One thing I’ve learned from being a member of Romance Writers of Australia is the power of writerly relationships and the importance of networking.
Every step on our road to publication, we have teachers, mentors, supporters, critique partners, beta-readers and friends guiding us, supporting us, consoling us and celebrating with us.
It is important to honour and nurture these relationships, no matter how big or small the contribution the person has made on your writing journey.
Following the acceptance of the short story version of Beyond Happily Ever After by Wet Ink magazine, I had a new confidence. I was able to introduce myself to authors as a writer, and set about having my photo taken with authors as something to aspire too.
This year at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, I made a conscious decision to seek out some wonderful ladies who have taught me and encouraged me in the past year: to re-connect, to thank them and to update them on my writing journey.
In July 2012, Cate Kennedy gave a workshop in Coffs Harbour and was very encouraging about my Cinderella story. I sat in on one of her sessions in Byron Bay and managed a quick hello at the end of it.
Last November, I travelled to Byron Bay to do a two day structural editing workshop with Shelley Kenigsberg. I spent the weekend changing scenes from third person to first person, which gave me a better insight into Henry’s private persona – once in first person, he really let me know what he was thinking. Shelley also encouraged me to find a story-related premise for the story, and a few weeks after the course, I came up with a premise that nailed it perfectly:
Fairy godmothers are over-rated. Real magic begins when you’re true to yourself.
I’ve had this printed on my new business cards and I presented one to Shelley when I caught up with her at Byron Bay Writers Festival.
I also attended the book launch of The Inevitability of Stars by Kathryn R Lyster, a newly published author and one of Shelley’s Editing in Paradise alumni. It was touching to see how moved Shelley was, and how invested she was in Kathryn’s achievement. The book launch was a beautiful celebration of Kathryn’s success and I’m happy to have attended (and purchased the novel).
I also attended the Chick Lit Mass Market session which included Anita Heiss on the panel, who gave the Chick Lit Masterclass I attended in March in Hobart.
The session was funny (as evidenced by the picture below) and even though I wondered about the token male writers on the panel, they were just as funny.
Earlier this year, I attended and editing course in Bellingen, led by Laurel Cohn. During the course of the workshop, Laurel read my synopsis for Beyond Happily Ever After/The Wrong Prince/After Ever After (No, I haven’t settled on a title yet) and identified a flaw in the plot, telling me ‘That wouldn’t happen.’ Laurel was right and I had to work out a way to get Jared into Henry’s employment at the time I needed him to be there. It meant rewriting several scenes, but a disguise, a new name, a tour of several famous horse races and Jared is logically back right where I need him. His hair has changed colour and his facial hair means that he’s not recognised immediately, and with his denial of his former life, he has key characters second-guessing that they know his true identity. Plus, I added a chase on horseback. That simple change resulted in intrigue and suspense in a scene that was previously quite preditable. During the Festival, I made sure that I thanked Laurel for her input and that I had fixed the plot problem.
I am friends with Shelley on Facebook and I follow Anita on Twitter. Whether you connect online or seize the opportunity at a Festival or conference, it’s important to keep the connections going.
There was another author at the Festival that taught a workshop I attended, but she told me that I was too good a writer to be wasting my time on genre. Nice back-handed compliment, but a total diss of what I want to write, so no, I did not cherish her or seek her out.
Networking – learn it, practice it, do it. Cherish your writing mentors.
The music that surrounded you as a teenager is the soundtrack of your youth. It speaks to you in a way that the parentals can never understand, it paints your life in song and gives voice to your hopes and desires.
As a teen, I inhabited the music I loved and it inhabited me. It was an all-consuming relationship — I lived and breathed the songs, I knew every word (if the printed lyrics came with the album) or thought I knew every word (when I had to work the lyrics out for myself). I sang along with every song of the eighties: the classics and the one hit-wonders. Even today, when I hear the music, a tiny filing cabinet in my head unlocks and the words come flooding back.
As a teenager, I could not live without my record player, my tape recorder and my weekly dose of Countdown.
Several decades later, I still can’t live without music but my relationship to it has changed. Today my relationship with music is more subtle, more casual, almost a friends-with-fabulous-benefits arrangement. Sometimes it will serve as background music for housework, driving, working but new songs come and go and I barely hear the lyrics, let alone remember them. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell you who sings a particular song. Contemporary music melds into one big white noise – hip hop sounds like all other hip hop, one female pop artist morphs into another. It’s background noise, incidental to my life, the intensity and passion is no longer there –
–until I play songs from my teen years and I feel like I’m sixteen again. It’s like rekindling an old flame.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been teased by my workmates because I’m excited about the upcoming Moving Pictures tour. ‘Thelma’ has been warbling ‘What about Me?’ and proclaiming that was the band’s only song, despite the fact that she admitted to see Moving Pictures play in the eighties. I asked ‘so, did they sing the same song over and over all night?’ but it’s too convenient to remember that kind of detail.
I’ve challenged these gals to name their own teenage musical obsessions. Thelma confirmed that she liked Cold Chisel, but she didn’t go to see them when they played in Coffs Harbour eighteen months ago. Louise nominated Duran Duran as her teenage obsession and quickly added ‘but I wouldn’t go see them now.’ I guess their obsessions were more about the band’s looks than the music. Or Thelma and Louise are just fickle.
So despite their teasing I will remain excited because:
1. I get to see my favourite Aussie band again
2. I’m on holidays from Monday and they’re not.
Besides, I’ve found many like-minded MP fans on Facebook.
On this tour starting Friday 9th August, not only do we get to see Moving Pictures live on stage in pubs, clubs and theatres, we can souvenier a CD of their live show at the State Theatre in 2011.
As a taste of things to come, Alex Smith cameoed with The Soul Shakers in Byron Bay last Friday night, showing he is still in fine voice. I managed to capture one song – Alex sings ‘I’m Ready’ and so am I!
Are you ready to see Moving Pictures again?
For the past 12 years (minus one or two). I have come to the Byron Bay Writers Festival with friends from the Nambucca Valley Writers Group. We started in 2001 with a trio, and gradually each year, more and more people would be added to the mix, until last year we numbered 10 with a large age span that equalled a generation.
It became unruly with too much politics, and way too many women sharing two cabins and two bathrooms. The pull between the larks and the night owls was also stronger and at the point where the fuse blew (literally not figuratively) and the tourist park management could not work out where the fuse lived to fix it, my own fuse blew and I wondered what the hell I was doing there. You see, everyone else had gone to bed because there was no lights, it was dark and ‘there was nothing to do’ and left me to let the manager in and out until the fuse was finally fixed.
I’d never felt the generation gap so strongly before in the group, but it was distinct and made for a very long weekend.
This year, we’re back to a trio. Only two of the originals, but we are all closer in age and on the same page. Sleeping arrangements were worked out quickly and amicably – there was no fighting over the double bed or who had to sleep in the top bunk (No-one!) No fighting over the bathroom and none of us bought a hair drier.
So when Alex Smith from Moving Pictures posted that he would be playing with The Soul Shakers at The Rails on Friday evening, I was pretty sure that my entertainment suggestion would be met with enthusiasm and not derision, or flat out ‘we can’t do that’.
What a night!
Not only were we entertained by the smooth sounds of The Soul Shakers with Alex joining in on a couple of songs, we were mesmerised by the action on the dance floor. Note: all names and back stories concocted in the imaginations of three writers out on the town. There was Shazza, scary shimmy woman who hypnotised us with her pelvic thrusts – a shimmy that seemed to occur only at pelvis level. I tried to imitate but could not pull off her signature (and only) dance move. There was Lin, crazy Asian lady, with her supplies stored in her skin tight snake skin leggings. At one point, I thought she was going to strip, but she was only storing her lighter. There was Reggie – if you thought that Cliff Young could do the shuffle, you haven’t seen Reggie and his infamous shuffle dance – never did a foot actually lift from the dance floor. (That’s ‘Reggie’ in the photo above on the dance floor) We only stayed for two sets but that short experience of Byron nightlife made it worth it, even if we had risen at five that morning.
I also had a quick chat to Alex (so looking forward to the Moving Pictures gigs at Dee Why and Heathcote in 3 weeks time). So day 1 of the 2013 Byron experience was fabulous and I haven’t even mentioned our day at the festival.
Eating out in Byron Bay was always an issue when we had such a large group, and for some reason it was decreed that the entire group should always eat together – we couldn’t break into smaller groups and go our separate ways. So 1. We had to find a restaurant that had room for a large group and 2. We had to reach a unanimous decision. One year, we suggested Mexican but that was flatly turned down. So we’d usually end up one night at The Great Northern or Beach Hotel, one night at Earth and Sea Pizza and one night at The Curry House, which had a room upstairs we could squeeze into.
I looked up Mexican restaurants on Trip Advisor and discovered there was a new one called Miss Margarita but we couldn’t quite work out the address. Tonight we discovered that our usual haunt The Curry House had turned into a Mexican joint, Miss Margarita. When we first rolled up, it was packed out, so we thought we’d check out the other options, strolled around for an hour or so, then found ourselves back at Miss Margarita and the maitre d’ said he had a table for us. We ordered enchiladas, burritos and fajitas. Way too much food but very yummy. And we had rewritten our Indian banquet tradition. This was young person’s food. We will go back there again.
There was no way we could turn our back on our Sunday morning tradition – strolling around Byron Bay markets. And what a score – we all came away with goodies: I got a yellow coin scarf, 2 flower wreaths hairpieces, something for my RWA cocktail party costume and this Frida Kahlo bag.
Then we spent our final day at the writers festival. But more about the writers festival later.
More than once, I’ve nominated myself as the Queen of Procrastination, usually fuelled by self-doubts about my writing. The best defence against this is to open the manuscript and start working but some days I don’t get that far. Instead I wallow on the lounge, under the electric throw rug, snuggled up to my Qwerty cat, filling my head with the mindless trash of reality TV.
And yet there is no better feeling when the writing is flowing or the editing is working, or I’m smiling because the scene conveys exactly what I want.
I can’t reach the writing bliss without going through the writing pain and so yesterday I took yet another step to make myself publically accountable for my writing goals.
Last month, I became President of Nambucca Valley Writers Group. I’ve been a member of the group for approximately fourteen years and I’ve been on the committee for almost as long. After my election at the AGM, I asked the other members to think about how the group could support their writing ambitions.
Yesterday we had a group excursion to The Pub with No Beer. After lunch, we had our meeting and I asked them questions that they weren’t expecting. I asked them what they wanted to achieve in their writing by the next AGM? How the group could support their goal? What did they need to do by the next meeting? How could we hold them accountable?
I wrote down everybody’s answer. I asked more questions to establish the accountability? And I learned a lot about different members of the group and their various writing projects. The answers will be sent out to everyone to remind them of their own and their writing comrades’ commitment. I will ask for a report from each person at the next meeting. I will hold them accountable.
Making them accountable is also making me accountable.
My goal is to have my current manuscript edited and submitted by May 2014. I’d love to have it published but that is out of my control. (I’m not ready to go down the self-publishing route at this point). By next NVWG meeting, I will have sent the complete manuscript to my critique partners. (And perhaps a couple of gay beta readers, if I could find some willing)
I will lead by example, NOT by procrastination.
I wrote last night – 850 words.
And then this morning, still bleary-eyed and still warm and cosy in bed, I opened my manuscript on my ipad and I edited. And edited. And edited. 16,470 words before I even got out of bed. Another chapter later in the morning. Tonight I sent those chapter to my critique partners.
I’ve spent the last few years treating my manuscript like my high school cross-country race – my friends and I would walk the whole way, throwing cow pats at each other.(I went to an Ag High School, lots of hectares, and cows) By the time, we got to the finish line, everyone had packed up and gone home.
Sometimes it already feels like the finish line has packed up and gone home. So many writing colleagues have sold this year, so many writing colleagues have released books, and while I’m very happy for them, I feel like I’ve been running the same mile over and over again, the finishing line a mirage in the distance.
Not any more! The finishing line is in sight and I’ve got the energy to get there. (Yawn! Well, maybe not tonight).
Wish me luck!
Ten days ago, I broke up with my to-be-read pile. Our relationship was getting in the way of my manuscript. I was spending more time with other people’s words than my own, and I knew my story would never be finished and submitted if I continued to be seduced by shiny covers and beautiful phrases.
I committed to finishing my manuscript during Romance Writers of Australia’s 50k in 30 days challenge, held every year in June.
But the last few nights, I’ve found it strange to go to bed alone. Yes, I know Qwerty joins me, but generally he doesn’t come to bed until I’ve turned the lights out.
I’ve become accustomed to reading before I go to sleep, and reading my own words only keeps me in editing mode. I need something to switch me off from the editing, turn me back from writer to editor, and take me closer to relaxation.
So the to-be-read pile and I are talking again and it seems we’ve reached a compromise. No novels, no huge stories that will make me continue turning pages until the early hours of the morning, only to pick it up again the next day to continue reading when I should be editing.
I am allowed to read:
Craft books (for motivation or craft)
So to keep in the fairy tale mode as that’s where my current story lies, I’m reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. I read Angela Carter when I was at uni so this is a delightful revisit. I know I have some Margaret Atwood short stories hiding somewhere on my shelves and I love Peter Carey’s short stories. Throw in some Janet Frame and my books are happy and I’m happy again.
And we’d be even happier if we had more bookshelves.
It’s not you, it’s me. I have embraced you, loved you, coveted you. In return, you have delighted me, teased me and taunted me. But now I must separate myself from you, ignore you, and resist your siren call of your come-read-me covers and seductive words. I must do this in order to rediscover my own characters and once again fall in love with my own manuscript because our love affair is not yet over.
Yours in longing for more hours in the day,
The Distracted Writer
Okay, it’s a bit more than a pile. But we stil need to break up.
In June 2012, I impulsively booked flights from Sydney to Hobart and back to coincide with the Ten Days on the Island festival. Virgin were having a big sale and I scanned the list of cities and decided to go somewhere I’d never been. I considered inviting friends along, but then decided it was easier to travel solo. I wanted to have a big adventure. I wanted to travel outside my comfort zone.
It seemed such a long time to wait – 8 months – which gave me a lot of time to work out what I wanted to see and where I wanted to stay. I very quickly rejected the concept of staying in a hotel room by myself