How do you find ideas for stories, and what do you do with them once you have them? How do you write a bestselling novel? This year, I’m delighted to be running two writing workshops in Brisbane in May at Twelfth Night Theatre.
Have an idea that’s been hanging around that you’d like to bring to life somehow?
Struggle to find story idea, or have the opposite problem and have too many ideas?
Struggle to work out what format to put your idea into or what to do with it once it’s finished?
Have a burning desire to write a novel?
Have a half-finished (or quarter-finished) novel that you need some help to finish?
Want to have fun, feel creative, meet up with other creatives?
Just want to escape the family and the Brisbane heat for a weekend, eat some chocolate and maybe make a new friend?
I can help!
Workshop 1: Bringing Your Ideas to Life. How do you find ideas for stories and what do you do with them once you find them? Josephine will guide you through the process of discovering ideas for stories, accessing research and resources, breathing life into words, and then pulling them into some sort of order to get them onto the page. She’ll also help you to work out what sort of writer you might be, which will help you know what to do with your ideas. She’ll cover different types of structure to suit different outcomes and foundational skills in the requirements of a good story.
Workshop 2: How to Write a Bestselling Novel. There isn’t one single way to write a bestseller but there are definitely common elements you can learn. Bring your idea for a novel and Josephine will show you how to plot it out to keep the pages turning, build strong characters and guide you through the foundations of self-editing. This interactive day will see you leave with a bounty of information to set you up for success.
You can book in for either event or attend both for a discount. As well, I’ll give everyone who comes along a complimentary copy of The Gift of Life to take home!
Did you know I’m still an aspiring writer? Four books published and another scheduled for 2018 and I’m still in the same place as so many other writers out there: the beginning.
My heart still burns with the passion, frustration and disappointment of the unpublished writer. Why? Because I want to be a children’s author.
Right now, I have half a dozen picture book manuscripts ‘marinating’ in my hard drive, and one young readers’ (7-10 year old) 30,000-word chapter book bursting with promise to get out into the world.
(Me with my pony Sparky, who stars as a character in my children’s writing.)
The reality of publishing is that is is difficult to cross that magic line and become “published”; and this is even more true for those of us who aspire to be children’s authors. Like so many of you out there, I too am writing, editing, sending out for review, submitting, following competitions and so on. It still doesn’t feel that long ago that I was in this position as a totally unpublished writer. The feelings are all too familiar!
It might be tempting for me to think, oh well, I already achieved the dream of being a published author and making a living from my writing, why bother chasing another one? Here’s why I am so passionate about making this dream come true.
Because reading as a child changed me fundamentally as a human being and made me the writer I am today.
Because I am a mother, and therefore I read hundreds of books to my son and I SEE him changing with every one we read.
And because I am a mother, it would be my greatest joy and honour to be able to cuddle up with him in bed and read to him a book that I wrote myself.
Because I want my son to be able to read Australian stories written by Australian authors.
Because in my heart I am an educator (and former English teacher), and being able to read and write is the number one skill a human being can have to empower her to change her life. And literacy begins in the laps of the parents who read to their children.
And finally, and probably most pressingly, because I have scores of stories and characters bumbling around in my head who are desperate to get out there into the world!
So here I am, an aspiring author, working away invisibly alongside so many other aspiring authors, wanting to write the best books I can possibly create to bring the greatest gifts to the world.
This is Clara Finlay, who shall forever henceforth no longer be an unsung hero. Clara is one of the very rare breeds of professionals who work under completely unrealistic timeframes with nearly always unreasonable demands, with a near-zero error rate, who isn’t paid nearly enough and almost never gets any credit. What’s worse, it’s really difficult for these people to argue for a pay rise because when they do their work at their absolute best… No. One. Can. Tell. They leave no trace; they leave no calling card. They are the ninjas of the publishing industry. They are our editors.
How do I know this? Because I used to be an editor. A good editor, yes, one, worth her weight in salt. But Clara here is a great editor, worth her weight in saffron. I specifically asked (okay, begged) my publisher if I could work with Clara again after working with her on The Chocolate Promise and said, “She will make me work like a sled dog and eat kilos of chocolate but my book will be so much better for it.” And I’m confident to say that during the edit for The Beekeeper’s Secret, both the former and latter came true, and my book is a much, much better novel because of Clara’s nimble ninja fingers.
I’m not talking about picking up typos, spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. This is not what editors do. (Well, yes they do but it’s only a tiny portion of what they do. There is also a proofreader who comes after that who takes a last sweep for those things.) No, what a great editor does is to get inside your mind as an author and somehow know what it is you were trying to say and then help you say it better; get inside your character’s mind and help your character say it better; provide you summaries of reflection, analysing your characters and plots and then showing you what it looks like to a reader (which might be probably is totally different to what it looks like to you as a writer).
A great editor will ask literally hundreds of questions of you. Questions like:
Did you realise that you used the word ‘disquiet’ on page 86, 134, 257 and 301? Did you mean to do that?
On page 33, Alice shrugs. Why? Is she annoyed, bored, or rude? To which as an author I might think, actually I have no idea why! And then I have to have a conversation with Alice to find out why she is shrugging. And Alice might tell me she is bored, or she might tell me that she is remembering when she was five years old and … a new scene is born that gives an entirely different depth to Alice and infinitesimally more satisfaction to the reader.
This here, where you reference legal document XYZ and you say it means ABC… I looked it up and to me it meant XXX. Which is it? To which, I need to go and research the document again and find clarity, or I might decide to remove it altogether and rewrite the paragraph around it.
I think you have a timeline problem. In 1975 Mary was 6, but on page X in 1984 she is 23, and then a decade later on page XX she is 35 and her sister, who was 8 in 1974 is now… Could you check throughout? OMG, I hate these questions! There is a lot of chocolate eating over these ones as I pull out my calculator to start all over again and search the ENTIRE bloomin’ document to find EVERY instance where this could be wrong! (Cocktails may also ensue.)
I’m not sure you can say this? I think it might be copyright. Oops! Lucky!
Do you think George would say this? He seems a bit more conservative to me.
Do you think Marcia would think this? She seems a bit more enlightened to me.
And my favourite: NQR?.. which is editor shorthand for politely saying, “not quite right” or sometimes written more bluntly as, “recast?”. For a blunt interpretation, it means: I think you’ve been a bit lazy and could work a bit harder here and make this a better sentence. Having a bad day, were we? Would you like to try again?
A great editor lets you, the author, solve all the problems yourself, and be in charge of your words and intentions at every step, and yet you would never have gotten there if they hadn’t probed you and asked the difficult questions in the first place.
And on and on we go, for 100,000 words, or around 320 pages. If your editor has worked on hard copy, by the time you’ve gone through and accepted/ rejected/ changed/ added/ expanded/ explained your way through with your red pen, your pages look like a murder scene.
If it’s been done in Word with ‘track changes’, it will be so colourful you’ll think mardi gras has arrived in your document and you’ll barely be able to read the words for the highlighting, colour and added notes.
But when it’s all cleaned up and it’s sparkling white and shiny again, there will be no sign of the ninja whose swift, sharp knife had cut up those pages.
She will have done her job and disappeared once more into the night.
But I want you to know, Clara (and all editors whose diligence graces my books’ pages), that I see you. To me, you are heroes.
I know how hard you work.
I know that you are almost always the last person to touch a manuscript before it goes to print and therefore countless others before you have missed their deadline and pushed the timeframe further and further behind until someone slaps it on your desk and tells you that you can have two days to do two weeks worth of work and it has to be your best work ever, despite the fact that it might take you two days just to read the blasted manuscript, let alone touch it with a pencil!
I know that you’re financially undervalued. I know that it’s near impossible to argue for your worth when the only time someone notices you is when you’ve missed a typo on page 98 and a reader phones the publisher to complain. They didn’t see the four thousand and sixteen things you did; they just saw the one thing you missed.
I know that most people have no idea how skilled you are, how much breadth of general knowledge you need, how sensitive you are, what a great sense of humour you have, or what value you actually add other than picking up spelling mistakes.
I know that when a book does well that you might miss out on the awards and the travel and the publicity and cocktails.
But you will never miss out on my gratitude and deep love for the great work you do. Plus actual gifts. If no one else gives you gifts, I will!
Writing retreats are, hands down, awesome–so much so, I’d go as far to say they are one of the most important things you can do as a writer.
I’ve been on a number of writing retreats. In fact, the first one I went on, I organised myself by choosing a location, setting a timetable and a structured outcome process (I’m a former teacher; I can’t help it), and inviting people along. Despite an accommodation challenge, it was fantastic. Since then, I’ve come to value retreats in many varied and extended ways and I’ll be writing several posts on this topic this year. So let’s start with finding the right type of retreat for you.
This is what I did for my first retreat. It’s a bit like a school camp except that everyone there is a nerd, just like you. So you can actually revel in your artsy, geeky glory instead of feeling left out. (Or, hey, maybe that’s just me.) The DIY retreat goes something like this:
a bunch of writers agree to go and spend time together in a location suitable for their needs and desired outcomes
you might share accommodation, food, books, notes, and resources
you might choose to delegate everyone a job, such as presentation to the group on some aspect of the craft of writing
you might all like to submit a portion of writing for the group to review prior to the retreat and at the allocated time in your schedule, you have a group critique session. (Most people really dig this part so it’s worthwhile doing.)
you might even approach an author to come and visit you on retreat (or stay with you), pay for their time to teach you some skills and/or give you feedback on your writing.
Who is this for? Writers on a budget; aspiring writers who want to get their feet wet on retreats; those who want to hang out with other writers; writers who want to tailor their own retreat (e.g. handpick an author to come to their retreat).
The Solo Word Count retreat
This is the retreat you take yourself on to GET THINGS DONE. There is only one goal on this retreat: WORDS. Fantastic if you are on a deadline (either self-imposed or contractually obligated), or perhaps when you’re just bursting with a story and dying to get it down but life keeps getting in the way.
The last retreat I took was of this type and I nailed 10,000 words in two-and-a-half days. For me, that’s fabulous. And if I did three retreats a year like that, that would be a third of a first draft of a novel done in just over a week in total. Bam! Words, words, words. A novel can’t exist without words, after all.
Who is this for? Anyone feeling a timeline pressure. (Or extreme introverts who relish days on end in silence with nothing but their own thoughts.)
The Solo Planning and/or Editing retreat
This is similar to the Solo Word Count retreat, except that your goals are different. Rather than a tunnel-vision goal of moving forwards only (word count), the planning and editing phases of writing are a lot more lateral. Spiralling, even. Narrowing in, then pulling outwards again. Reading, then editing. Writing notes, then typing words. Drawing diagrams, and then throwing them away. It takes time and space to do these things well and a retreat is a great way to really get to know your novel.
Who is this for? Writers at the beginning of their project; writers working on subsequent drafts; writers on a deadline to move through the editing phase.
The Lifestyle writing retreat
This could be organised by you, a group of you, or an external party.
I’d say the focus of this type of retreat is sharing communal space with other writers to enjoy spontaneous connection and indulgence of your love and passion for writing. There’ll be plenty of time to write on your own in a nook somewhere, or sitting at the big ol’ dining table with other writers. There might be shared dinners out, time for a massage, or doing some yoga between sessions.
Who is this for? Anyone who’s feeling a bit stuck, disconnected or who has lost the passion and motivation for their project. It’s a big kick start to your creative juices.
The Research retreat
Oh, this is fun. New locations, road trips, plane trips, boat trips, train trips… you get the point. Photography. Note taking. Maps. Historical societies. Interviews with relevant subjects. On-site visits to businesses, farms or families. Collecting knick knacks, feathers, stones or food.
The goal of this retreat is to get as much hard data and/or whimsical feeling for many of elements of your project to take back home with you so you can continue to write your story with new vision.
Who is this for? Writers who are building scenes and stories about places, time, people, careers, history etc. outside of their own world view of the world. Writers who want to kick start a project. Writers who have stalled in a project and need to infuse it with new life.
The ‘it’s all done for you’ retreat
These are retreats offered by writers, editors, associations and so on. They generally pick the location, provide tutors/instructors/mentoring sessions etc. You pay a fee that covers the accommodation and the retreat program. Some will include food in the price, others leave that out. There’ll generally be workshop sessions as well as individual and/or group feedback on a selection of your writing.
Who is this for? Anyone who’d like to spend time with the already established authors and mentors who are running the retreat. Anyone who is time poor and would rather not deal with the logistics of organising a retreat. Anyone who wants to feel safety in numbers.
*** Do any of these types of retreats sound appealing to you? ***
If you want to join me on retreat, I’ll be offering a tutor-led retreat on the Sunshine Coast hinterland in 2015, so email me at josephinemoon [at] live.com.au to let me know you’re interested.
I’m also open to visiting you on your own self-organised retreat. You can email me to chat about that too 🙂
We’ve been renovating a 100+ year old house now for more than 18 months, and I’ve edited quite a few manuscripts in my time (having been an editor before becoming a career writer) and if there’s one thing I can say definitively, it’s that editing a novel and renovating a house are the same beasts. There are different stages to editing and they have to go in this order, or you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt and re-work down the track. Want to know how to edit a novel? Think like a renovator.
Oh, how I enjoyed this part of renovating our house. Bulldozing. Jackhammering. Tearing down. Knocking down. Ripping up. Throwing out. Fun, fun, fun. We had to remove the toxic waste (asbestos). We had to tear down a significant extension on the house that was teeming with live termites. We had to cut down enormous trees that were touching the house, smothering it and threatening its very survival. Hey, I am a tree hugger; I have difficulty removing weeds. But if they’re in the wrong place and are threatening the entire building they have to go. So too does the useless, poisonous, distracting stuff in your novel. The plots that go no where. The characters that don’t belong there. The pages of useless stuff that slows your plot down to a girding halt. Get rid of it. “Cut your darlings.”
This stuff is huge. This is where you ask the really tough questions: what am I trying to achieve here? Where do I want this to go? What style of project is this? Who is my reader (buyer)? This is the stuff that will make you cry with sheer frustration and jump in the air with elation when you get it right. And far, FAR too many writers skip this and jump to the next stage. But this is where the money is!!!
After the demolition came the urgent structural improvements. The big one for us was to re-stump, a task I once thought was a simple matter, but in fact turned out to be a really trying exercise. The stumps that were there were termite ridden and rotten and the whole house was slumping. We had to get council approval and that meant we had to… wait for it… draw up plans!!! (Do you see where this is going?) What was currently on the house and what did we intend to replace? What material were we going to use (wood, cement, steel)? And the answers to these questions meant we needed an engineer (an expert) to give guidance on how to proceed.
Now, hopefully, your novel isn’t in as much danger as our house was but, even so, it’s fantastic to get an expert, an outside eye, to step into your project and offer some wisdom to make sure you’re going in the right direction and not making things worse for yourself down the track. This is where you need your beta readers–your trusted advisors. (But do tell them to ignore the obvious spelling etc. and spend their valuable time on the big stuff. That’s what you need.)
Having taken care of the must-do structural renovation (and we couldn’t do ANYTHING else to the house until that was done because EVERYTHING else depended on having a level, stable base to work from), we moved on to the fun structural improvements. We’d previously demolished the front stairs (also termite ridden) and built new ones. We pulled out an entire load-bearing wall and put in a load-bearing beam. And then we did another one. We put in new doors. We built in wall where previously there wasn’t wall. We chased the leaks in the roof and plugged them.
All of these types of things can be done in your structural edit and there isn’t a lot of point proceeded to the next stage. There’s no point painting walls if you’re only going to tear them down.
This level of renovation is equivalent to the copy edit stage of your manuscript.
Most of the really hard yakka is done at this point and you won’t need quite as many chocolate runs, coffee or cold beers at the end of the day. This is where we put in a brand new kitchen. Ta da!! Gorgeous. A chandelier. Ka-ching! Polished floorboards. Painted walls. Re-wired the house. Put in an air conditioner.
All these things make it easier to live in the house, which is precisely what you’re doing in the copy edit. You’re finding sentences that could be prettier and making them so. You’re sanding back the excess words and letting the real beauty shine. Everything flows from one area to the next. You’re grammar is straight, tidy and enticing.
This is like proofreading. (We aren’t here yet in our house renovation; we’re still working through the cosmetic renovations.) This is like when you’ve got people coming over for dinner, or you want to sell the house. You’re mowing, cleaning, tidying, fluffing and styling. The proofread is your final sweep, your last chance before your visitors arrive to make sure your place is looking its best and nothing’s going to embarrass you (no hidden mould or hair caught in the sink trap).
To summarise, there is no point putting flowers on your kitchen bench if you don’t even have one! Make sure you’re editing your novel in the right order. Do the hard work first, the one that will cause you the most sweat, agony and tears and have you saying that you will never, ever do this again for as long as you live. And work your way through to the fun, pretty stuff.
I’m a terrible poet. Absolute rubbish. But I love to listen to it. I can sit and listen to the spoken words of poetry for hours (though I haven’t been able to for years because I’ve been living in the bush… but all of that’s about to change as of next week!).
While I love listening to poetry, I rarely ever read it, let alone buy it. But today, while working on my structural edit for my forthcoming novel, The Tea Chest, sitting in the lovely Rosetta Books at Maleny, a book off the shelf caught my eye. (I believe books often choose us, not the other way around, and this one certainly did.) It was Rumi, the book of love, a collection of writings and poetry from the 13th century Sufi poet, Jalaluddin Rumi. (I think he may have been ‘trendy’ for a while but I’m generally a few years behind trends. Don’t come to me if you’re looking for the latest cool thing.)
And what a charming little book it is.
Something I love so much about poetry is the way it frees the mind from structural concerns, bends our thoughts and clashes words together in a way that is so fresh and fascinating. I think it bypasses are critical minds and heads straight to the emotions.
I’ve been hopping my way through the book, opening pages randomly. Here are just a few gems that have made me laugh, long and melt.
In the spirit of Liane Moriarty‘s latest novel, The Husband’s Secret, I have decided to reveal a shameful secret. Actually, just to be self-indulgent, I will reveal two secrets.
First, Bold and the Beautiful is my guilty pleasure. I’m watching it right now! (I know, I know…)
But not only that, I have for the first time in my entire life done something awful. I skipped to the end of The Husband’s Secret to find out what the secret was. Yes, it’s true. Why? Because the tension in this book is utterly excruciating and I actually thought I might DIE if I didn’t relieve just a little of the pressure from this intense and masterful tale.
Around seven years ago, I was sitting with a group of fellow editors. We all worked in a publishing house in Brisbane and we were talking about books (of course) and do you know what? Half of the people in that circle confessed to regularly skipping to the end of the book to find out what happens to decide if it was worth reading. Half!!!! As an aspiring author, I was distraught! And these were editors, no less. They should know better!!!
But here I was, just a few days ago, lying in bed, well past bedtime, in writhing agony of the unknown and what did I do… exactly the same.
Shame, Josie, shame.
If you’re into compelling secrets, fantastic writing, clever dialogue, humour and very human tales, you won’t be disappointed in Liane Moriarty’s latest offering. Though I certainly do not recommend it for reading before bed. Not if you ever want to sleep before turning the final page.