The Writing Process Blog Hop
I’ve been tagged by Dianne Touchell (Creepy and Maud 2012), one of the most authentic authors writing for young adults today. Di will be publishing her new YA novel with Allen & Unwin in 2015 and you can read about her writing process here.
I’ve also been tagged by Rosanne Hawke (Marrying Ameera, Shahana, Mountain Wolf and more) who writes beautiful novels about brave kids from different cultures. Rosanne’s answers to these questions can be found on her website.
What am I working on?
2013 was a complicated year and I took a few wrong turns. My next contemporary YA novel (a love story set in a small town) is slowly edging closer to a final draft. The good news is I’ve stopped trying to steer this baby and it’s now at the broken, messy, no-turning-back stage (which is, conversely, where it finds focus). The other good news is: the ideas keep coming. I have a tendency to store too many stories in my head at once and it can get noisy in there, so I purged by outlining a middle grade novel I’ve had buzzing around for a while. I work on this when I’m stuck or disillusioned with the others (which can happen often, so it’s taking shape rather quickly) and it’s probably the most challenging format I’ve ever attempted. And a new, exciting project has turned up unexpectedly. I’m trying to push it aside for the time being.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Tough question. I think most writing is unique in some way, particularly novel-length works. It’s much harder to sustain fakery or a forced style over a longer work than it is to give in to your own voice. My work is different simply because it’s mine, and that goes for every other writer, too.
In terms of style and subject, I’m borrowing someone else’s phrase to describe my books: ‘Australian YA grunge with a streak of magical realism’. I like that description.
On voice: some say my writing is lyrical and others describe it as sharp and bleak. I’ve read (in the same review) that it’s both ‘pared back’ and ‘lushly overwritten’. Readers’ opinions seem divided—maybe it can have all of these elements. I don’t know what it is. I’ve never been an objective reader of my own work.
Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do because it’s easier. I don’t mean that writing for young adults is easier (I find all kinds of writing difficult), just that, when I’m dreaming about characters, I find it natural to slip into a young adult’s viewpoint. I usually discover an interest and intensity that’s lacking from any other angle. Even when I’m writing for adults I wonder what the teens are thinking. The young adult perspective seems limitless—as if I don’t have to make the story fit any particular box—and that’s an immense freedom at the beginning (which is the hardest part for me).
How does my writing process work?
I still haven’t really settled into a process. On Mondays and Thursdays I have my best chance of a decent stretch for writing and the rest is stolen minutes. Night-writing is better for emotional scenes but I’m far more productive in structure, plot and bridging during the day. My most colourful thinking time seems to happen an hour before sleep and during the hour after waking. Usually I won’t start writing until I’ve played through countless rehearsals in my mind and the characters come first, always, even when they mess with my plans. It’s rare that the final story bears any resemblance to the original idea and I’m cagey about showing anything to anyone before the whole story is down, or it kills the music. I have one working file and anything I delete is gone forever (I’m distracted by leftovers—I figure if I hated a sentence once, I’ll hate it always). Sometimes I won’t write a single word for weeks (I have no sound advice for this, other than to wait).
I suppose all of this is a kind of process, albeit a flaky one.
I’ve tagged the lovely Trinity Doyle, YA writer, reader and co-presenter of the Ladies of YA podcasts. Trinity Doyle’s answers are here. Trinity Doyle. (I love saying that. Such a brilliant writer-name and it’s not even a pseudonym.) Trinity is a gorgeous, assured and unforgettable new voice and she’s going to write her name in the sky.
On book angels…
A couple of days ago I posted a vague tweet about ‘book angels’ and promised to follow up. I’m always interested in the stories behind stories, so here’s some insight into mine.
I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve met on my writing journey—either that, or the YA/children’s writing and publishing community is populated by profoundly generous human beings. It’s like the saying where if two people exchange apples, they both still have one apple; if the same two people exchange ideas, both have two ideas—the belief that you cannot hurt your career by supporting another is a fundamental reason behind the success of YA books. I imagine being a YA author is probably a bit like working for Google.
I’ve been meaning to write about the people who’ve been along for my ride for a long time, but then I got caught up with the trauma of preparing for public appearances (it does get easier), meeting deadlines (whoosh), and the writing (it doesn’t get easier). Eventually, the desire to hug everybody I met and tell them that their book CHANGED MY LIFE and the tendency to wander about in a perpetual state of star-struckedness—it faded. It’s not that I was less struck, it’s just that the opportunity seemed to have passed me by and, before I knew it, people were asking me for advice about writing. I convinced myself that I had made it—I am here, I belong here, I was always here—and that publicly thanking those who made the arrival possible would be deeply uncool.
Bullshit. If you’ve read any of my writing you’ve already seen inside my soul.
In the beginning, I liked the idea of being a writer much more than I liked the writing. I spent way too much time researching articles about the rules of publishing: How To Submit To an Agent, How To Write a Killer Query, How To Write the Dreaded Synopsis, How Not To Screw Up Your Submission, How To Sidestep the Slushpile. This kind of research gave me the impression that I was going somewhere, like the false sense of motion you feel when you step off an escalator. In reality, it said more about my procrastination and avoidance tendencies than my attention to detail. It’s when I stopped this useless research, when I fell in love with the payoff that came from writing words that made me feel, regardless of the ‘rules’, that I wrote a book.
All I Ever Wanted was written in secrecy, at night, just me and my keyboard. I had no bloody clue as to whether it was any good and, at the time, I didn’t care. If I failed, I would do it privately: no Facebook, no Twitter, no website, no beta-readers or critique partners—not because I didn’t see the value in being part of a community but because I had no clue how to connect. Writing Mim’s story took about 8 months from start to finish, but it took quite a while longer to submit. I shoved it in a drawer and got on with life.
So, I could claim that I’m an enigmatic loner, I did it all on my own, and that my own conviction is the thing that got me through. But that wouldn’t be true. If it had been up to me and my ‘conviction’, that book would still be sitting in my drawer. I needed inspiration, validation and a sense of belonging to follow through. All of this stuff came from other people. I think only a rare breed of writer can make it on his or her own.
If any of this sounds familiar and you know, deep down, that you’re rigidly worshipping the dream instead of bending to the reality of writing, stop. Stop the research. Start reading books that show you how to tell a story instead of reading articles that tell you how to write; reach out, make connections and be brave.
For my inspiration, I have many to thank. I’ve been a compulsive reader for most of my life, but the authors who were most present during the writing of All I Ever Wanted (purely on the page, of course) were Melina Marchetta, Meg Rosoff, Simmone Howell and Alyssa Brugman. This was my quartet of awesome (the field has grown considerably since) in terms of writing integrity, beautiful words and unforgettable characters. Jellicoe proved that YA books can be incredibly complex without ever losing sight of story; Solo pushes right to the edge of darkness and gave me the courage to write without censoring myself or my characters; after reading Notes—so smart, intuitive and thoughtful about relationships—I vowed to never, ever write down; How I live Now showed me what voice is (and made me believe that I had one).
For validation, I recommend a drip-feed. It does wear off after a while and a whole book needs a whole lot of validation. When I submitted my anonymous first page to a panel of editors and publishers at the Salisbury Writers’ Festival in 2009, I mainlined the feedback I received from Dyan Blacklock (Omnibus). Dyan requested my manuscript, but I had only written one shaky page—that’s how unsure I was about my writing. On the strength of her comments, I wrote the whole goddamn book (this was the purest hit of validation I’ve ever received, and it will forever be one of my sweetest memories).
While nobody had read AIEW in its entirety until I submitted, I did (with much grinding of teeth) give a couple of early chapters to Sue Fleming (Coordinator – Professional Writing AC Arts). Sue’s reply email was enough to get me through countless rewrites and bouts of self-doubt. Sue was also the first person to ever call me a writer.
I’m eternally grateful to author and book angel, Emily Gale, who was trusted with sifting through the slush and who became my first reader. Emily recommended Mim’s story to my agent, Sheila, who offered representation and went on seal the deal with Text Publishing. I still have Emily’s editorial and personal comments memorised (I hate to think what might have happened if she didn’t like it—back into the drawer, I suspect).
My sense of belonging came much later. It’s something I still struggle with and that’s because I’m… well, me. I hate asking for anything. Luckily, in the YA and children’s community, so much is offered and there’s a ‘pay it forward’ mentality that lifts everyone. I hope it’s similar elsewhere. I know there’s a certain amount of cynicism attached to the practice of author blurbs; some of you might think it’s a ploy to build brands. I had not met Cath Crowley or Melina Marchetta before they read my books. We’re not with the same publisher. I was a cynic, and I wondered what was in it for them? Was there a secret back-scratching ledger that must be balanced? How would my debt be repaid? (Yes, I have to expose my own frailties in order to highlight others’ strengths.)
Sure, cover quotes sometimes sell books, but, in my experience (now), a book is read and a ‘puff’ is given freely, thoughtfully and honestly, with no compensation other than knowing that a book you liked, or loved, might go on to reach more readers. Cath Crowley and Melina Marchetta did that for me.
So, this is like writing an acknowledgements page—I’m going to keep remembering the people I’ve forgotten after it’s already gone to print. Mainly, I’m thanking people without whose input (either knowingly or unknowingly) I would not have written my first novel. Following publication and during the writing of Friday Brown there are even more people to thank. Part two is imminent, methinks, so stay tuned…
There, that wasn’t so hard. Easiest 1300 words I ever wrote.
Young writers, strap on your boots…
Young writers aged between 14-17, check out the SA Writers’ Centre Teen Bootcamp being held during the October school holidays. You’ll find the program here and below is a quick overview of my session on Wednesday, 2nd October. Registrations are closing soon!
Plotter, pantser, necromancer
One of the questions most commonly asked of a writer is: where do you get your ideas from? Short answer: ideas are everywhere. An idea is the brilliant start to everything, a comet of the imagination, a blazing possibility that will fizzle and die if you don’t pay it some attention. The bigger question is: how can I turn an idea into a story?
You know you’re a writer if a) you write and b) you constantly shift between states of acute observation and dazed daydreaming. It’s like you can suddenly see through a filter to another dimension where the shadows of ideas are always jostling past. Everything—headlines, movies, music, overheard conversations—has the potential to become a story. If you’re a writer, finding ideas will not be the problem—the hard part is choosing, working out whether your fledgling idea has the legs to carry through to a complete short story or whole novel, pushing through disenchantment, roadblocks and indecision.
The best way to prepare for this journey is to start hoarding the elements for a story. Ideas don’t have a use-by date. You have time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a plotter (you outline before you start to write), a pantser (you let the story lead where it will) or you channel the spirits of the dead (please show me how to do this)—essentially all writers need to nail a process to make their ideas BIGGER.
In this workshop we’ll be talking about the genesis of ideas (including some surprising ideas/beginnings from acclaimed YA books, straight from the authors’ mouths), training our minds to look for the pathways to a story and finding those elements we need to travel the whole journey. And the next time someone says, ‘Hey, I have a great idea for a story’, you’ll have perfected your response: ‘I’m looking forward to reading it once it’s written’.
Or, you know, you can just say, ‘Pffft’.