Writing Course: The Writing Industry and You

Today’s topic was quite long, as will be tomorrow’s. I thought about splitting the topic into two parts but decided against it.

2: The Writing Industry and You

Writing is a solitary process. Even those sitting in an office surrounded by people, work alone when writing. Some writers love this isolation, others feel it keenly. However isolated you may feel it is good to remember that you are part of a much bigger picture.

Your role as a writer

To say “I am a writer” takes confidence because the statement is usually followed by the question, “Yes, but what do you really do?”

Writers are largely undervalued and most people (non-writers) think the life of a writer is an easy one. Any writer will tell you it is hard work. It takes discipline, energy, is mentally draining and takes commitment and focus. For these reasons, it is important for writers to create an environment which nurtures the writing process.

Your role as an editor

To say “I am an editor” does not get the same reaction as a writer even though an editor is also undervalued. Most people see editing as a real job.

As an editor it is important to establish yourself within the industry and build a name for yourself. This is particularly so if you intend to work freelance.

Environment

Writers and editors need an environment to work in which will encourage their creativity. The environment should include:

1. Resources – Ideas, research, quotes and networking form part of a writer’s day so you need access to the following:

  • dictionary
  • book of quotes
  • thesaurus
  • atlas
  • internet
  • encyclopedia
  • style manual
  • writing and media guides

 

You can build up your resources over time. And it’s good to have access to your local library as well.

2. Space – Obviously, it is ideal to set aside a room where you can go and write/edit undisturbed. But not everyone has a spare room available to them, so it is necessary to create a space which needs to be respected by you and everyone else.

3. Equipment – You computer and printer are most important and must be accessible whenever you feel the urge to write. It is also important to have access to notebooks or a mini-cassette recorder for recording ideas, thoughts, characters, scenes and observations. And, of course, you’ll require a desk to sit at and a chair to sit on and maybe some filing cabinets, stationery, phone, fax and connection to the internet.

Successful writers are keen listeners and observers. They are also avid readers, great researchers and skillful organisers.

Observation

When observing, a writer does more than see. A writer looks with purpose, using all senses and is alert for details. These mental notes are often drawn on when writing.

Research

Every time a writer sits down to write, they will nearly always have to do some form of research. The better the research, the more satisfying their written piece will be. Yet a writer must learn to conduct their research in a fast, accurate and thorough way to be effective. One important thing to remember is to fully note the sources you are using.

Reading

Reading is crucial to writing. Through reading you gain experience and knowledge and that is passed on in your writing. Read within your topic of interest, but read other genres to stay informed too. Reading allows you to view the writings of other people. It will allow you to see what works and what doesn’t. It will allow you to see what other readers find entertaining and acceptable. This knowledge is essential. You will also be able to gauge the reaction of the readers of your own work. This information will influence what and how you will write in the future.

Writers often find the way they read is changed forever as they cannot help watching how other authors shape their characters, build worlds, construct sentences and they cannot help thinking how these things can be improved.

Organisation

It is important to organise your workspace so that it is suitable to your needs and writing habits. You will need easy access to your resource and research material. The space needs to promote comfort and efficient output.

Time management is essential. Writing can be done at any time but if you do not organise yourself and your time, no writing will get done. However, you must also allocate time for other “writing” activities, such as networking, reading, research and administrative tasks.

It is advisable to divide each project into workable parts (such as research, planning, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc, completion of first draft, first edit, redraft) and establish a timeline. Then assign a certain amount of time to complete each section of the timeline. For this to work, it must be realistic. There is no use assigning an hour for research when in reality it will take a week to complete. By doing this you will be faced with small sections of work to complete rather than a whole novel to write, which may (in the long term) help you complete the entire manuscript.

Feedback

Writers write because they have something to say, they have something to share. They write to be read. And to be read means the reader will have an opinion on your writing, which you may or may not like.

This feedback should never be ignored, even if you do not agree with it. Learn from the opinions, grow from them. Use the feedback to advance and develop your work. Perhaps the reader did not read what you intended to write. In this case, use the feedback and learn to clarify your meaning. Perhaps the reader just did not like your story. It might be personal preference, in which case nothing can be learned from the comments. Never, however, comment on negative feedback. You will do yourself more harm than good.

When your mother tells you you’ve written a great story, that’s nice but is it really the truth? Would she be able to tell you what she thought was truly wrong with your story? Surround yourself with people who will give you constructive criticism. Writers who refuse to listen to honest criticism will not prosper.

Collaboration

As mentioned before, writing is a solitary process. However, in reality its associated activities are far from solitary. Editing, publishing, designing and marketing require collaboration. And for successful collaboration you need to be tactful, understanding and you need to show respect and insight.

Some of the qualities you’ll need are:

  • be clear about the purpose of your writing
  • be open to new skills and suggestions
  • be adaptable and flexible
  • be co-operative and reliable
  • be able to work within agreed time frames

 

Plan of Donnington Castle and Making a Map

I have been building a fantasy world for the trilogy I plan to write.  Part of that research includes finding out the history of Donnington Castle in southern England.  I can’t, or won’t, tell you the reason for this research as it is top secret.  But I will say that I was overjoyed when I found this Plan of Donnington Castle.  It will make things so much easier for me.

Donnington Castle forms only part of what I’ve been doing today. The other part is looking for a suitable map that I can adopt and adapt to my needs. I’ve been searching the world for possible locations and have narrowed my choices down to two likely candidates.

The first is a map which includes Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. I like this map because it has mountain ranges separating two valleys, but it also shows the natural rivers and waterways. Better still is that fact that it isn’t spoilt by town and cities being splattered all over it. If I were to adopt this map and change it to suit my needs I would be starting out with a world that has to be realistic because it’s real! I like that idea.

The second map is an ancient world map. (It’s an impression of what the creator thought the world looked like.) With a few slight changes, no one would know that my fantasy world was based on our own world some eight hundred or so years ago. This one doesn’t show the mountains or rivers (which is unfortunate), but it does show large lakes and several towns with connecting roads, which could be quite useful. This one is also just black and white so I guess, whilst it isn’t as visual as the first map I mentioned, it will be easier to manipulate.

I could, of course, just draw something myself but the way I’m thinking about this is that if I use something that already shows mountains and rivers and towns and roads then I won’t have to worry about anyone saying, “that’s impossible, you can’t have a waterway there, because…” Besides, I’m a planner and I like visual things to inspire me along.

In my office at work there’s an old map of Sydney on the wall. It’s quite large and most visitors cannot help but stand beneath it and stare at it for the longest time. I’ve basically ignored it for eight years because I see it all day, every day. But today was different. Today, I could see a castle placed back from the coast where the racecourse used to be. All the streets went in that general direction, which seems appropriate for a village with a castle in its midst. And then there was a road that would have passed directly by the front of the castle wall and wove around and off to the west (away from the coast, the town and the castle). Could that be a trade road leading to other realms? I could imagine my characters walking down the streets of the village. I could see them pausing at the docks to watch the merchandise being carried off the boats. Some of the buildings (on the print) were the homes of important people in Australian history, but I could see other names in their spots, names of my characters. If the print wasn’t so large, I would have taken it down and scanned it. Now I think I’ll have to take a photo of it and transpose the relevant information onto my own drawing because the print inspired me and set my imagination running.

By the time I’ve finished with the maps, no one will know where they came from and how close to the real world they really are. Or maybe the real and fantasy entwine to become one magical place.

I like the sound of that. 🙂

TiddlyWiki

Resuming work after a nice break is always difficult, but it has to be done if food is going to be put on the table. Today, I returned to work after a break of almost three weeks. *sigh*

However, I won’t dwell on that. Let me tell you what I’ve been doing – in terms of writing – since the beginning of the New Year. I’m pleased to be able to say that I have spent many hours every day on my writing projects. I haven’t actually written a single word, but there’s more to writing than the actual written word.

A friend told me about TiddlyWiki and showed me her files, so that I could see it in action. It’s free to download and use. There’s a tutorial if you need help understanding how a wiki works. Once downloaded, you just copy the file, changing the name of it (by doing this you can use the downloaded file over and over again) and then you can start using it straight away. There’s no real installation and it’s loaded onto your computer. You don’t need an internet connection to use it either, even though you use your browser when working with it. The file is small enough to put on a USB flash card too. It’s so easy!

I have used an online wiki before, so I understood the working of it, but needed a reminder how to do things like using the bold, italics and underscore features, and also how to insert images. There are plenty of other things you can do too ie ordered and unordered lists and blockquotes.

But what am I using it for? I know you want to know. It’s ideal for planning writing projects and for gathering all the research (including images you collect) associated with that project, into one file. Every aspect of the planning can be cross referenced too, which is brilliant! If you set up the wiki correctly, it will make your writing project organised, efficient and everything will be at your finger tips.

The first wiki I set up was for the Marlinor Trilogy. I have a lot of research material, which was placed in folders according to subject, but even so it was getting almost impossible to find anything (even when I knew the information I wanted was there…somewhere). Now that information is categorised, cross referenced and tagged…and there’s a search function too! Apart from that, I’ve also set up the planning for the story – world building, character lists, storylines, themes for each book, plots for each book and an in depth history, which also links to the research material to prove authenticity. It’s absolutely the best way to organise your planning.

Then I created a second wiki and started doing the same thing for the children’s chapter books.

I literally spent hours every day working on this, but the result is fantastic. I discovered I had changed the spelling of character names between book 1 and book 2 of the children’s series. That is now fixed. I discovered information in my original planning that had been lost or forgotten. That cannot happen again. I believe the children’s series and the trilogy will be better because of the time I’ve invested in getting these wikis right.

Now I intend to create a third wiki for Mirror Image. This is the project I should be editing, but I’m having trouble with. I’m hoping that, by creating the wiki, I’ll work out what the stumbling block is and get passed it.

I highly recommend TiddlyWiki. However, if you want to do the same thing online, from any computer, then I recommend PBWiki, which is free and you can change the settings so that only you have access to it. If you’re not using a wiki to organise your writing, then you should try it. I doubt you’ll be sorry.

Getting Inside Your Character’s Head

This week I’ve been too caught up in promoting the online book launch party for the anthology to do any writing. However, the weekend is here and I refuse to let spare hours in the day not be put to good use.

Let’s talk about writing for a change.

The first draft of Mirror Image is in the last stages of writing. Currently, I’m on the second last day of the story, but a lot has to happen in the coming hours which will take the story to the climax. The events have been fully planned, so I know exactly what has to be written and, generally, I’m having no trouble getting the words down.

However…one character does some research in a library to find out what’s happening to her. I’m having trouble writing the scene because, even though I know the results she’ll find, I can’t find the right words to express those findings. I suppose this comes back to “know what you write”. The subject matter is something I have experienced first hand, but it is something I have never researched. I guess I believe I should include some technical information to make the research results sound more plausible.

I spent some time on the internet tonight doing a spot of research, but couldn’t find a single website that was “believable”. Now I’m wondering what would happen if I went to the library and did the research my character is doing…what would I find? It’s an excellent question, in my opinion, and I suppose I’ll have to go to the library and find out!

The Importance of Water

In planning this next novel I’ve been talking about over the past week, I’ve had several scenes rolling around in my head. One of them is where a man tumbles into a shaft and is trapped for a period of time before he’s rescued. How long? I wasn’t sure but I thought I’d do some research to find out what a person could stand and how the body would react with limited water and food. Here are some interesting tidbits that I found helpful for this scene, but also horrifying as true facts. I’ll start out with the nicer facts on water and the body and then I’ll go into the not so nice facts. Be warned, some of the following is not suitable for the faint hearted.

The following quote was taken from Answers.com:

About seventy two percent of the fat free mass of the human body is made of water. To function properly the body requires between one and seven litres/quarts of water per day to avoid dehydration, the precise amount depending on the level of activity, temperature, humidity, and other factors. It is not clear how much water intake is needed by healthy people. Water is lost from the body in urine and faeces, through sweating, and by exhalation of water vapor in the breath.

And the next two quoted sections were taken from this page:

A reliable clue to indicate dehydration is a rapid drop in weight. This loss may equal several pounds in a few days (or at times hours). A rapid drop of over 10% (fifteen pounds in a person weighing 150 pounds) is considered severe. Symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from those of the original illness, but in general, the following signs are suggestive of dehydration; increasing thirst, dry mouth, weakness or lightheadedness (particularly if worsening on standing), darkening of the urine, or a decrease in urination. Severe dehydration can lead to changes in the body’s chemistry, kidney failure, and can even become life-threatening.

However, this is the grusome bit. I was shocked to discover that a person could die after only 5 days. This does, of course, depend on the person’s health and the situation.

  • The mouth would dry out and become caked or coated with thick material.
  • The lips would become parched and cracked.
  • The tongue would swell, and might crack.
  • The eyes would recede back into their orbits and the cheeks would become hollow.
  • The lining of the nose might crack and cause the nose to bleed.
  • The skin would hang loose on the body and become dry and scaly.
  • The urine would become highly concentrated, leading to burning of the bladder.
  • The lining of the stomach would dry out and the sufferer would experience dry heaves and vomiting.
  • The body temperature would become very high.
  • The brain cells would dry out, causing convulsions.
  • The respiratory tract would dry out, and the thick secretions that would result could plug the lungs and cause death.
  • At some point within five days to three weeks, the major organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain, would give out and the patient would die.

Naturally, there will always be an exception, but imagine how stupid I would have looked if I had this man trapped down that shaft for 6 weeks with no food or water and when he was rescued all that was wrong with him was that he’d lost a little weight? I would have lost all credibility immediately. Researching facts for your manuscript is essential.

Bubonic Plague in Australia

Some people believe the plague ended in the seventeenth century, but this is not so. There have been many outbreaks around the world right up to the present time.

In mid-January 1900 bubonic plague made its first recorded appearance in Australia, being officially declared in Adelaide on the 15th of the month and in Sydney four days later. The Adelaide outbreak subsequently came to very little. In the case of Sydney, however, the disease, introduced by infected rats aboard overseas vessels berthed at Darling Harbour, quickly invaded the nearby dockside streets and within a few months had spread to encompass much of the city.

The death toll was nothing like European outbreaks. Yet it must be remembered that although Australia is a large country, the population was small. Between February and August 1900 some 300 persons were struck down by the infection, of whom more than 100 died. Probably the toll was much higher due to misdiagnosis and the fact that many cases went unreported.

Sutton Forest Butchery. No. 761 George Street, Sydney, 1900 - photo courtesy of State Library of NSW
Sutton Forest Butchery. No. 761 George Street, Sydney, 1900 – photo courtesy of State Library of NSW
Johnstone's Lane, Sydney (NSW) - photo courtesy of State Records NSW
Johnstone’s Lane, Sydney (NSW), 1900 – photo courtesy of State Records NSW

Like all plague outbreaks, the epidemic caused a degree of human tragedy and suffering out of all proportion to the numbers of cases and deaths actually involved. More than 1750 people were uprooted from their homes and forcibly quarantined at North Head. Many homes and outbuildings were demolished, fences knocked down, sanitary conveniences destroyed, chattels removed and people virtually turned out on to the streets. Whole districts of Sydney were cordoned off, quarantined and invaded by an army of “sanitary inspectors” and public cleansing teams.

Exeter Place, taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900 - photo courtesy of State Library of NSW
Exeter Place, taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900 – photo courtesy of State Library of NSW
Professional ratcatchers, Sydney, 1900 - photo courtesy of State Library of NSW
Professional ratcatchers, Sydney, 1900 – photo courtesy of State Library of NSW

Curfews were imposed upon infected zones of the city and people’s right of movement were severely restricted. Organised teams were engaged to collect and kill rats (and in some cases domestic dogs and cats). Popular cures and home remedies became vogue. Especially blood purifiers, bile beans, Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills and uncontaminated dairy products. One senior government minister went as far as to urge people to burn barrels of pitch and tar in the streets to purify the air.

The outbreak of 1900 highlighted the inadequacies of Sydney’s sanitary and housing situations, and also demonstrated that the public authorities were unable to cooperate and act decisively in times of crises.

There were twelve outbreaks of bubonic plague between 1900 and 1925. In total 1371 cases were reported and there were 535 deaths. The 1920’s saw most cases reported in Queensland.

There has been no further outbreak of the plague in Australia since 1925.

**Reference: Plague in Sydney: The Anatomy of an Epidemic by Peter Curson & Kevin McCracken

Want more photos?

Visit Library of NSW. Click on “Context” located in the darker grey navigation bar (the second one, not the top one). Then click on the volume you wish to view. Now click on “Images” located in the navigation bar. Each volume has about 65 photos to view. And believe me, they are worth looking at.

The Plague

Book 3 of my trilogy will deal with the bubonic plague. Although I know a lot about this disease because I’ve already researched it through my love of Medieval times, there are certain facts that I need to know for my book. A friend’s husband, who is a pharmacist, has graciously offered to help me get the facts right. Many thanks go to the Ramseys.

My main character needs to know the basic facts of The Plague, such as it’s transmitted by rodent fleas. The link provided gives a brief history which will be a great refresher course.

I’m told that the drug of choice for treatment of the plague is streptomycin (an aminoglycoside antibiotic).

Aminoglycosides are derived from a type of bacteria – actinomycetes – streptomycetes are one species.

This link gives more information on streptomyces – found commonly in soil worldwide, and compost – they are easy to culture or grow and can feed on many substances.

Thank you, Terry, for the above information and all the other details you provided. I now know that my character can cultivate a cure for the plague and take it back to a fantasy world and save some lives. What a relief!