As writers, one of the biggest problems we can face is a lack inspiration…
So you’ve set a goal to up your writing game in 2019 and (finally) finish that manuscript you started this time last year. Or maybe you’ve decided it’s time to take your writing hobby more seriously and turn it into a part or full-time career. Yet, when it comes to putting pen to paper, you find you’re struggling to get started or keep up the momentum required to reach the finish line. As writers, one of the biggest problems we can face is a lack inspiration. We either find ourselves scraping at the bottom of the inspiration barrel or so overwhelmed with ideas, that we’re unsure which one to pick or how to execute it. But never fear, our top three inspiration-busters are here and ready to help spur your creativity.
Sometimes a bit of fresh air and the chance to take your mind off the situation at hand is all we need to refill our creative tank. A change of scenery not only helps clear your head, allowing you to return afresh, but can also help relieve stress, which is known to hamper imagination and creativity. So put the pen down, close your laptop and go for a short walk in the great outdoors! Allow your mind to float to anything but your seemingly blank page or Word document. Watch a bird make a nest in a nearby tree, enjoy the laughter of children playing in a nearby park or take Fido for a walk. The perfect idea pops into your head as you do so.
Create a physical ‘Creativity Tank’
Repurpose an old glass jar or cardboard box as your ‘Creativity Tank’; a physical object to which you can add all of your creative writing ideas (the good, bad or outright crazy) when the thought first strikes. Keep scrap paper or sticky notes nearby and whenever an idea pops into your head, jot it down and add it to your ‘tank’. It could be an obscure name you overhear on the daily news (perhaps a name for a future character), a scene from a movie (a potential setting for a future fiction piece) or even a line from a song on the radio (a possible title idea). You could even encourage others in your household to add their own ideas to your ‘tank’. Then next time you’re stuck with pen in hand and rather blank page, you can dive into your creativity tank and use one of the ideas you’ve collected. Don’t forget to put them back either – they might come in handy more than once.
Observe, observe, observe
How often is it that we find ourselves so busy or wrapped up in our own little worlds that we take very little notice of what’s going on around us? This inspiration-buster, while similar to taking a walk outside, is all about combining observational skills with imagination to spark your creativity. Listen to ambient conversations as you wait at the checkout to buy your groceries. Take a walk down a pathway or road you’ve never bothered to explore. Strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the bus. You never know what you might discover or where it may lead.
If you’re eager to learn even more techniques to encourage your creativity and maintain your creative mojo, head along to our ‘So You Want to Write?’ workshop on March 2. Led by Kill Your Darling founders, Hannah Kent and Rebecca Starford, this workshop is one not to be missed! Register online via Eventbrite.
As we approach our Novelists’ Bootcamp, we’ve done some research into survival.
Now, we are Australian, so survival is in our blood. Surely no other nation of people can slam a door fast enough to keep a fly out. But seriously, there are some key things required in order to survive in the wilderness; clean water, shelter, fire, navigation tools, something to signal SOS and medical supplies. While all of these items would come in handy if you were stuck in the Australian outback for a night, medical supplies wouldn’t be much help if you’re trying overcome a sudden bout of writers’ block. With our Novelists’ Bootcamp weekend fast approaching, we thought we’d create the ultimate writers survival guide complete with all of the essentials you’ll need to get through that next project…
Blank paper (our version of clean water): An abundance of blank paper is absolutely necessary. Who can you write if you have nothing to write on? Without a never-ending flow for your thirsty ideas to grow on they might just wither away.
Comfy space (our version of shelter): it’s very important to keep yourself protected from distractions and to give your body support. Find a space that puts you in the zone, but also allows you to maintain a good, comfortable posture.
Tea and/or coffee (our version of fire): burning the midnight oil is going to happen no matter how much we plan and we’re going to need something to keep us going. Get to know your local coffee shop or better still, DIY, and brew up a storm in the comfort of your own home!
Mind map (our navigation tool): this might be the most important skill, knowing when you’re getting off track and how to get back. Map out your idea so that even if you keep on with your tangent you can check where you strayed and know how to bring it back.
Emojis (our version of an SOS signal): let your friends know that you’re about to embark on a writing journey so, one, they don’t freak out when they don’t hear from you in more than 48 hrs, and two, you don’t get distracted by the equivalent of a search party on social media because of your MIA status. We recommend though, just in case you do fall down the rabbit hole, you come up with a rescue signal (i.e. an emoji) with so they know to come rescue you.
Google docs or Drop Box (our version of medical supplies): losing a lot of blood is a medical emergency, and losing even a few hours worth of writing seems like just as big of an emergency, especially when it leads to meltdowns and panic attacks that might lead to needing real medical attention. So let’s eliminate unnecessary stress right from the get go and back up our writing.
Now that you’re all kitted out, we hope you’ll get your creative boots on and submit an application to join us on our Novelist Bootcamp. For more information, visit Eventbrite.
Memories can be both beautiful and traumatising. Some we hold onto with mysticism, like Jay Gatsby, and wonder if they were ever real, and others can instill so much fear that we don’t actually remember them.
Our memory is also extremely fascinating. Have a read of some of these fun facts we found:
Procrastination is important for memory
– this is because our brain connects dots while we work on more menial tasks.
Memory and storytelling are a match made in heaven
– weave the information you’re trying to remember into a story and tell it.
Good memory requires good sleep
– sleep is particularly important for processing long-term memory.
Memories with emotion are prioritised
– the more intense the emotion, the more likely you are to remember the event.
Scent can trigger a memory
– in fact, scent can be a very powerful memory tool.
The procrastination and storytelling facts definitely take the reign as our favourites.
These facts can turn into some handy tricks to help harness your memory, from recreating a meal to help remember that family dinner no one wants to talk about, to going to bed half an hour earlier.
And because we’re writers, what would be the point of remembering all these moments if we’re not going to write them down? ‘Memoir: a book of your own’, is a workshop for intermediate writers and above to delve into the culture of creative non-fiction and help translate personal stories into exciting narratives.
‘Memoir: a book of your own’. For more info or to register click here.
A while back, I was working on a multimedia project. I’d joined the project team for a Skype call which included project mentor, Brian Cain. Brian is a Creative Director who’s worked on HBO’s True Blood and Game of Thrones, among other things. We were discussing something about the narrative driving the project, I can’t recall what, but I do recall Brian’s contribution. He said,
‘everything has to have a narrative purpose.’
Brian’s words have stuck with me. They are golden words, worth remembering.
I’ve been writing and editing for a long time. I’ve written and edited massive policy manuals and reports for non-profit organisations. I’ve drafted and edited countless briefs for government ministers (Queensland Treasury call their briefs billet-doux. Yes, really). I’ve written and edited academic articles, strategic and operational plans, research reports, successful grant applications, budget submissions, Government employment policies, guidelines for multi-million-dollar programs, major consultation reports requiring analysis of thousands of lines of data, evaluation reports and so on and so bloody forth. And, over the past few years, I’ve edited and published picture books, short stories, flash fiction and novellas.
Brian’s words stick with me because they explain a lot. Picture me ten years ago (picturing a small, harried owl is fine), staring at a computer screen, sobbing quietly to myself as I try and edit a major policy document written by a committee of 60 public servants. I’m muttering things like ‘Why is that there?’ ‘How is that relevant?’ ‘Is that even a word?’ ‘Who would read this?’.
Here, I’m struggling to edit because the document I’m working on has no narrative purpose, no intended audience, no consistent author voice. It’s a BIG problem with many Government policies and reports: so many words, so little thought about who’ll read them or why.
But, what is narrative purpose? It’s the reasoning sitting behind every word you’ll ever write—Terry Pratchett imagined it as an element called Narrativium. So, if your antagonist (we’ll call them Cuddles) is climbing a mountain, there’d better be a reason why. When Tolkien sent Frodo and friends over an icy mountain, he used the challenge to reveal things about his characters, their world and their protagonists. It drove the story forward. So, Cuddles needs a reason to go over the mountain.
Yes, yes, Sue. But you’re going on about writing, not editing. True, but narrative purpose also drives editing decisions—development editing decisions, structural editing decisions and most copy-editing decisions.
For instance, in development editing an editor works with you to (SURPRISE) ‘develop’ your story. It’s essential when your narrative purpose isn’t clear. At this stage, your characters may be under-developed or extraneous, your author voice may be inconsistent, and you’ve probably got too much background or logistical information (the stuff writers need to know, but readers don’t) weighing down the plot and pace. Here, editorial advice will be oriented to helping you clarify the purpose of each character, each setting, each bit of dialogue. It’s the same for the other stages of editing, too.
So, when editing or being edited, remember Brian’s words, AND don’t forget to remove the thats—they’re rarely necessary.
Where are you right now? If you’ve got a few minutes to spare or are feeling bored, we have an exercise to help keep your creative juices flowing. Let’s get started. Wherever you are, make a list of inanimate objects you can see, then pick three! We’re in the office at the moment so this is our list:
- Pot plant
- Permanent Marker
- Paper Clip
- Glass window
We’re going to go with: pot plant, glass window, and phone and to use these objects as inspiration for a character.
Let’s start by breaking down the objects into descriptive words:
– ceramic pot, symmetrical pattern, sturdy, small, green and white, a little dry on some edges…
– clean, rectangular, tall, tinted, transparent…
– lots of buttons, loud, grey, twisted chord, rings…
And so the brain storming begins!
For each object, pick the words you like and expand on them. Before you know it, you’ll have the basics of a character up your sleeve!
Because it sounds like fun we’re going to that with our ‘phone’ and call him Phillip.
Phillip is the kind of man who loves to hold conversations, sometimes too many. He has an opinion about everything and it’s very easy to press his buttons. He’s the kind of guy you have to have around for parties, but you can only really handle him in small doses. If his friends were honest, they’d say he can actually be a bit annoying sometimes, and boundaries aren’t his strong suit, often rocking up on their doorstep just before dinner time – uninvited. For a man who is never short of something to say he’s definitely short of clothes; he has 4 grey shirts and a red one for when he’s feeling extra savage, blue jeans, beige chinos, a pair of slides and sneakers.
And voila. An instant character. Now it’s your turn!
If you like creating characters and want to learn how to give them depth and make them engaging and authentic, check out our workshop on ‘Building resilient characters’ with Cass Moriarty, Sunday, February 10.
As writers, we like to find our little corner, whether that’s somewhere in nature, or our kitchen table, and sit and think and sit some more and maybe write something down and not be disturbed. Most definitely though, we DO NOT want to be asked, ‘So what did you write today?’ Because there’s nothing more frustrating than having to explain how ending up with nothing really was still doing something. Right? Of course, if we did happen to write something there’s NO WAY we’re going to be sharing until it’s absolutely perfect, so people should really be more patient and just wait until we’ve written something we’re proud of and then maybe we’ll let them read it. Or not.
While it might seem like living the dream, despite those interruptions from people of course, what happens when we really do start jotting down a good idea? How do we persist with it? We’ll never know if it has the potential to be more than just a thought unless we keep going. Even when what we’re writing starts to become something we don’t like that doesn’t mean stop – it means revise. Try as we might to avoid answering those tough questions, there comes a time in every writer’s journey when going it alone stops being enough.
Do you have the courage to ask a friend, ‘Hey, can you check in with me once a week to ask what I’ve been writing?’ or once a month if you’re not writing full time?
We’ll let you in on a little secret…if it’s your idea then you won’t be mad when they ask!
This doesn’t have to be a person who knows anything about writing. In fact, the less creative they are the better, because then they’ll just flood you with compliments about that paragraph you know is nothing snazzy. We don’t mean avoid proper constructive criticism, because that is essential, but it can wait until later. Find someone you’re comfortable sharing your thoughts with and who will be interested to hear about wherever your writings been taking you, even if you haven’t written anything. If you’re able to be honest with this person about why you haven’t written anything, then you’re still moving in leaps and bounds, and you can start to take action.
What do you do next then? Maybe after all that, you don’t have a draft, but you have an idea that’s been smashed to pieces, regathered and fleshed out into characters, settings, sub plots and symbolism and is ready to be written. Maybe you do have some of that draft work done and you’re ready for some more serious nudging and feedback from like-minded creatives! Whatever stage you’re at with your masterpiece we hope you remember the importance of accountability – even though the thought is frightening. And for those of you who like jumping in the deep end, sign up for ‘Year of the novel’ and give yourself the accountability you need to accomplish your goal. With five full-day workshops scheduled throughout the whole year, what better way to keep persisting than by going through the process with fellow writers and fantastic support from professionals?
To register for ‘Year of the Novel’ or for more information click here.
If you’re a writer who struggles with matters related to confidence, you’re not alone. Many emerging writers are hard-pressed to believe in the value of their creative work. They often question the power of their words, the resonance of their ideas, even their worthiness to write. A woman in one of my workshops once said to me: ‘Who am I to write?’ I immediately replied: ‘Who are you not to?’
It’s common for those new to the craft (and those not so new) to feel daunted by the sight of a blank page…all that white space that needs to be filled. The challenge of attempting to make something out of nothing—indeed, to make something meaningful out of nothing—can at times feel overwhelming. Anxiety and uncertainty creep in, generating something akin to creative paralysis. If this all sounds familiar, here’s some advice: Don’t let self-doubt take hold! Writing is hard work: it’s not easy to find the right words, craft sentences, build paragraphs, paint scenes, and, ultimately, construct a story. The last thing you need to do is make the job even tougher by committing acts of psychological self-sabotage.
The good news is that writing doesn’t always have to feel like a task of Sisyphean proportions; there are ways to make the creative journey a little less arduous. On that note, listed below are a few hacks for helping to generate creative momentum.
Start With One Character and Build From There
Getting to know your protagonist or, more specifically, getting to know your protagonist’s particular set of circumstances, will help tremendously when it comes to drafting your narrative. (This guiding rule applies to both fiction and memoir.) Let your protagonist lead the way a little in terms of revealing the primary scenario destined to take centre-stage in your story. Invite your protagonist to offer up important information about their fears, hopes, dreams, even their sauciest secrets. Ask them: What is it that you want? Why do you want it? What is in your way or preventing you from attaining this goal? How far would you go to get it? Etc. When you tune into a character in this way, you’ll soon be able to imagine them moving about, acting on their thoughts, interacting with others, as well as making choices and decisions; from there, repercussions will follow. And, alas, you’ll have drafted a set of cause-and-effect events largely driven by a character’s circumstances, otherwise known as a plot. You can then record various plot points and endeavour to shape these into a draft story arc.
The arc of a story is simply its beginning, middle, and end. When opening your narrative, look to sketch out events and circumstances brimming with conflict and unanswered questions. The middle of your story should be embedded with a sense of rising tension, action, complications, more questions, along with a few answers to partially satiate a reader’s curiosity. When ending a narrative, strive to depict the overall outcome likely to result from your character’s circumstances, while also providing more answers for readers, and a sense of resolution. By this stage, you should have a significant amount of creative material to work with, and other key characters (related to the protagonist’s circumstances) will have entered your mind. Suddenly, the task of building your storyworld will no longer seem anywhere near as intimidating as it had before you commenced the drafting process.
Work with Scenes
Once you’ve brainstormed some ideas around character and plot development, it can help to envisage a few scenes. In these scenes, allow your character to perform: describe their behaviour, how they talk with others, the decisions they make. This scene-oriented approach to writing is a key ingredient of “showing” rather than “telling”, and will help bring your character to life. It’s also vitally important to “anchor” your scenes in a sense of place and time. This means you need to depict a clear setting for your character to inhabit, a setting that a reader can clearly “see”, as they would if viewing a movie. Brainstorm significant details relevant to the setting and the protagonist’s circumstances. Use your senses: convey what your character might see, hear, smell, taste, etc. Providing sensory-rich detail is on par with opening the door to your storyworld and allowing readers to take a ring-side seat from which to view all the unfolding action and drama. Producing scene-based writing, as opposed to serving out generous portions of narrative summary, is a great way to engage readers. It’s also a terrific remedy for writer’s block.
Write with Others
Something inexplicable happens when there’s a group of writers working together. It’s as if some sort of strange alchemy comes into play, unleashing a powerful creative dynamic that most people, if not all, can tap into. I’ve seen this dynamic unfold time and time again in writing workshops over the years. In such scenarios, I rarely witness anyone who is completely stuck for ideas…usually, something will come to mind. So, if you haven’t already, you might like to consider joining a local writing group. It need not be an ongoing commitment, but it could be just the little push you need in order to kick-start your creative momentum.
If you’d like to access more tips on crafting engaging narrative, while writing with others in a workshop-oriented environment, then check out the 4-week Introduction to Creative Writing course that I’ll be running at the Queensland Writers Centre as of Wednesday January 30. Classes run from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. Hope to see you there!
There is something very very terrifying about submitting your writing, whether it’s your first time, fifth time, or you’ve been published multiple times over the decades. It’s terrifying because being rejected or being told that that chapter you loved needs to be revised never goes down easy… no matter how many successes you’ve had. So today, instead of giving you a lecture on getting up, dusting yourself off, and starting again, we thought we’d just skip to the part where we say,
‘We think it’s incredible that you have an amazing passion for writing. We want writing to be something that brings you joy. Knowing you choose to write when you could be doing thousands of other things instead brings us so much joy and we support you in your journey.’
It’s true that sometimes what we need is hard-to-hear honesty, but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that we also need positive encouragement as well. Check out these quotes below. We hope they’ll make you feel warm and fuzzy and energized:
Now that you feel empowered and supported, register for our ‘Submit and stand out’ seminar, with Sally Piper, on the 2nd of February. Get in the loop for all the magazines and competitions waiting for you, as well as invaluable advice to help you make your submission stand out!
Click here to resister.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
– Jane Austen
Has there ever been a more iconic opening sentence in a novel? Jane Austen may not be every reader or writers cup of tea, but there’s still much that can be learned from her to help improve your own writing and understand the basics of storytelling.
Who was it that said people like to look at people? And where did the concept of humanising designs come from? We think that applies to writing as well as art and design, and Jane Austen had the knack of unveiling it in her novels. Of course, all novels have characters, protagonists, antagonists, and they all engage with other characters and settings, but there’s something about social situations, serendipities and gossip that can be irresistible. Perhaps it’s because when we read Austen, we get to be a wallflower in the ballroom and soak up all the interactions and try to connect the dots. So how does she do it? Jane does it through:
If you want to know more about the character you’re creating, try making them interact in a setting with lots of people, not just busy spaces, but packed and confined social spaces where they’re known. What do other characters think of your character? How does your character think of them? Does your character’s behaviour or dialogue change when talking to their family at home compared to at a wedding?
Use dialogue to drive the plot forward and reveal information as well as action and narration. When it comes to narration show don’t tell. When it comes to dialogue though, it’s socially acceptable as readers to eavesdrop, so give your reader something irresistible to overhear.
We may not be able to offer you a one-on-one writing workshop with Jane Austen, but our ‘Introduction to writing’ course comes with all sorts of tips and techniques to keep the ideas progressing and support your unique style.
Check out the event by clicking here.
The idea of working as a freelance writer sure sounds alluring. You have the freedom to set your own schedule, work your own hours, select your own clients and write about the topics you know and love from the comfort of your own lounge chair. What’s not to like? However the thought of becoming a freelance writer can be extremely daunting if you’re not sure where to begin. How do you get your name out there? Where do you find your first job? How will you ensure you make a profit? We’ve put together a few simple tips to help set you in the right direction and kick-start your freelancing career.
Find your Niche
As a writer, you’ll undoubtedly have a certain topic or genre you enjoy writing about the most. It’s the same for freelancer writers, who often specialise in writing within a chosen niche. To start formulating you own niche, select a few topics you’re interested in or have prior of knowledge on that’ll you’ll feel confident to write about. There’s no pressure to choose the ‘right’ topics straight up – you’ll find that your niche will naturally refine and develop as your freelance career progresses. The key is to simply you choose a starting point.
Create Sample Pieces
Freelancers need to pitch themselves for job advertisements or to prospective employers in order to source work. Just like any creative role, these employers will want to see evidence of your writing ability and/or experience if you are to land the job. If you’re completely to new to freelance writing and don’t have any prior work to include in your portfolio, here’s a few ways to create some winning sample pieces;
- Create a Blog: The easiest way to create samples is to write a few blogs posts within the niche you’d like to work. Blogs are also easily to link to when it comes to submitting applications or pitching for jobs.
- Personal Projects: If you don’t have any experience writing about a certain topic or for a desired format, why not create your own? Say you’d eventually like to write travel pieces for magazine – set yourself the task of road tripping to a town or national park you’re yet to visit and get writing!
- Guest Post: Offering to guest post on other blogs within your niche is a fantastic way to start creating a name and reputation for yourself. All you need to do is find a blog that sources guest contributors and pitch your post idea.
Create an online presence
In today’s digital age, maintaining an online presence is key in order to succeed in any freelance industry. This online presence should showcase your portfolio of work, explain your services, and provide an avenue for prospective clients to find and hire you. Thankfully, there are plenty of options available including social media sites like LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter as well as blog hosting sites such as Tumblr or WordPress. You can even go as far as creating your own website with platforms such as Wix and Squarespace allowing those without any coding experience to build their own. Be sure to include your title (i.e. what type of writer are you?) to clearly identify what you do and visibly display your contact information.
Network with other freelance writers
Other freelance writers can be a fantastic resource if you have any questions or are looking for extra advice. Social media makes reaching out to these writers easy – all you need to do is comment on a blog or Facebook post to spark conversation.
Send a few cold pitches
Have a dream company you’d love to write for? Even if they’re not advertising for writers, you can still take the initiative to send them your work and pitch your brilliant ideas. You never know, they might just call on you when they’re next in need of new writer.
Invest in a Course
When you’re new to something, learning from an expert can be extremely helpful, especially if they were once in your position. If you’re looking for an insider’s guide to freelance writing and how to you can combine this career avenue with your other commitments (like study or a full time job), come along to our ‘Sustaining Yourself as a Part-Time Writer’ seminar on Jan 20.
Finally, best of luck with your freelance endeavours! The writing world is truly your oyster.
January. It’s the time of year where everyone creates ambitious New Year’s resolutions and makes plans to ensure the new year will exceed the last. Yet when statistics show that few people manage to follow through on these resolutions, it can be tempting to pass off the opportunity to plan and visualise the year ahead as waste of time. Or is it?
Though many successful writers seemingly become an overnight success story with the release of a debut novel or feature in popular magazine, the reality is far less glamourous, requiring years of dedication, hard work and careful planning. Just like any career, creating a plan for the year ahead can be of great benefit your writing life and help put you on track future writing success (hello, New York Times bestseller). Here’s five reasons why:
Planning allows you to identify goals
Arguably one the key benefits of planning is its ability to help you identity goals for the coming year, whether that be a finished draft of your first novel or improved publicity and audience engagement. Once you’ve got a clear vision of what it is you’d like to achieve, you’ll be surprised how easily this will translate into a clear plan to help you accomplish them.
Begin by setting your long term goals – those big picture, long-term dreams that you have for your writing career. Where do you see yourself one, two or three years from now? With these set, you can start creating mid-term goals – concrete, well defined goals that you’d like to accomplish over the next few months. Finally, what would you like to achieve now? Perhaps you’d like to start setting aside X number of hours a day to your writing with no distractions? Or start blogging more regularly? These are will become your short term goals – the simple, easy things you’d like to achieve over the coming weeks. Concrete, actionable goals are the foundation for any form of successful planning.
Planning = direction
Planning ensures you have a clear roadmap for how you’ll go about achieving your goals. Spend some time planning how each one can be achieved and the individual steps involved. The result? Not only will you have a clear course of action to follow but you’ll also be well prepared for what comes next. You’ll have that novel written in no time!
Planning helps to avoid roadblocks
Planning increases your ability to handle any problems that may arise throughout your writing journey and, better still, help you uncover potential roadblocks even before they occur. Why? Planning encourages you to carefully consider each step of the process and the actions you’ll need to take for each; time and thought that you wouldn’t otherwise invest. As a result, you’ll likely discover any bumps or potholes in the road before they arise and can easily put strategies in place to avoid them.
Planning grants perspective
Planning your goals and mapping out the direction your writing life will take will give you a clear perspective of what’s important and what you’ll likely achieve by a set date (i.e. the end of the year). This will help you to focus on what you’re aiming to accomplish and provide with the motivation to prioritize your writing. Keep your goals in perspective and you’ll be well on the road to future success.
Planning increases confidence
As a writer, it’s easy to become daunted or overwhelmed by the thought of having to write a 50,000 page manuscript or learn a completely new skill such as social media. Such goals seemingly become a mountain too tall to conquer. Yet having a plan in place, complete with strategies to overcome any potential problems, will increase your confidence substantially and increase the likelihood that those goals will be achieved.
Sound useful but unsure where to start? Come along to our Writers Plan day workshop on January 19! You’ll be sure to walk away with a clear, concise and exiting plan for your future writing life.
Christmas has come again and that means many new books under the tree! With some of the biggest authors hitting the shelves at Christmas, there’s always something you’ve been waiting to read. And as writers, reading is paramount to improve our craft. If we didn’t love to read, we wouldn’t desire to write. But reading can only take us so far. So, if you’re looking to improve your writing and advance your career in 2019, perhaps this Christmas you should treat yourself to something more. And there is no better place to find motivation than to attend an event about writing.
Engaging in the writing world is the best gift I’ve given myself and my writing. Without attending festivals, workshops, and conferences, I would never have reached this point in my writing career, with an award-winning manuscript hopefully on the verge of publication. There is only so much you can learn on your own, self-motivation only takes you so far, and networking is key to success in this business. Therefore, if there was one thing I’d recommend to all young writers, after urging you to keep writing no matter what, it is to find your place in the writing world and soak up all the knowledge possible.
Why do I recommend this? Like you, I have been writing since I was young. While completing grade nine, I wrote two full-length novels. By the age of twenty-five, that number had increased to twenty-two. I had honed the discipline of producing novels and knew writing filled my heart. But none of this mattered if I didn’t know how books should be structured, the key elements to writing a novel, or how the publishing industry actually works. And these are the most important things I’ve learned since embracing the world of writing.
For me, this started during high school by attending the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival in Mackay. This is the largest festival outside south east Queensland and has hosted many incredible Australian authors. There, I met and learned from the incredible Andy Griffiths, Paul Jennings, Melina Marchetta, Li Cunxin, and many more. Every year I found more motivation to write, felt inspired in my chosen career path of becoming an author, and learned more about books in the process. But it was the first author talk I attended at this festival that has stuck with me to this day.
I was halfway through grade nine and my very first manuscript when I signed up to attend Whitsunday Voices. My friend was a more avid reader than I and knew more about the authors in attendance, so I chose author talks purely on her recommendations. I signed up for a talk by a man who wrote action/thriller novels for adults, which was as far from anything I read, and he was currently on tour for his young adult book about racing. So there I was, sitting in a massive crowd waiting to hear Matthew Reilly speak. And that hour remains the most inspirational hour of my life, leaving me with Matthew’s words I still live by today – “What you know may not be what you’ve experienced.”
As young writers, we may be subject to being told to write what we know or, worse, that we don’t have the experience to write a novel. But I urge you to ignore this. Authors rarely have experienced what they write about as if that were the case, we’d all have very little material to work with. This was the first lesson I learned, that with an imagination and a rational mind, writers can write anything onto to paper and make readers believe. It’s our job.
Matthew Reilly’s words at Whitsunday Voices in 2005 have kept me writing about anything I want for thirteen years. All you need to do is rationalise, research, and dig into your heart to know what you’re writing about. And with this knowledge, I continued writing and attending Whitsunday Voices.
Find Motivation at a Festival
Writing, literature, and book festivals are abundant around the country and are incredibly motivating events for young and aspiring writers. Whitsunday Voices is the highlight of Mackay’s literary society. And while the Brisbane Writers Festival is an event you’ve likely all heard of, the Sunshine Coast, Capricorn Coast, Cairns, and the Burdekin all hold regular festivals as well.
Moving away from Mackay and losing Whitsunday Voices was difficult for me, but I kept writing. I had seven manuscripts from my high school days, four of which I continued to work on. Soon, I had twenty manuscripts and was submitting to publishers. But my continued rejections were proof I still didn’t know enough. There was one vital aspect missing from my process of becoming a writer. I didn’t know enough about the craft.
Learn at Workshops
Two years ago, I found the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre and, from there, my world of writing. I was a member of Queensland Writers Centre and Romance Writers of Australia, but I wasn’t utilising the opportunities they provided – workshops and competitions.
This year, treat yourself to one of the many amazing workshops that the QWC provides. Local libraries also host workshops from local or visiting authors. In Townsville, there are multiple workshops offered by the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre and QWC provides workshops at the libraries. No matter what you write, there is something new to be learned at a workshop. Narrative structure is vital to understand, character development mustn’t be overlooked, and above all, you need to know the key aspects of your genre. Workshops are there to provide this knowledge. And if you don’t have access to these live events, webinars and online learning are also provided through Australia’s top writing organisations.
Receive Feedback with Competitions
Entering my work into competitions changed my writing career. Utilising my membership with Romance Writers of Australia, I entered two novels into the Emerald Award for unpublished manuscripts. Through this process, I learned more than I ever had about writing. I’d never heard of the term ‘head-hopping’ while sitting in my isolated writing world. But I had learned invaluable lessons through this critique, causing me to rewrite every viable manuscript.
Not all competitions provide feedback, but I would recommend entering those that do. Short story competitions are also a great way to receive feedback and get your work seen and maybe published in anthologies. Scarlett Stiletto is a great anthology competition for female crime writers and with a quick Google search you’ll find many more. But don’t forget the big contests, such as QWC’s Manuscript Development program with Hachette, The Emerging Writers Festival’s Richell Prize, or prizes provided by publishing houses like The Banjo and the Penguin Literary Prize.
Network at Conference
After the invaluable feedback from the Emerald judges, I fully invested in my career and spoiled myself. I attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference. This is one of Australia’s largest writing conferences and if you’re looking to treat yourself, this conference presents some of the best opportunities you’ll find. And you don’t need to write romance as there’s plenty to learn about fiction and writing in general. At my first conference, I learned more about writing and publishing than I’d ever known. Amazing writers like Marion Lennox and Kate Forsyth gave inspirational speeches and I met so many writers it was almost overwhelming.
2019 also holds much excitement with the return of GenreCon, a conference not to be missed. Held in Brisbane, GenreCon is an event for writers to network and learn from the best in genre fiction. Personally, I cannot wait for this event and feel it’s one not to be missed with the workshops, panels, and pitching opportunities available.
The Value of a Manuscript Assessment
The best opportunity I’ve ever taken was submitting the one book I felt had true potential for a manuscript assessment. I knew there was something wrong with this novel and had an idea of how to fix it, but receiving feedback from an agent who knew books and about the publishing industry has been the greatest experience of my writing career. Taking on board critique from this assessment, I replotted the novel. From August to November, I completely rewrote the manuscript. With all I’d learned at conference, I continued my edits. In December, I submitted this to RWA’s Emerald Award.
This manuscript assessment was the best money I’ve ever spent as without it, I’d never have won the 2018 Emerald Award.
Manuscript assessments aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every cent you pay an agent or publisher to read your work and provide feedback. If you have a novel you believe has potential, consider submitting it for assessment. You can find avenues for this through QWC, the Australian Writers Marketplace, and individual literary agencies.
Pitch Your Story
Pitching is the best way to get your work in front of a publisher and isn’t as daunting as you might think. Publishers are there because they’re seeking new books and want to hear about your story.
Pitching is one of the most popular aspects of the RWA conference. The Australian Society of Authors also host pitching sessions, sometimes which you can do online or over the phone. Pitching sessions are also available at GenreCon. If you have a publishable manuscript, then treat yourself to a pitching session this Christmas.
Escape on Retreat
Going away with authors to learn and work on your book is an amazing opportunity. In Townsville, we host an annual writing retreat and there are also retreats held by authors, such as Natasha Lester in Western Australia and Alli Sinclair with Writers at Sea (retreat on a cruise ship!).
This is the gift I’ve given myself in 2019 – The Rainforest Writing Retreat on the Gold Coast Hinterland. Not only is the retreat location idyllic, the writing masterclasses are of amazing quality. If you haven’t looked into this retreat, I suggest you do. It comes at a very affordable price.
Critique is Your Friend
If you cannot afford to treat yourself to an event this Christmas, give yourself this gift: welcome critique. Critique is your friend. If you cannot receive critique objectively, you’ll never improve as a writer. There is always the risk critique will hurt, but sometimes this is for the best. As writers, we are very close to our work. But the ability to detach yourself is one you’ll be forever thankful for. This enables you to make cuts, edits, and improve your manuscript to a publishable standard. Learning to detach my heart and change parts of my manuscript I loved for the better has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and I urge you to do the same. The writing world is no place for an overinflated ego.
The Write Gift for You
A competition, retreat, or festival is not something you can wrap up and put under the tree, so we still need those books. After all, reading will always continue to make us better writers. But do remember, reading can only take a writer so far. Therefore, spoil yourself this Christmas and invest in your writing career. As young writers, we’re lucky for the many opportunities out there. Don’t hold back! Treat yourself in 2019. Find an event that suits your needs and the genre you write. No matter what, you will find new ways to improve your writing. I know my indulgence in the writing world has certainly improved mine. I’ve made new friends, met amazing authors, and am finally confident that I can produce publishable novels. It certainly beats remaining in the isolated world that writing can become.