Writing Update

It’s been a long, long time since I wrote an update for this website that didn’t consist of a book review. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the blog is dead. But it’s not. I’m here as always. I check in often but don’t feel there’s anything worth saying, that hasn’t been said before. That’s one of the problems with having a blog for many years. The blogger runs out of things to say. Or, maybe the importance of what’s being said changes with time.

Anyway, after the stroke 18 months ago, I spent many months recovering. I did little else except sleep, work and read. 2012 was a complete write-off for me.

2013 has been different. There are on-going medical issues and will be forever, from what I’m told, but I’m not going to focus on any of that. This post is about achievements. Despite the set-backs, I have had achievements.

I completed the editing course and received my diploma. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when that happened.

I have edited and published two anthologies — Night Terrors and Tomorrow — under the name Karen Henderson.

And in recent months, I have started writing again. I have written half a manuscript for younger readers, which has a working title of Haunted House and I have written four chapters of book 3 of The Land of Miu series — The Lion Gods.

At present, I am averaging about 800 words a day, which (to me) is brilliant. It is important not to pressure myself into a corner, so I made the decision to write 450 words a day. And, if I do miss a day (which is rare) I don’t beat myself up over it.

Writing, for me, used to be a way of spending every spare moment. I would think about writing while at work or on the train. I would dream about writing at night. I would sit long into the night and lose myself in worlds of my own making. But then, I started to feel pressured and writing became a chore. When that happened, I lost the joy and stopped writing.

I’m not interested in going back to that. Not ever!

So, when I write, I do it to relax. I want to enjoy what I’m doing and never want to feel pressured in any way. If I write 200 words and it’s just not coming together, then I’ll stop and try again tomorrow (when I’ll probably scrap those words and start again). However, I’m finding that the words flow if I don’t over commit myself and I’m pleased about that. I’ll go with it until both the manuscripts I’ve mentioned above are completed.

Short Story Tips

I’m experiencing serious problems with two short stories I’m writing. One is for younger readers, 9 to 12 year olds, and the other is for readers in their late teens. The problem is the same in each story, which tells me something. The problem is actually me, or the way I write — not the story itself.

This afternoon I set about researching tips for writing short stories in the hope that the problem can be fixed. Lots of the information I’ve read today is common sense and most of it I’ve read before. Having said that, I feel a writer can forget the basics when attempting to put together a strong story. And it’s also possible to get caught up in what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Nothing really helped me until I came upon Short Story Writing Tips by Short Story Group (website appears to have disappeared). There are five tips, but I will only quote one of them:

Have a clear theme. What is the story about? That doesn’t mean what is the plot line, the sequence of events or the character’s actions, it means what is the underlying message or statement behind the words. Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.

This simple paragraph helped me to realise that the themes of my two stories have been lost in the telling. The story is fine, the author (that’s me) has lost sight of the theme. That’s the problem! That’s why I can’t fix them!

Now, armed with this knowledge I’ll be able to revise my stories again and this time, hopefully, get them back on track.

Canoeing, Gaia, the 17th Century and the Future

What do canoeing, Gaia, the 17th century and the future have in common? They are all featured in my current writing projects.

It’s been a while since I mentioned my actual writing and today I feel the need to clarify where I’m at and where I’m heading with these four projects. The clarification if for my benefit more than yours. 😀

The Canoeing (Mis)Adventure is a story for children. It is being written for a specific market and must be between 10,000 and 12,000 words in length. I’ve reached the half way mark. Problem is, I’ve been there for a while! I know where the story is heading and I know exactly how it will end, but the middle doesn’t give a toss about the required word length. The story wants to finish around 6,500 words. I know I should push on and finish the story and worry about publisher requirement later, but the lack of words is stopping me. How stupid is that?!

Wynter’s Boundaries is a short story for young adults/adults. It will be published in the upcoming Hope anthology later in the year. However, when the editor finished splashing the manuscript with her red pen, I found her comments overwhelming and daunting. At first I felt the story was beyond repair and actually considered withdrawing it from the anthology. However, not wanting to make rash decisions I put the manuscript away and let the problem(s) roll around in my mind for several weeks. Now I’m able to see fixes are available to improve the story. . .and my crushed confidence.

Whispering Caves is a novel-length manuscript for adults. It is a story I have revised many times. The characters are well known to me, almost to the point where I sometimes forget they are not real people. The problem with this manuscript is that I edited and revised it so much that I ruined it. Every attempt to rewrite it from scratch goes nowhere because the story starts long before my starting point in the manuscript. For that reason, I have decided to write the prequel first. When it is written, this untitled manuscript will be a solid foundation for the new, improved Whispering Caves.

And this leads me to the fourth project. This one is also untitled. There are no notes, no planning, but nameless characters and some crazy events are distinct in my mind. They roll around in that vast vacancy where my brain should be and I’m beginning to see a story set in the future, our future, that is somewhat chilling to think about. I already know the beginning and end, the middle is quickly falling together too. I think I’ll be compelled to write notes soon. I’ve always been an avid planner, however I have a feeling that the most planning I’ll be doing for this project is writing down a few notes, working out a few names and dates and then just writing.

Four projects. All of varying lengths, genres and audience. I’m usually a one-manuscript-at-a-time kind of girl but variety is the spice of life and I think I’m going to have four open projects from this point on. I’ll swap and change between them as I see fit, according to mood, timing and whatever takes my fancy. The prospect of doing this actually makes me feel positive! As long as I write, does it matter?

Oh, I just realised that I haven’t covered all my projects, so now I’m going to throw a fifth one into the equation.

Cat’s Paw is the second book in The Land of Miu series. The manuscript has been completed but it needs a final edit. I intend to do that once I’ve finished reading the book I’m currently reading. Then it will be ready for publication.

Accepted: Amunet’s Gift

I’m proud to announce my story, Amunet’s Gift, has been accepted for publication in 100 Stories for Queensland. The anthology will be published on 8 March 2011 and all proceeds will be donated to the survivors of the recent floods in Queensland. This is a great cause, so please be sure to purchase a copy of the book when it is released.

I will make an announcement when the anthology is available, with all the appropriate links.

Varuna The Writers’ House

Varuna The Writers’ House is situated close to me, but I had never heard of it until today. I’ve spent some time today going through the awards, competitions and events and feel this website could be useful to me.

I have already put my name forward to be added to their mailing list. Unfortunately, they had the Sydney Writers’ Festival last weekend and the Sunday program was of interest to me, but I missed out which is a shame.

However, there is a short story program coming up that I’m thinking of submitting to. A selection of stories will be published in an anthology in 2011 in Scribe’s (not associated with me) New Australian Stories 2.0. I have to write a short story first!

Learning to Detach Yourself when Receiving Critiques

April Hamilton wrote a very interesting post called When Editing & Critiquing, Check Your Personal Opinions At The Door. This reminder comes at a great time because yesterday I sent one of my older short stories to a critique group for the once over.

Luckily for me, I’m not new to the game of critiquing and I’m not in the habit of flaring up when someone tells me something I don’t want to hear. In fact, if I receive a “that’s good” I feel cheated because I want to know what’s wrong and “good” isn’t the same as “great” which isn’t the same as “excellent”, so I’m wondering what needs to be done to make the story better. I want to hear the details, I encourage the reader to tell me whatever they are thinking. And just as the critiquer should view someone else’s message without trying to inflict their own opinion on them, the person on the receiving end must learn how to decipher other people’s suggestions. Because not all suggestions should be taken to heart or implemented.

Journey to Freedom is the title of the short story I have concerns with. It was originally written for a project that involved several writers, so it has had the benefit of other eyes apart from my own, but I’m still not 100% happy with it. For starters, it’s long for a short story. It comes in at almost 6,800 words and I’d like to cut it back to around 5,000 words. I’m hoping the critiques will help me work out where I’ve rambled on a bit much. I think the pace is OK, but I’m uncertain if readers will get the message behind the story, so I’m interested to see what comments are made (if any) about the theme/premise. And, of course, I want to be certain there’s no plot holes. To me, the story makes perfect sense, but what will other readers/writers think, see, not see? I eagerly await their responses.

Writing Update: Doubts, Problem Threads and the Mystery Project

Originally posted on another site on 24 April 2010.

Whenever I make a public declaration about my writing, it all falls in a heap a few days/weeks later, so I’m reluctant to talk about it any more. And I’m sick and tired of reporting that “I don’t have time” or “I’m too tired” or “blah blah isn’t working out how it should”. Excuses, all excuses!

So I’m going to say it straight. I’m doubting my ability as a writer. There, I said it.

Oh, it’s not the first time I’ve found myself full of doubt and it won’t be the last time. It’s just the person I am. I’m a worrier from way back. If I haven’t got anything to worry about, I’ll worry about that. Anyway, I have doubts, but I’ve decided that I want to write so I’m going to write. What happens after that is not to be worried about. And I’m going to write when and how it suits me and stop (or try to stop) worrying about the whole bloody thing because it’s the worry that is taking the enjoyment out of it.

Project 1: Whispering Caves

This is a project I started way back in the old days – and I mean 20 years ago. I finished the manuscript, but it needed much improvement. There were holes like you wouldn’t believe but I fell in love with the characters and world, and have decided to salvage what I can and move on.

Thing is, the longer I plan, the more I’m moving away from that old story. Admittedly, I know I’ve been holding on and holding on. I’ve even written a post about it before, but I’ve finally made the decision to let go and remould the story without holding on to the past. That decision came when I realised I had to remain my characters to fit with the history I have built for the world. If I don’t rename them then I will be leaving a marker in the story that shouldn’t be there.

In essence, the only remainder will be the story title – Whispering Caves – because that is the perfect name for the story I’ve planned.

Now the problem with this story is that I can’t stop planning and that is a bad thing. The reason is because one thread is lacking something, still, and I can’t figure out what to do by myself. This morning, in fact, right now I’ve decided to approach a small group I’m a member of and ask for their help. Maybe getting this issue resolved will allow me to move from planning mode to writing mode.

Project 2: The Mystery Project

This is a project that I’ve started working on and doing research for. I will not divulge any information about it, but I will mention that the planning practically took care of itself in a 24 hour period. It will be written in three parts, which I can flit between at will. I’m ready to write.

I’ve set up the document and plan to dedicate a few hours to it today. This is an exciting step for me as I don’t feel as if I’ve actually written anything in a long time.

Amulet Rejection

About a month ago I submitted a short story – Amulet of Kemet – to a magazine. The story has had the benefit of a good “working over” by a good friend of mine and I feel confident that it’s a story that can find a publisher…if I persist.

A few days ago, I received a rejection from the publisher. However, as rejections go, this one was excellent. The editor wrote a short paragraph telling me that the premise was thoroughly enjoyed, but the main character did things that didn’t fit with his status. I was then given three examples which were directly focused on the character, which is the most helpful feedback a writer can receive. This was followed by some words of encouragement and the request that I send other completed work to them for consideration.

Rejections are awful – they can often depress the writer, sometimes they can even shatter confidences – but when feedback accompanies those awful words then it doesn’t feel like a rejection at all. Of course, the feedback may not necessarily be correct, but on this occasion I believe the editor is right – the character is acting wrong for the circumstances he’s in. I can see that plainly now that it has been pointed out and I will take the time to implement changes to that affect before I submit the story elsewhere.