Writing a book? What you’re doing right.

A blog post popped up on my computer today that angered me. Designed for writers, it was headed, ‘What you’re doing wrong’. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered headings like this. I just won’t read negative blog posts. Tell me, how to do something, yes, but negative nancies can go confuse someone else.

Why must we constantly focus on the word ‘wrong’? This insinuates writing is going to be marked. We’re not in school, it’s not, readers will decide when they flick to page 1 and then buy our book. If it’s not their taste, well, that’s life.

It annoys me when someone tries to impose their opinions on another. Just because someone disagrees with someone else’s style, it doesn’t mean that person is right, and by implication that the other person is ‘wrong’. There’s that word again!

Stylistic decisions are individual, that’s your voice, don’t let someone else say you’re ‘wrong’, because as Neil Gaiman says: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Writers are already plagued with self doubt, why must we make it harder for ourselves to navigate the writing path? Writers do not need to be told their writing voice is ‘wrong’.

If you’re doing some or all or more of these things, you’re on the right path:

  1. “Read, read, read,” to quote William Faulkner (heck, A LOT of people say the same thing a variety of ways).
  2. Write everyday: writing everyday makes your writing flow. Set up your “tortoise enclosure”. And if you don’t know what that is, and are curious, Google: “John Cleese, tortoise enclosure.”
  3. Learn your craft. Learn the difference between passive v active voice, learn grammar, learn pace, learn point of view, learn dialogue, learn character development. And just when you think you’re grasping the basics, you’ll find there’s even more to learn. There’s always room to grow. There’s always someone who you can learn from, no matter their age.
  4. Read aloud: this allows you to pick up missed words and listen for lyricism.
  5. Write something you love, not something for the market.
  6. Get involved with the writing community and have your work critiqued. My work improved exponentially after I joined in, after resisting for damned too long. I wish I’d done this step differently. And remember, when you critique, praise the good as well the confusing. If we don’t know what the heck is working, how on earth do we develop the good stuff?

Can you think of anything else?

Every been so scared, your heart jumped?

Welcome to one of the after-effects of my stroke. If someone abruptly coughs, or puts plate on the bench, or there’s an unexpected bang on the TV, like a T-bone car crash, or a dog bark, or a dropped plate, I literally jump through the roof. No joke, my heart jumps so much, this condition kindly bestowed on me post-stroke, will not just make me jump one day, it will trigger a heart attack.

They’ll write ‘died of fright’ on my tombstone.

I’m sure there’s a medical term for this, but a term doesn’t describe what it’s like to live with this.

For example, I cringe anytime someone drives a car in TV or movies. T-bone car crashes are such cliches, any car shot, I anticipate a crash, no matter the genre. And I certainly make sure I don’t drink. If I jump while holding a drink … well, it’s not pretty. My hand violently jerks, water spills from my cup –  taking on a life of its own – and leaps into the air. Water splatters my clothes and drips over my wheelchair. Then it hits the floor like thrown paint – a Pro Hart masterpiece. I’m surprised water hasn’t ended up in my hair yet. My husband laughs at me, but gets just desert – he has to clean it up. Ah, there is sweet justice.

And my wonderful kids take pleasure in seeing me jump. They laugh and laugh and laugh. Soon, they’ll start scoring who makes me jump the most. Lucky for me, it’s too ‘cringe-worthy’ for them to read my blog, or I would’ve just given them a new game.

On the weekend, I binge-watched a show on Netflix. I won’t say which one and give spoilers. They happened to walk on the ledge of, say, a ten story building. It was obviously fake. Did that matter? No siree. Even typing about it days later, recalling the image, I’m woozy. Thankfully, with Netflix, I can just jump forward. Not so with a movie.

Going to the movies is a real fun time for me. I know Hollywood uses a green screen, but you try and convince my brain of that. Movies with heights? I end up watching the ‘Exit’ sign or my shoes. Any height, no matter how fake, makes me jump so much I nearly fall out of my wheelchair. As if being in a wheelchair didn’t come without enough challenges.

I’ve been startled in the movies, and I wear choc tops, slurpies and popcorn. In truth, movies are’t the greatest choice for me. I should start wearing an apron. Imagine the looks that’d earn!

The earth-type shots of End Game (or was it Captain Marvel?), those taken above the atmosphere, are just too much for me. I try to look, but even they overwhelm me. Of course, I’m a movie-goer at heart, so I’ll just grin and bear the dizzying heights. It is what it is. I have this ‘perk’ for life.

Game changer

There are a plethora help books for writing. We all glean information in different ways and these books are necessary. What works for one person may not resonate with another. That’s the way of the world.

Bearing that in mind, I’d like to share my recent journey that has turned my 300 words a day (my right hand is dead, so that’s one-handed) into 1,000 words a day and I’m aiming for 2,000 a day – and to spend less time in front of my computer.

My journey began with Nanwrimo. I found Kristen Lamb’s Wana tribe and started sprinting every night. Even after Nanowrimo, I still sprint with them almost every night (their morning).

Around the start of the New Year, I read Chris Fox’s Lifelong Writing Habit. The book recommended a few different things. What I took away from it began the change to my writing habit. I purchased the app “Things” and started to use it everyday. I organised my calendar with reminders to write. I freed brain space in order to think only of my book.

Then I read Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel and I started to calculate numbers (percentages) based on when a beat should happen i.e. making sure the inciting incident is around 10% of my book. And this is an area we may vary, because I want to limit my book’s word count. I’ve always struggled with confidence, and as a writer wanting to debut (if I sell), I think I’ve more chance at selling a novel if I give publishers what they want when it comes to word count. You may be be confidant than me. I’ll vary my words v percentages a little, but I mostly try to stick to beats in the right places.

After, I read another of Chris Fox’s books – 5000 words an hour. I knew I wasn’t physically capable of this, but I was curious. Around this time a gaming keyboard was recommended to me from someone within the Wanatribe (thank you!). And within Chris’s book, he recommended the Game Changer for me.

Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k.

What a brilliant method to write. I love it. It’s my game changer. It may not be yours, but if it can help you in a small way, heck, that’s awesome, yes?

What’s even funnier, I’d already heard of Rachel Aaron through a totally separate source. Back in 2017, Rachel was on the Creative Penn here. I was impressed then, imagine my surprise when I realised the author of 2k to 10k was one and the same person? The writing community is a small one as much as its a big one.

I’ve recently created “mood” playlists on Spotify, thanks to James Scott Bell’s, Voice: the secret power to great writing who inspired me.

To top of my journey, I’m reading an incredible book Kristen Lamb recommended – Larry Brook’s Story Engineering.

I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read on the craft (they’ll be on Goodreads) and I’m sure there will be more, but at the moment, this is the path that will push me to finish my book (at least, ready for beta readers) by the end of March, hopefully mid-March. I’ll check back and let you know how I go.

Fingers crossed!

Christmas with a Difference

A short story subverting Christmas …

 

My eyes flew open.

Christmas morning. Sunlight streams around curtain edges, but the room is shrouded in darkness. It’s early, early Christmas morning. Usually Cody and Jasmine bounce on the bed until I wake. Early, but not this early.

I love my Christmas morning with Cody and Jasmine. It only happens every second year. Perhaps they’re exhausted from yesterday’s skiing? I am. Aching and bruised too.

This Christmas we’d agreed to spend at Evergreen Ski Lodge. With my family. Our time away from home is the perfect invitation for me tease them. I’d tell them Santa skipped us because we weren’t home. To see their little faces, light up when they see presents under the tree? Priceless.

A door clicks shut. I can’t tell, is it our room or another room?

My heart races. And not with excitement – call it intuition. Something is wrong. I fling my doona, and grab my gun from the room’s safe.

“Cody? Jasmine?” I call. What if they don’t answer?

My job puts them at too much risk.

My bare feet pad over the carpet along the suite’s bedroom corridor.

Silence.

I reach Cody’s bedroom door first, and peer inside. His bedcovers are pulled back and crumpled, but his bed is empty. Does he wait by the tree? Is he with his sister? Or does he walk Spot?

Somehow, I stumble to Jasmine’s bedroom door. The pink elephant bedspread she loves so much, and made me pack and bring, is all mussed up. The room is devoid of life. They’ve gone to the Christmas tree without me. Except they always wake me first. I shiver, from the bitter chill me as much as the fear – where are my kids?

My feet move so fast, like skis down a black slope. Controlled and tense: stalking steps.

Splatters of blood on the kitchen floor. No! My stomach drops.

My gun is a cold and hard: a comfort in my hands. Holding it with two hands, helps control my trembles. I jump around the kitchen corner, into the living room, and thrust out my gun.

In front of the tv, lays our white speckled Staffy. Another one of Jasmine’s demands. Bring her.

Spot lay unconscious, and blood pools around her chest. Fresh blood. From a puncture. I’ll bet this is what woke me.

No kids.

Just the Christmas tree and no presents. I’d left presents under the tree last night. Robbed. I don’t care about that. I only cared about my kids. And Spot.

I rush to Spot’s side, my gaze darting around the room. I rip the bottom of my nightgown and press the material into her wound.

What do I do? Spot is dying in front of my eyes. Cody and Jasmine would never forgive me. I would never forgive me. Oh, God, I wish I left you at home. Without the kids, there is no forgiveness. Only my own regret. My family is only complete with Cody and Jasmine … and Spot.

I know the procedure.

“I’ll be back,” I whisper to Spot.

I race for mother’s room and bang on the door, until it opens.

“Mum, get Spot to a vet. ASAP. The kids are missing, I’ll call 000.”

She nods. I leave her and rush to my room. From my bedroom, I grab my phone, a jacket to throw over my nightgown, and dash to the living room, to Spot’s side.

Mum is already there. She kneels next to Spot, staunches the blood flow, with my ripped nightgown, and she’s on her phone.

With a curt nod, I run outside, dialling 000 as I go. The corridor blears. My kids. This feels totally different to the job. Personal. I take three or four stairs at a time from our first floor.

“State your emergency,” drones a computer-generated voice. “Police, fire, ambulance.”

“Police.”

No one at the lobby desk. There’s no one else here either. A stand of brochures. I push the main door open. Cold air slaps me in the face. My warm breath huffs in white puffs of mist. I stare at the fresh snow. Footprints. Two sets, and deep. Both are too deep unless … they’d been carried. Cody and Jasmine. They’d be so scared.

No blood splatter. No drops.

The tracks went right.

“Police,” a gruff male voice answered.

“This is Detective Janice Fletcher,” I said, my voice cracking. “I’m at the Everglade Ski Lodge. Someone took my kids, left our dog for dead and stole our presents. Send a team. Hurry.”

“10-4. ETA ten minutes.”

I keep my arms straight, clutch my gun with two hands and follow the footprints to the carpark. My gaze scans car to car, under and inside, and through dense pines to the fence-line.

The footprints end. Just stop. The place where they should be? It’s an empty car space. There’re tire tracks to the road.

Gone. Cody and Jasmine are gone.

In a daze, I holster my gun. Collapse to my knees, cradle my head. Hot tears trickle through the gaps of my fingers.

He’d promised vengeance, and now he was out? They were gone.

 

What’s on your bucket list?

Do you need a bucket list? Do you have one already? Are you doing it?

I’ve experienced just how short life can be, I had a stroke at 41 years of age (and I know plenty of people younger than me. Yes, stroke happens at any age, not just to the old). So, make that list. And do it … because a life of all work and no play? That’s kinda unfulfilling. Don’t you agree?

Before my Nan passed away, she told me to travel young . In fact, she actively encouraged it. And so I did. On the top of my bucket list was visiting Prince Edward Island on the East coast of Canada. Why there? Anne of Green Gables, of course.

The island inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery to pen one of the most popular works of fiction for preteen girls. And because I followed my dreams, I’m able to say I’ve seen first hand why. The grasses are as green as a rich moss, the sands a deep ochre and the water a sparkling blue. Place these colours next to one another and they create a distinctive and memorable canvas which, at the time, sent a surging swell of admiration through my heart.

That’s the kind of emotional response a bucket-list experience should elicit from you.

Can you name what could do that for you?

Do you long the weightlessness and colours experienced with a scuba dive? Or crave the rush when you skydive? (although, I’d rather dodge a cobra – and I don’t dodge, I’ve enough trouble typing this – than skydive, but more on that later.)

Perhaps venturing into the tunnels under a pyramids is more your speed, or watching the sun set over Ayers Rock.

There is a funny show on Stan called No Tomorrow (at least, it’s on Stan in Australia, but it’s a Canadian production, so I expect it’s in America and Canada at a minimum). That show is all about ticking off the two lead character’s bucket lists, all because the guy (yum) believes the world will end in under a year. Yeah, that pans out well. The girl thought she’d landed a hunky-dory catch. Then hearing him say the world is about to end? Not so much a catch anymore.

It’s like she taken a big bite into a grapefruit. And do you blame her? Really?

They’re bucket lists don’t just include experiences, there are “forgiving dad” moments and “saying sorry” moments too.

Great show, by the way.

So, what’s your poison? Leave a comment below, you never know, you could inspire someone else’s bucket list.

Who doesn’t like garlic?

I’m sorry, I can’t understand how anyone can’t like garlic. Do you? There’s nothing comparable to that pungent odor wafting through your kitchen – what can match it?

For my entire childhood I was deprived of this exquisite flavour. Oh, how my childhood was filled with bland boring food. My mother didn’t like garlic, so she never cooked it.

Seriously, I know kids can be fussy (I have 3 of the fussiest humans alive), but isn’t not using garlic some kind of child abuse? It should be. And although my kids are fussy they will eat garlic. I’m not saying they love it, but they eat it and don’t complain, so that’s a bonus, right?

And if my fussy trio eat garlic, how can an adult not like it? There are some people who claim they are allergic to garlic, but then eat food like Indian. I’m sorry, that’s not an allergy, that’s being a pain in the arse. Have you met an Indian? Seen them cook? I personally don’t know an Indian dish that doesn’t have garlic in it. Do they know how to cook or what? Frigging delicious.

Mix garlic with ginger and you have one of the most potent, mouth-watering bases for a meal on this earth. Was that created by God or what?

Yes, eat too much of it and you have garlic breathe. To my mind, that’s not a reason to not like garlic. Just think how healthy that person is being because, as if the sumptuous taste of garlic wasn’t enough, it’s good for you too. And it wards off vampires 😉

All in all, there’s indisputable evidence that liking garlic is worth your time. You do like living in your body, don’t you?

The No. 1 writing tip

Think about it. What could the #1 writing tip be? Interrogate yourself. Dig deep. Why are you really writing? Perhaps you want to impress your family and friends? Perhaps you want to show off how smart you are? Or maybe you want the prestige of being able to call yourself an author? Or, best of all, you love it.

Are these valid reasons to write? Hell, no (except for the last reason). But don’t get me wrong, they are all great motivators. The trick is not to let your motivation shine through the pages of your book. People read to be entertained, not to entertain your dreams.

For one, you can’t sustain the passion you need to tell and finish a readable story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read my WIP. Hey, I could have sex with it, I know it that intimately. And like every love story, I find something I love about my WIP every time I touch it. There is no divorcing it, no walking away from it. I’m in for the long haul. Sure, there are moments I’d rather pull teeth. That’s because I’m in a book-relationship.

I can hear you saying … “that’s me too.” Well, great! You’re on the way. Now do the time 🙂

I ask you again, why are you writing?

What’s that #1 one writing tip?

We all want to write a good story. That’s a given. But in fulfilling that desire, we are in danger of losing sight of the end of the rainbow. How can a story be good if it’s only read by three hundred people? If sales don’t reach that number or a similar number, word of mouth isn’t weaving it’s elusive magic. A magic that says, “hey, buy this book. It’s really good.”

Everyone is frantically busy these days, they don’t have the time to read a book that doesn’t deliver (or money to spare to drop into an author-charity bin).

So, what does a low number tell you? It tells you something isn’t working. And that’s perfectly okay. Just don’t give up. Start the next book.

If you’ve written what you think is a good book, the proof of whether it’s marketable, is in the sales. Now, perhaps, like me, you’ve written in a very niche market and therefore lower sales are expected. That should be the litmus test for your book – do you have the sales what an average author expects from their market?

There are tips out there on how to improve your grammar, your voice, on show not tell and countless other scalpels available in an author’s toolbox. To get ahead of what may not be working in your book, educate yourself. Use those tips.

And the single most important piece of writing advice? Write for your reader. Not just any reader, but your reader. Know who they are and how to elicit a reaction from them. Know what kind of reaction or impression you want from them. Get excited about it. Love what you create, even the stuff that needs work, because we only get to the good stuff if we keep trying. So keep trying.

 

 

A whine

Okay, so I’m reading this book, a highly recommended book. It’s so good, someone went onto Youtube and raved about it. That’s how I learned of it.

It’s traditionally published. It has a distinctive voice. The characters are sorta interesting, but I feel like I’m reading backstory, embellished in a pretty way. How does this happen in our day and age? Readers are sophisticated and educated. They know story structure. Even my daughter learns it in High School. I don’t understand.

I’m 10% into the book and I’m still waiting for the story to start. Writers beware. If you want your story read, tell a story, not backstory. And make a reader care. So far, I can take or leave the main character. As a writer, I know writing a character is hard and it takes years of practice to get right. I’m still working on it.

Right now, I’m dangerously close to putting the book down. Forever. All that writer’s effort on pretty backstory – wasted. All that writer’s effort on the whole book – undiscovered. That’s if I put the book down, which is looking more probable than not.

Only because I’m expecting the book to improve do I persevere, but all that pretty backstory, I’m going to skim read, I’m not going to read-read anymore. I don’t have time for backstory. No one does. It’s so annoying to buy a book, and a traditionally published book at that, only get backstory. Perhaps my standards are high? I expect a lot from a book. I expect a story. But, don’t you too?

Whine over 🙂