Purpose Opens the Door to Creativity

Yes, I’m still alive and kicking. I’ve just been buried in “company” stuff. Surprisingly, there’s been no stress along the way, like I expected. I put that down to adopting the “slow and steady wins the race” attitude I took on before I started this adventure.

I have received ISBN numbers and will shortly apply for a CiP entry for the first book that is to be published. At present, I’m seeking out prices for getting books printed in Australia and then I’ll decide which route to take and then the finer details can be worked out.

A logo has been chosen and the website is done, but I won’t put it online until certain details are confirmed. I am extremely pleased with how it turned out. It’s like nothing I’ve coded in the past and was a satisfying challenge.

The “secret project”, which was lost in that accident a few weeks ago, has been started again from scratch. Losing all that work might not have been such a bad thing after all, because what I have redone has turned out to be better! Again, I have to work out some of the finer details before taking it to the next step.

And, finally, I did something impulsive. I submitted one of my manuscripts to a competition. I’m a member of Out West Writers, which means I receive emails on a regular basis telling me about up coming writing events. Sometimes the event is an Out West author’s book release, book signing or other success. Sometimes it’s news about local book awards, workshops or seminars. On this occasion, the email disclosed information about a competition leading to a large sum of prize money and certain publication for the winner. One link lead to another and I found myself at the publisher’s website. Browsing their catalogue, I realised I have a completed manuscript that is in line with the books I was viewing on the website. Over the next ten days, I read the manuscript carefully and made minute changes before submitting it to the competition. No decisions will be made until (at least) February 2011, but I have plenty to occupy me between now and then.

Things may be quiet on the blog front right now, but I’ve done more writing related things since the beginning of September than I have in the last year or so. All I needed was purpose.

Writing: Working Towards the Future

For many months I have been working on a manuscript called Mirror Image. It is a project I have always felt was worthy of telling – not only for the story itself, but for the underlying messages too. It is a manuscript I believe in and I know that, if I were to write it well, it is a story that would catch editors’ attention.

However, it is also a story that runs parallel with my own life. Whilst it isn’t the story of my son’s suicide, it closely travels the path of what my family went through. This makes it a manuscript that stirs emotions in me that I cannot control, cannot combat. And I doubt I’ll ever be in the situation to face the heartache that the manuscript puts me through when I’m working on it.

After much thought and soul searching, I have decided to put this manuscript aside…permanently. The pain it causes me isn’t healthy. The feelings it stirs in me makes me depressed, which leads to not being able to sleep and when I do…I have nightmares. In turn, the sleep deprivation causes me to feel irritable and angry towards other people. And I don’t mean just angry, I mean really, really angry – to the point of wanting to hurt someone, anyone. This isn’t my character at all and it scars me. I thought I could pull myself through it and I thought it would become easier with time, but I can’t and it isn’t. For my own sake, I have decided that I have to put my health first in the hope that my emotional strength will improve over time.

I have also decided, finally, not to tackle the manuscript I had planned and started to write called Suicide: A Mother’s Story. If I can’t write a fictitious story about suicide, there’s no way I’ll be able to write the true story.

Having given myself permission to stop, I feel somewhat relieved…and free. I didn’t realise these two manuscripts were like dark clouds hanging over me until the decision to stop was finally made. There’s no guilt, which is something I expected. I do not see the time spent on these manuscripts, especially Mirror Image, as a waste of time either. I can chalk the time up as writing practice, but more importantly I see the writing as therapy. Maybe that’s all I really needed from the manuscript. To face the emotions and torment I felt. Maybe I’ve spent the last two years working on something that has made me face my past so that I can move on to my future.

Cut…It…Out! But What If…?

Mirror Image is a manuscript for adults which runs at about 90,000 words at the moment (I want the finished product to be around 100,000 words). It’s not a fantasy project, like most of my works-in-progress. This manuscript fits into the…paranormal genre, I think. I’m a little uncertain because the changes I need to make in the next edit seems to be pushing it into another genre and my mind is telling me “General Fiction”.

Some of you may have guessed by now, even though I’ve never actually said this publicly before, but the manuscript is about depression, grief and suicide. This makes it a very dark read, but these are topics I know and understand all to well having lost a son to suicide in 2006.

The first version was especially difficult to write. There is a lot of “our” story in the words and emotions. One of my readers, a person who experienced the loss with me, told me that he sobbed as he read parts of it because he could clearly see me and him going through the moment in real life. Of course he could because I was basing my words on what happened to us.

Anyway, writing the manuscript left me feeling strained and, sometimes, depressed. I shed a lot of tears as I wrote. But I forged on because I needed to write the story. It was important to me, and I felt it was important to educate other families – parents and their children – by making them all suicide aware. For these reasons, I battled through the sobs and depression and continued putting words on paper.

Now, the second (or is it the third) version of the manuscript has been completed and, as mentioned, I’ve had a couple of people read it. The reader I mentioned above encouraged me to keep things real, but the other reader (who has never experienced suicide) told me that the manuscript is too dark and depressing for “normal” (his word, not mine) people to want to carry on with. So what do I do?

I have attempted to make changes to the story. I have even gone back to the drawing board and tried to replan it from scratch. But…it’s not coming together in a way that I’m happy with. In the end I put it aside and haven’t done anything writing related since. There’s no doubt in my mind that my writing lapse has everything to do with the job feeling too big and, at the same time, the feeling that I’m loosing the essence of the story by making the changes.

The current version has six viewpoints. I know I keep going on and on about this, but it’s important! I want to explain why I have so many viewpoints and maybe the puzzle will fall into place…for you, for me.

Two viewpoints are from siblings points of view. Each are experiencing their grief differently and neither of them are coping that well. One, however, has someone who is pushing them to face the issues; whilst the other sibling is trying to get through it alone. The two viewpoints are deliberate and show the difference between having support and not having it.

One viewpoint is from a parent’s point of view. Grief is different for everyone, and the parent is also having a hard time of it. This viewpoint focuses on the grief, but moreso on the fear felt for the surviving children and how that obsession can be more dangerous than anyone can imagine.

Two other viewpoints are from friends perspectives. One viewpoint is a friend that thinks suppressing the grief is the best medicine and she takes it upon herself to not let her friend dwell on the death of her brother. The other viewpoint is a friend who knows talking about it is the best option, but she has issues of her own to overcome that won’t allow her to approach her friend in the right way. I think a majority of reading will identify with one of these viewpoints and it’s important to get a message across here.

The last viewpoint is another outsider looking in, this one believes grief is a short term problem that can be gotten over in a couple of weeks. It’s all about the attitude! Both my readers really liked the way I wrote this character, but for different reasons. And, believe it or not, you’d be surprised how many people really share this character’s point of view where grief is concerned…until they experience it themselves.

Six viewpoints and there’s a reason for every one of them. If this manuscript was published, I’d be trying to raise suicide awareness first and foremost, but I would also be attempting to tell onlookers that grief isn’t an illness which automatically fixes itself after a couple of weeks. I would be encouraging people to let the griever talk about what has happened to them and what they are feeling. I would be encouraging people to cry with the griever; it’s good to cry, it does help to know that you are allowed to cry and feel…and share. Support means to listen and cry with the person, not brushing the problem under the carpet for someone else to fix up later (because usually everyone is doing the same thing and no one cleans up the mess).

I feel passionate about the subject matter, the messages I want to give to the reader and the possibility of saving and/or helping another family that may find themselves in my situation. If I delete viewpoints, then I feel as if I’m only doing part of the job…so I’ve decided (as of this minute) that I will not delete any of the viewpoints. This story needs all of them and they will all remain. I will find another way to battle the “darkness” problem.

If you got to the end of this post, thank you for listening. Writing about the problem has definitely helped.

How Many Viewpoints are Acceptable?

Whist the homefront is relatively unchanged, no worse or better, I do feel easier within myself and find my focus is once again turning towards my writing projects. For one reason or another, I’ve had a couple of weeks break from writing and now I feel it’s time to get back into it.

Due to “life” I’m not sure if working on “Mirror Image” is a good idea. It’s a dark story based on real life events and emotions and I don’t think I would be able to handle the topic at the moment. Having said that, new ideas for improving the story have been flooding in. Ideas that cannot be ignored. I guess planning the rewrite won’t be as bad as actually doing the rewrite, so I’m going with the flow for the time being.

Putting the story aside, I want to talk about how the manuscript is arranged. There are three major points to consider here:

1. The current version of the story is written from six points of view.
2. Chapters are arranged on a daily basis – this means that some chapters are quite long and others are very short.
3. The scenes within the chapters are short – swapping between point of view characters often – allowing the reader to progress through the day with all the characters.

First off, I asked myself why do I have six points of view. Can they be justified? My reply is yes they can. Three points of view are told from within the problem and three are told from outsiders looking in. It is essential to the theme to get both points of view told as that is the only way to get “the message” across; and, as most readers will relate to the outsiders points of view better than the insiders points of view, it was important to me to show those people “the other side”.

But do I really need three points of view on each side? My original intent was to show that the topic is complex and no two people react the same way – and that is the case to both the insiders and outsiders. So while the readers are looking through the eyes of the three insiders and experiencing the topic first hand (but in three different ways), they are also experiencing the outsiders reaction to what is happening (also in three different ways). With all this information offered to them in one story, I am hoping the reader will approach real life situations in a different, more informed way. And, as the writer of this story, it was important to me to get this information across to the reader because I felt it is the only way to get the whole message across.

Let’s leave that point for a moment and move on to the next one – chapter arrangement. When I wrote the first draft, there was only two chapters. The first chapter ended at the climax (consisting of approximately 450 pages) and the second chapter tied everything together (about 20 pages). I knew this wouldn’t really be acceptable to readers, but at the same time I felt the short scenes compensated for that. However, I thought better of leaving the manuscript as it was and set about finding a way of breaking the content into chapters. It was extremely hard to do until a regular reader of this website made a couple of suggestions. Hence, the daily basis chapters, which I feel work well…and in some ways could give the reader a feeling of a countdown, which would increase the tension.

Now for the third point – the scenes. For me, swapping points of view in short scenes and doing this often was perfect for keeping the reader interested and keeping the suspense at a premium. My readers of the early drafts have not complained about the short scenes or the constant swapping of point of views. There was no confusion reported either. As the writer, I felt it was an ideal way to keep the fluff out too. I realise that some readers would find this annoying though, but…being aware that I can’t please everyone, I’ll do what I think is right for the story.

That’s where the manuscript is at. Now, I must move forward. My readers didn’t complain about the format, but they did complain about other stuff which means I already know that I have to do a rewrite. Having given myself some distance from the project, I can see that what has been said is right and I’m fine with the thought of a rewrite. But I’m straying off topic.

Let’s go back to the number of points of view. Six is a lot. I thought they were necessary to get the message across, but now I’m having second thoughts. This morning, whilst thinking about the rewrite plan, I found my thoughts pondering the point of view situation again. Six points of view means six story lines. Is that two much? I think it is and it might even distract from the overall story and message, which is something I definitely don’t want.

Then I had to scold myself because I realised that I am resisting deleting some of the points of view characters because I’m attached to their storylines and the way I’ve written them. As a writer, that is a bad thing (very, very bad) and I should know better than to let this happen. Holding onto something, anything, for that reason could inevitably ruin the manuscript as a whole and I’d be a fool if I didn’t realise this. I’m lots of things, but I’m not a fool.

With this in mind, I must look at the manuscript through different eyes. What is the best thing to do? Am I bogging it down with too much happening at once? My readers tell me it’s so dark it’s depressing and I know that if I leave it this way then the message will be lost. I’m also aware that the manuscript, as it is now, was written totally for me. I needed to explore my own emotions, fears and feelings, and having done that I now need to adjust their levels to help the story flow and to help the message get through to the public. I can’t stress how important this is to me.

Now I’m thinking of dropping back to two points of view – one from the insiders viewpoint and one for the outsider. If I do it right, I’ll still be able to include the other people’s reactions, but it will be totally from a third person view point instead of first hand. My only concern with this is that the impact won’t be as strong; therefore, not allowing the reader to grasp the full message I’m trying to put across. I will not be happy with a half message. The whole reason for the story is to leave the reader knowing the facts.

I have to figure out what I’m going to do before I start planning the rewrite, because it will make a lot of difference to the characters and the plot. Only now do I realise that I’m no closer to making a decision. *sigh*

Taking the Hard Road

Due to the hiccup I’ve experienced over the last few days where Mirror Image is concerned, I’ve decided to do myself a favour and pull back from that manuscript for a short time. I need to let the information I’ve received from the reader and helpful friends on the internet to sink in for a while, without formally doing anything with it. At least I haven’t let the “hiccup” stop me in my tracks. I’m still passionate about Mirror Image and August might see me return to this manuscript, September at the latest.

In the meantime, I will continue working on the plan for the trilogy. At this stage, I have loose concepts for all three books, a general idea of the two threads that will span the entire trilogy and a very firm history rolling around my mind. With this in mind, I have turned my attention to building book one from the ground up. The storyline and characters for book one are well known to me, so this will be relatively easy. My biggest decision will be what changes I want to make…especially to the characters. I was thinking about this on the train this morning and have decided that I will NOT use my previous notes/plan/profiles, I will literally start again. I know my decision will take me along the hard road because using what I already have would be the easy, logical option, but I believe taking the easy road has been my mistake in the past and now I’m willing to start again and do it better because I have evolved as a writer since I first planned and wrote this story.

I have devised my own system, which is a bit like the Snowflake Method in as much as I start with basic information and build from there in small steps. I might go into this in more detail at a later stage, when I know how well it works. I began the process, in earnest, this morning. When the process is finished for book one, I’ll do the same for books two and three.

Did That Character Swear?

I want to thank everyone for your replies to my post Find Strength & Stop Being Nice! You’ve really shown your support and I appreciate that.

Before I go any further I must mention that Mirror Image is fiction based on real life events.

Now that I’ve had a few days to think about it, I know that my reader is right in some regards and wrong in others. He’s not a writer, but he has a personal interest in the content (as do I) and he’s right when he says I am holding back and not letting my characters feel the emotions. I can only say that I am protecting myself. When I write the most powerful scenes in the manuscript the memory of the real thing still makes me sob openly. I also believe I’m protecting people that might think I’m writing about them, when I’m not. The story is fiction. The characters are fiction. I guess I’m scared that if the book was published, the people who were around when the true life event happened might see themselves in my writing. I have tried to make it obvious that this hasn’t happened, but this is making me hold back and that’s why he (my reader) said I have to forget other people and go for it 100%. He also said that maybe it would help if I wrote this manuscript under a different name. Maybe that would free me! Maybe he’s right, but it’s a bit hard when I have this blog and I’ve been mentioning the manuscript for the last two or so years.

He’s wrong because not everyone swears when placed in the situations I have in this manuscript. I never swore when it happened to me. Never, not even when I truly wanted to murder someone, anyone, and I came close to putting those thoughts into action (thankfully my will power and conscience made me walk away). But, having said that, not everyone is like me and I believe there is one character in my story who would swear. Not often. Not on every page. But when he’s pushed to the limit, he would swear and when it happens I hope the reader can recognise a person stretched to breaking point.

Then, on Friday afternoon on the train, I sat in a carriage with three young men–around 20 years of age–sitting behind me. They reminded me of the character I mentioned in the previous paragraph and I found myself listening to the way they interacted with each other…and making mental notes. I didn’t see them at any time, I just listened to them, but from what I heard (and it was over an hour of conversation) they seemed like decent boys, good kids just living life to the fullest. All of them were making the long trip home from university for the weekend. My character is exactly like them. And I realised that the character is lacking something…youth! He needs to be given stronger aspects of being a youth in this day and age (and not the aspects of being a youth in MY day) and I think that includes swearing. Listening to these young men helped me realise this and reconfirmed what action needs to be taken.

If anyone else has anything to add, please do so. I’m determined to do justice to this manuscript because not just anyone can tell this story. It’s a subject that you have to have lived to really know…and I’ve lived it.

Find Strength & Stop Being Nice!

Can a person be too nice? Obviously they can. Obviously people who read my stuff think I write “too nice” because I’ve been told that very fact a lot — so many times, in fact, that I can no longer ignore it. I’ve thought about this over the last few days and I have come up with two reasons:

1. I started writing because I was desperately unhappy, so I placed myself (in the form of the main female character) in nice surroundings with nice people, and I always aimed for “happily ever after” because that is what I wanted for myself.

2. In real life I’m a passive person. I’m quiet and shy. I avoid large gatherings (like parties), conflict, “in your face” situations, being the centre of attention and generally do NOT know how to let my hair down. I don’t swear, drink or smoke. I’ve never seen illegal drugs of any description. I’m the person on the outside of a group looking in…listening, but rarely contributing…because that’s where I feel comfortable as I’m a bit of a loner.

I’ve been told numerous times that I’m trying to write in the wrong genre – romance is where I should be at (that’s what I’m told). But…romance can also be a problem with me, because I don’t feel comfortable writing erotic scenes, so any romance I write will be quite bland. With this in mind, I chose to write fantasy with a strong romance thread. Many of the books I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of fantasy, haven’t had one swear word or sex scene in them…and they lean towards “happily ever after” too.

That means part of the problem has been solved. I can write romantic fantasy, but that doesn’t solve the other part of the problem. My writing isn’t strong enough. Why is that? I believe it’s because of the person I am. In fact, I know that’s the reason. I try to write aggressive characters, but I’m not that type of person so how can I do the character justice? And how can I possibly know what an aggressive or a confident person would say in any given situation when I’ve never experienced it myself? In my opinion, it would be easier for an assertive person to write from a non-assertive view point than the other way around. So what can be done about it? If you’re waiting for me to answer that question, you will be disappointed, because I honestly don’t know. I need help with that one. How can I strengthen my writing?

Now, let’s turn what I’ve said in this post to one of my writing projects – Mirror Image, which is NOT romantic fantasy – far from it!

Mirror Image is a project I believe in…totally! I know, without doubt, that if I’m going to get published, this is the project that will do it for me. But…will my writing do it justice? Can I create the words necessary to make the manuscript as strong as the theme and storyline require?

The reader I’ve given the manuscript to has come back to me and said that Mirror Image is a powerful story that is let down by weak writing. The reader said that everything is there – punch after punch – except strength of words, and sometimes actions. He said that I can write, but I need to “let go” and give it everything I have and more. He said I’m too “nice” and the manuscript requires something much stronger than nice. He claims I am holding back and it shows. He practically slammed a fist on the table and said, “Stuff everyone involved, stop worrying about other people. Stop being so nice and let it all out. Swear, damn it! This isn’t some romance novel where everyone is nice and cosy, and everything is pretty. This is a novel that demands swearing and lots of it. This is a story that needs you, the writer, to let go and let the passion and emotion out. You have to let the reader into your shoes and stop holding everyone back like you do in real life. You can do this. I know you can.”

Talk about a show of passion and emotion! I wish I could bottle that for my own use. Anyway, my response was…to my alarm and shame, tears. Even now I feel those tears springing to my eyes. I know that this is just one person’s opinion, but in the depths of my heart I know he is right.

I felt mortified that a project I value so highly is suffering because of my writing…and because of my personality. I didn’t sleep well because of it. I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to let go, but I don’t know how to. Why can’t I? What am I going to do?

I need to strengthen my writing. How can I do that? Does anyone have any words of wisdom?

Edited on 5 July 2009:

Read the update here – Did That Character Swear?

Mirror Image: Positive Feelings

When I left the train this morning, I did so knowing that the third edit of Mirror Image had been completed. There is something about this manuscript that makes me feel quite positive. I believe it has a lot to do with the theme, which I haven’t publicly shared as yet, but I have a strong feeling this manuscript will be well received by agents. Of course, the standard of my writing will then have to carry it to higher places, such as to the desk of an editor of a publishing house.

When I read what I’ve just written, my first instinct is to cringe and think to myself that I’m vain for thinking such things and I could be sorry I wrote this post at some time in the future. Yet, I’m not a stupid person and I am not vain. It is simply a matter that I truly and wholly believe in this manuscript. I know there is a market for it. The truth of the matter is that it will all come down to two things…1) my writing, and, 2) the cover letter, which I wrote months ago.

There is a quote on my desk calendar today that reads:

“Ideas often flash across our minds more complete than we could make them after much labour.” La Rochefoucauld

How fitting that saying is when I compare it to the cover letter for Mirror Image, where the wording flashed across my mind at the strangest of moments and I had the sense to quickly write those words down. It was complete in a matter of minutes, when I would normally labour for days or weeks over a letter of such importance.

They say you must grab the reader’s attention straight away. Well this letter does that with the first sentence. I know it absolutely. If I were ever to doubt anything (and I do, often) it certainly would never be this letter.

But I jump ahead of myself. First the manuscript must be polished and then polished some more. The third edit is done and I’m really happy with what I have, so it is time to give it to a reader and see what happens from there. Just as I know that my cover letter is perfect, I also know that the reader will have plenty to say once he has read the manuscript. I predict that he will try and persuade me to change certain aspects of the story (and I know exactly which ones), but I will remain strong and focused (unless he can convince me otherwise). I look forward to his feedback. In fact, I crave it.

I feel excited. I am working on something that means a lot to me. I have poured my heart and soul into this manuscript and I feel…that I am on the right road. It is a good feeling.