Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘Writing a novel’

Writing a Novel While Working Full-Time

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Writing on February 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I wrote my crime novel during the Tasmanian winter of 2011. I wrote it while working full-time in advertising and running a successful freelance business, and managing a high-energy home life…

I have always gotten more done when I am at my busiest. To write a novel in 3 months, I wrote 1000+ words a day.

What I know now, about writing a novel while working full-time, is that you must let go of two preconceived (and false) writing concepts…

1. There is a perfect place for writing

Nope: there is no such thing.

If you wait for the perfect place to write, it won’t ever happen. I’ve fallen into this trap before. When I was younger and single and uncommitted, I wanted the cliched writer’s desk, study and all the trappings that go with it. Now that my life is – and looks like it will always be – perpetually chaotic and crazy, I know better.

Now, all I absolutely require is an uncluttered work area.

Generally, I work on my laptop in our study – or while sitting on my bed. Or on the couch. Or the kitchen table. For easy transportation, I also pasted my entire novel (in A4 sheets) into a scrapbook, which I’d take out into the park at lunchtime to work on. I’d also work on it while on the bus to and from work.

Occasionally, when I have been granted precious solo time, I have worked at my shack on Bruny Island. I don’t necessarily get lots more done there, but I’m grateful for the inspirational environment and the chance to totally immerse myself in my book.

2. There is a perfect time for writing

Nope: there is no such thing.

Writing is like anything else in life – you either choose to make it a priority, or you don’t. Simple.

When you work full-time and have a family, life is a non-stop juggling act. It’s easy to put yourself and your writing dreams last. I know this only too well.

But, if you passively wait for the perfect time to ‘be a writer’, something else is guaranteed to sabotage your intent.

So, then – and now – I have had to make choices:

Do I relax during my weekday lunch hours… or do I work on my book?

Do I lie in on weekends… or do I work on my book?

Do I watch something on TV… or do I work on my book?

Do I read a magazine on the bus to work… or do I work on my book?

You get the picture.

There is no magic formula

Writing a novel while managing the demands of a career and a family comes down to discipline, drive and lots of little decisions (that really add up).

Even when I didn’t feel like writing, I would still do it.

Even now, I have to work hard to continue to make writing a priority. It is somewhat exhausting. But I have committed to giving my writing the respect it deserves. And I keep my eye on the prize.

Writing a Book? Please, Delete Your First Chapter…

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Yes, you heard me…

If there’s some advice I’d pass on from my time in publishing –­ especially my time as an editor in book publishing – it’d be for everyone who’s writing a novel to delete, if not their entire first chapter, then at the very least the first paragraph, or the first page.

Why?

It’s an odd fact that most writers ignore the fundamental desires of publishers, or editors, or readers…

And that’s to be in the story from the word go.

Right from your first sentence, the reader should be projected directly into mid-conversation, into mid-scene, into mid-whatever – just don’t dilly dally around.

Too many writers – and I’ve been the editor for some of them – spend pages and pages setting up passive scenes, introducing characters, and explaining the back-story. By the time the reader gets to the action, they’ve lost interest.

Publishers, editors and readers like books that open with an immediate hook – a gripping first sentence that grabs them by the throat. You must make it impossible for us not to read on. To do this may mean you slash your entire first chapter – or three. If that’s what it takes, do it. Be ruthless. You can’t be sentimental with your writing if you want to be noticed.

An opening line I’ve never forgotten (from one of my favourite crime books, Minette Walters’ The Ice House):

“Fred Phillips is running.” Anne Cattrell’s remark burst upon the silence of that August afternoon like a fart at a vicar’s tea-party.

According to the experts, every first sentence – whether crime novel or no – should hint at trouble and raise a question. (Actually, your whole book should pretty much do that – raise questions in the reader’s mind.)

In Minette’s subtly menacing, yet amusing, first sentence… why is Fred Phillips running? What is he running from? Clearly, Fred is not usually to be seen running, especially on a summer’s afternoon… otherwise Anne wouldn’t mention it. And who the hell is Fred Phillips anyway?

The first sentence from my soon-to-be-published crime novel is:

She was six metres down when instinct told her something was wrong.

Live Like a Pauper. Write Like a King

In Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania, Writing on February 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Living frugally is perhaps the most liberating thing any writer can do. I have come to realise that my success as a writer (by success I mean the amount and quality of personal writing I do) is directly related to how simple I make my life. To how many distractions I remove.

Not so long ago, extreme frugality was forced on me. However, now that it’s no longer a necessity, I can’t let frugality go. The more I live like a pauper, the more my writing flourishes.

Why?

In the short-term…

  • I socialise less – freeing up time for talking, thinking, discovering and creating
  • I cook mostly homemade meals –  see above
  • I buy less alcohol – self-explanatory!
  • I walk and run – not paying for exercise leaves me with valuable thinking time, and essential ‘running writing’
  • I catch the bus – no car equals more time for writing and reading
  • I clear more clutter – whittling down my wardrobe by half means I’m spending far less time managing it

In the long-term…

I’m not having to fund things I don’t need, so I don’t have to work so hard to make ever-more money. Not being consumed by distracting/draining money-making projects has massively freed up my time and energy for personal writing…

It’s a wake-up call when you realise one new pair of shoes is worth about half a day’s work. That’s half a day I can reclaim in writing – if I choose not to buy the shoes.

So, it’s a choice.

In 12 years in Sydney – when I was childless, free of major responsibilities and had plenty of disposable income – I made a few halfhearted attempts at writing the novel I’d always wanted to write.

Since moving to Tasmania and simplifying my life, I’ve written a full-length novel (in 3 months), entered a short story in a national crime-writing competition (and won an award), and am well on the way to publishing several non-fiction guides (funded by the money I’m saving by not spending).

If you want to be a writer, choose minimalism, simplicity and frugality – and you’ll find the focus, discipline and freedom you need to be successful.

A Novel Decision

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on January 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

People will think I’m mad (nothing new there) but, after thinking long and hard, I’ve decided to self-publish my crime novel. There are a variety of reasons for this:

1. I’ve edited and published lots of books for other people, and worked as a book publicist at one time, as well as working in-house at Random and freelance for HarperCollins and Murdoch Books… ie, I know what I’m doing.

2. I have an April deadline I want to meet for plot reasons – going the traditional path will mean I’ll miss this deadline.

3. I’m not publishing a novel to make money – I’m doing it because I want to tell a story. Breaking even would be sufficient!

4. I have a large network of people who I can tap into for assistance and support – creative friends for cover design, for example, and also the media (my colleagues).

5. I’ve recently won a Scarlet Stiletto award for a short crime story, and now’s a smart time to leverage a novel off that.

6. And I have come to the realisation that trying to fit myself into the conventional publishing model was sapping my inspiration and just feeling plain wrong. I just couldn’t get interested in it, it was frustrating me, and I realise it’s one of the reasons why this project has dragged on longer than I wanted it to.

But mainly, this decision is all about cutting out the middle man. I’m over having to give away my power to people who are gatekeepers of contrived conventional processes. Just because I’m told it’s the way to do things, doesn’t make it right or true. Thanks to the magic of technology, I can do things my own way. This is not to denigrate traditional publishing, by any means. Traditional publishing works for many, and it’s an industry I’ve loved working in – but I know it’s not for me when it comes to my book(s).

So, I’ll be selling my book online – both as an ebook and as a physical hard copy. Maybe I’ll sell it through a couple of bookshops (but then maybe not, as I’m not that keen on giving them 40%).

I’m very curious to see how things go.

Writing a Novel

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Tasmania, Writing on January 13, 2012 at 11:22 am

Last year, after a few months of manic writing (and enforced solo weekends at my shack on Bruny Island), I finished the first draft of my first full-length novel.

It’s a crime novel, set in Tasmania. It’s to be the first in a series featuring an enigmatic central female character (the kind of person I wish to be!).

A Sydney literary agent is interested in it, based on the sample and synopsis I sent her.

And she’s just emailed me: “When can I see the whole book?”

And now I’m kind of petrified with inertia.

Why petrified?

Because I’ve worked in book publishing, and know what it takes to go from first draft to something worth sending off to an agent. It’s a physical and mental marathon. Also, I don’t want to miss this chance. Also, I’m a perfectionist. Also, I’m so exhausted by the process of getting out the first draft that I’m putting off the inevitable rewrites…

… So, why write at all?

I’ve never wavered in my belief that I’ll be a published author one day. I’ve ghost-written lots of books, and, of course, I’m already a well-published magazine and newspaper writer. But there has always been a burning desire to have my own book published. It’s in my DNA – my grandmother was a published writer (into her nineties), and my father is also.

And I have something to say. Which, when you strip everything else away, is the number 1 ingredient needed to write a book…

… Which, thank the heavens, I’ve finally done

I’ve started various novels at various points during my life. I read those tortured false starts now, and can clearly see all the hallmarks of ‘first novel’ syndrome – where you are basically writing about yourself. I cringe a little, but I can also see the seeds of this later book, the one I manage to complete.

This one still has what matters to me and my life stamped over it (mystery, history, Tasmania, being different, questioning the status quo…), but if your writing doesn’t reflect you in some small way, why write?

Enter: the art of incubation

Recently, I’ve learnt that, instead of being a procrastinator, I can happily call myself an incubator. Different thing entirely, apparently.

However, it doesn’t change the fact that I have a habit of creating side projects (editing others’ books, finishing my Masters…) that steer me away from my central goal. These projects fool me into thinking I’m still achieving my goals, without the scariness of forced to focus on what I really care about.

I also make excuses about the fact that I need to make money to pay the mortgage, and since my day job involves being creative and writing all day long for others, there’s no juice in the tank for my personal writing…

No more excuses

Writing my first novel was one of the sub-conscious reasons I moved back to Tasmania – I realise that now. Sydney was a very distracting place to live. I needed the head/body space to write a novel that Tasmania would provide.

And I need to recognise my achievements thus far.

However, I also need to get brutal. I should know how to cross the finish line; as a book editor and publisher, I’ve coaxed other writers through this journey (god, it seems so easy when it’s someone else’s book…).

So, I’ve given myself a deadline and a routine (essential, I find). I’ll be writing every day to fine-tune the draft. And I’ll keep you updated.

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