What I learned this week

My own Yoda told me to work on something new while querying.

This is great advice, designed to stop me going nuts and checking my email forty thousand times a day.

So I went ahead and worked on something else. The sequels to my querying manuscript. So I’m ready to go with Books 2 and 3 when the call eventually comes.

But the anxiety crept in…. I started to fret and worry.

Then I finished the sequel drafts and started on something new. Brand new. In a completely different world with all new characters.

And I forgot about my queries.

This lead to a little epiphany.

When I was working on the sequels, I was still in the same world with the same characters. I had not really left my manuscript alone.

Now I’m wrapped up in the new world and kind of forgotten about the querying manuscript. Kind of.

So this week, I’ve learnt to start something completely new when querying.

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A little writing meltdown

Some days, it’s just overwhelming. There’s too much to remember. Too many techniques.

 

Is the pace right?

Does the scene turn?

What’s the character’s motivation?

Is my first line punchy enough?

Is my dialogue boring?

Too many ‘said’s. Too many adverbs. Too many adjectives.

Too much detail

Not enough detail

Are my minor characters too quirky?

What about the internal motivation?

Does it make sense?

Don’t worry about the sentence. Worry about the story.

But that sentence is clumsy.

Is my main character changing enough?

Is it cliched? Is it derivative?

Am I wasting my time?

Argh.

 

 

 

 

A little writing music

Music is a perfect pairing for writing. It can provide inspiration, pace and block out annoying noises. But it’s gotta be the right music.

The key pre-requisite for me is NO LYRICS. Words distract me and sometimes randomly appear in my manuscript.

This is what I listen to while writing.

Soundtracks

Soundtracks for films and television are a great background for writing. So long as the music is not too familiar, otherwise I get distracted and start humming along. My favourite composers here; Clint Mansell, Two Steps from Hell, Hans Zimmer, Yann Tiersen, Nils Frahm.

Modern Classical

“Old” classical can be too familiar to me (see above re: distraction), so I really enjoy the experimental “modern” classical music. The Scandinavians and Icelandic seem to dominate in this genre; Olafur Arnalds, Dustin O’Halloran (not quite Scando), Hildur Guonadottir.

Gaming Music

Like movie and TV soundtracks, gaming music can provide pace and the right mood. Especially for action and fight scenes.

Not Frogger.

Ambient

I don’t mean Ambient EDM/techno, I mean proper ambient with no bass. Soundscapes and aural wallpaper. The big guy here is Brian Eno.

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Nature Sounds

Sometimes I get into the zone with nature sounds; forests, birds, wind, thunder, rain.

White Noise

White, pink, brown – who knew there were so many colours of noise. This is great for sealing out the world, although I do have nagging concerns about being brainwashed with the theta waves. Maybe I’ve watched too much X-files. Excuse me while I go all Manchurian Candidate.

Meditation music

Meditation music is my current favourite for writing. Lots of bells, chanting and new agey stuff. The music is calm and repetitive, also the tracks are really long (up to 60 mins). So the music doubles as a timer.  When the music stops, take a break!

What music do you prefer when writing?

Three tips improved my writing in 2015

It’s the time of year between Christmas and New Year, like the lull between two waves. Time for planning and reflecting.

Here are the three writing tips I learned in 2015. These three tips definitely made me a better writer.

  1. Specificity
  2. Simplicity
  3. Different scripts

*Disclaimer – I can’t remember where I got these tips from. If it was you, thanks and sorry.

Specificity

Let’s get specific. Lazy writing is full of things, stuff and them. This year I learned to be specific about what I am writing. In 2015, I got out my nouns. First drafts can be full of vagueness but once the red editing pen comes out, it’s time to be precise. But specificity must be paired with tip#2, otherwise the words will grow and multiply like mice. And there’s nothing worse than a mouse plague…shudder…

Simplicity

Why use ten words when you can use two? My writing style is simple, mainly because I don’t like verbose writing personally, but this year I learned to use embrace the simple (and specific). Why use an adjective when I can find the right verb? He didn’t walk, he strutted, she plodded, we ambled. There is more power in brevity.

Like botanical illustrations, I strive to be both simple and specific.

Different Scripts

The third tip is about dialogue. Any scriptwriter knows this stuff but it was a revelation for me. This year I learned that each character has their own agenda in any conversation. Everyone has their own desired outcome from any discussion and our agendas will clash. This tip has helped me to stop my dialogue from being an exposition fest

In normal conversation, there are misunderstandings and confusing conversations when someone doesn’t say what they actually mean. There are a myriad of reasons why we don’t speak our minds. This is also true in dialogue. Each character is reading from their own script and the scripts don’t match.

Your turn – what great tips did you learn in 2015?

Five things which distract me from my writing

I am boringly conscientious. It was always on my school report…Madeleine is a conscientious student. But stuff still distracts me from writing.

Noise, generally power tools

I live in an area filled with older homes under renovation. If the gentle roar of power tools isn’t coming from my own house, it’s one of my neighbours drilling, sawing or generally banging loudly.

Headphones are good.

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Social media & the internet

I’m not alone. I know the blasted internet and social media call to us all. Distract me. Validate me. Just check the weather. Maybe someone liked my tweet. A quick look at the news. Next thing I know, it’s thirty minutes later. Damned instant access to everything ever.

The day job

Unfortunately I’m not independently wealthy or a kept woman, so I have to work. This is a major distraction from writing. Although perhaps with more time on my hands to write, there’d be more opportunity for other distractions to creep in.

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People – reminders I need to have a life too.

Note to self – occasionally stop writing and socialise. While Mr Madeleine and friends are a lovely distraction, if they interrupt at the wrong moment, they are in danger of encountering extreme grumpiness. As with many things, timing is important.

Resistance

I often talk about Resistance. The little evil man on my shoulder telling me I’m crap and I’m wasting my time with this writing stuff. He is the root cause of most of my writing distractions.Some days he is stronger than others. I try to ignore his little snarks and keep putting my fingers on the keyboard.

What distracts you from your writing (or other goals)?

When did you feel like a “real” writer round-up?

In early December, I ran a series of posts asking writers…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

I was lucky enough to get responses from Gail Carriger, Val McDermid, Joanne Harris, Ben Aaronovitch, Victoria Schwab, John Scalzi, Kim Newman, Neil Gaiman, Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Barbara Freethy and Kate Elliott.

There were a few themes running through the responses

  • Doubt and the imposter system persists (regardless whether you’ve sold millions)
  • Sometimes it’s your first big deal or success
  • Sometimes it’s not until you reach magic book no. 5

But mainly, you are a real writer when you write….

Now it’s your turn, when did you feel like a “real” writer?

 

4 resources for naming my characters

How do I approach naming my characters? Today I’m answering a few questions on character names from AJ Lundetrae.

Chanel, Dior, Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Gaultier, darling. Names, names, names!

Edina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous

 

How important are names to you in your books?

Names are very important to me.

I was a strange child and completely obsessed by boarding school books (especially the Chalet School). Using my illustrated atlas and a reference book of names and their meanings, I created my own school rolls. Lists of girls names and their exotic home cities.

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A name tells you a lot about a person’s past, their heritage, their social position. Names are infinitely fascinating. Especially in writing (rather than making your own children) when you get to choose the first and last name. In writing, your names can be descriptive of the character’s personality or mannerisms. And it’s just plain fun.

Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?

A little of both.

For my Monolith series, I have been obsessed with length. For my main characters, they all have names with four letters; Hana, Alga, Lucy, Erin and Mora. The lesser characters tend to have names of five letters.

Alga is an indigenous Northerner from a goddess worshipping religious community. For Alga, I searched for a four letter names with Estonian and Latvian heritage. I have also made up names for other characters but using foreign language name lists as inspiration.

I really struggled with the right name for Mora for over a year. Mora is the wise feisty grandmother. At one point she was named June, then Vera but now I have settled on Mora. Slightly inspired by the feisty playful Australia artist Mirka Mora.

For my steampunk novellas, I had great fun finding silly place names from the United Kingdom. I didn’t need to make them up. They are all real villages, hamlets or towns from various counties. I also searched for historical popular names on the census.

But in the end, the sound is most important to me.

And a tip I picked up somewhere – avoid names ending in “s”. This makes it messy when adding the possessive noun.

Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

My manager at work caught me looking at baby names lists recently and asked me if I had anything to tell her. So, yes, baby name lists from pregnancy sites. I have also found names by number of letters, for my obsession with four letter names.

I also search for foreign names and place names.

Here’s a few examples

 

As you can see, I have finally found a use for my obsession with names. If only I’d kept my list of names for my fictitious boarding school. I could finally find a home for my school girls.

How I “finished” – Tip#8 Listening to my gut

Listening to my gut

Feedback from others is super important but I’m learning to listen to my own internal feedback – my gut instinct.

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Sometimes I fretted about a scene or a character but doubted myself and did nothing about it. Only to receive the same feedback from someone else.

If I’d trusted my instinct, I could have fixed the mistake earlier.

So I’m learning to take my inner voice seriously too. My inner voice is just as important.

 

This is the last tip in my series. I hope you found something useful from my navel gazing.

Your turn – what are your tips for finishing a novel?

When did you feel like a “real” writer? Part 6

Back again with another two writers answering the question…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

Today we have two successful women with the same perspective.

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You’re a real writer when you write!

Words of wisdom!

I have one more answer up my sleeve, which I will post with a wrap-up of all the comments.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the pithy insights so far.

 

How I “Finished” – Tip #7: Being Selfish & Competitive

Being Selfish & Competitive

Now being selfish and competitive is generally seen to be a bad thing, but these two negative traits helped me go from a lump of words to a “finished” manuscript.

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Books don’t write themselves. I work full time but I find time to write because I’m selfish. Writing is really important to me, so it takes priority over other stuff. I’ve learned to be comfortable saying “no”.

I’m also competitive. Now I’m associating with an online community of writers and every day, my fellow writers are launching books, getting agents, getting publishing deals and 5 star reviews. I’m happy for them, (I believe in abundance not scarcity) but I want what she’s having.

What have you given up for writing?

Tomorrow – Tip#8 Listening to my gut.