like your comrades-in-ink getting on with it and REALLY pursuing their publishing dreams to persuade you to sign up too. Who wants to be left behind, not even on the slush pile but murmuring about the fourth book you've written, when everyone else is surging ahead, climbing the ranks, earning their writing stripes (I think I've exhausted that metaphor now)? Not me. I'm off to polish up that synopsis and make my query letter sparkling. 

And after that, I'm going to find a critique group to join. Maybe one that doesn't have quite so many shining stars in it...

deep space

 Huge congratulations to the following AW writers 
with recent and thoroughly deserved successes:

Sally Poyton- long listed for the Times/Chicken House  2013 Children's Fiction Competition (and for SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2011)

Nicki Thornton - long listed for the Times/Chicken House 2013 Children's Fiction Competition

Marissa De Luna - Newly agented writer!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

It's decided. I need a plot outline...

God, I know I should be ecstatic that the sun is shining but, dammit, it is just too frigging hot here at the moment. Sticky, clammy, disgusting, sweat-rolling-down-your-back heat. In other words, it is humid, which is a word not supposed to apply to Perth weather. I feel betrayed by all those websites and weather reports which clearly stated that Perth does not suffer badly from humidity. 

Honestly, all I want to do is lie down in front of the air con and watch John Hughes movies with iced coffees and Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. Well, two out of four isn't bad, right? However, I have managed to open the laptop and write 3,000 words of my WIP so I feel like I have really achieved something despite this vile, muggy weather. 

Old couch

I still have no idea where this new book is heading and I'm wondering if it really is necessary to have a rough approximation of plot at this stage (15,000 words in). Nathan Bransford thinks that you do, Caro Clark looks at both sides of the coin (although really, she says to plot) and Neil Griiffiths says, ' No. Absolutely don't do it!'

From wasting time on the Internet doing some research, I think I would really benefit from roughing out a plot outline as I do feel rather stuck at the moment. I spent twenty minutes deciding on a  closing sentence for the last chapter I wrote, which has nothing to do with the will to write a really good closing sentence and everything to do with not having the faintest idea of what was going to happen next. A new sort of displacement activity for me.

I also purchased Writing a Romance Novel For Dummies by Leslie Wainger who has 25 years experience in the Romance business. So far, it is a little repetitive and common-sensical but I think once I get into the nitty-gritty chapters, it will be an excellent resource. I'm almost certain she will say plot, plot, plot. 

 Edit to add: Wainger mentions category romance a lot and I'm thinking of researching this a little more and trying my hand at it. As she says, if you are time short (Yes!), then category romance could be a great way to go. It's shorter than Mainstream Romance (as short as 50,000 words) and publishers provide tip sheets for what they want from their lines. I've heard of quite a few best selling authors who started off writing category romance and now sell bazillions of mainstream romance novels. 

Lesson learnt - plot (which means shopping for a big new pinboard or whiteboard - yay!). Even if it's a really super rough outline. Your novel and, if you're anything like me, your waistline will thank you for it. Are you a plotter? Or more of a chilled out what will be, will be-er?

Friday, 4 January 2013


Happy New Year!!

This time last year, I'm pretty sure I did a Resolutions list but I can't be bothered to look, much as I can't be bothered to make one again this year. If you don't commit it to words, you can't harangue yourself about it a year later, can you? And, anyway, nobody ever manages to keep those stupid things beyond the second week of January. Do they?

I know I kept one resolution/challenge and that was my ever-increasing GoodReads challenge, which started off as 40 books to read in 2012. That crept up to 50 when I realised I was rapidly approaching my 40 books about half way through the year. I increased it again to 80 when I started reading A LOT on my long commute when I started working again. It rose again to 100 and then, in the dying days of December, to 105, which I just managed to achieve by finishing Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway on the afternoon of New Year's Eve. Phew. 105 books. I'm not even going to attempt that again but I do like the idea of cataloguing the books I read each year so I'm going to set up a 2013 bookshelf on my GoodReads account - first book on the shelf? The Probable Future by one of my favourite authors, Alice Hoffman. 

If you haven't read Hoffman and you enjoy writing like this:
It was lake water, Elinor believed, that made the difference in her garden... so cold the roses shuddered on the hottest days of August and gave off clouds of scent.
 or this:
Night was rising from the grass the way steam lifted from a mirror.
 then you should get hold of one of her books immediately. My favourite Hoffman novel so far is The Ice Queen but, be warned, my book group didn't much care for it and I was a bit busy having a baby on that particular book group meeting, so I couldn't defend this wonderful, haunting and enchanting author.  She has never disappointed me, her characters are so perfectly drawn you won't forget them for a long time and the way she describes even the most mundane of things is sublime.

But, back to the original subject, maybe I will manage to read the 87 86 books that stand sadly on my wall of books, waiting desperately to be taken down and read, praying that I don't go to the library (fat chance, I'm there right now!) or to a bookshop or stray onto Amazon or the Book Depository. It would be nice to think that I had read all the books adorning the wall - apart from the Chardmeister's section (rapidly spreading though, might have to add some more shelves soon...) 

I'm pretty sure there are some more books sailing the high seas at this very moment, eager to join the ranks of books in our house - certainly there are at least a couple of cookbooks (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Lorraine Pascal - yay!) - and, according to my Dad, at least another 38 assorted titles for each of the Aquilina family. Looks like I might be looking at over a hundred books after all and I haven't even told you how many unread e-books are on my kindle (27 if you want to know. Eek!)

As well as (possibly) reading all those books, I am planning to write daily in the lovely 365 day book I got for Christmas from Kikki.k - I started off so well, printed out a lovely black and white photo of Lady M, taken down at the river on New Year's Day, wrote a little paragraph on the first page at about 10.30pm on the 1st January, got into bed on Wednesday (2nd of January) and jolted myself awake just as I drifted off into the world of sleep with this thought,
'Dammit, forgot to write in that bloody 365 day book today and it's only the second day of the New Year. I am utterly shit. But, truthfully, not at all surprised.'
 Have you already broken your 2013 challenges and promises to yourself? Please tell me some of you have so that I won't feel like the complete failure I surely am!