Four books published but there is something rather special about these eight words This is a GOA billboard at Moorooka showing off my 8-word story. Thank you to Queensland Writers Centre for choosing my wee tale.
Such a fun and fabulous program to get art out onto the street. I remember only too well all the days of sitting in traffic and it would have been such a lovely thing to have little fairy drops of literature to feed my soul along the way.
Want to play along? You still have time to enter your own 8-word story! Just tweet it with the hashtag #8wordstory and tag the Queensland Writers Centre. Or go to https://8wordstory.com to enter online by Friday 24 November.
In February 2009, QWC published an article I wrote called ‘The Power of the Positive’ in their WQ magazine, and I’m betting more than a few people thought I was a little nutty and ‘woo woo’.
I started off by saying, “It seems to me that there can be a tendency in writing circles to dramatise the negatives… the main message is all about how difficult writing is, how it’s nearly impossible for a first-time writer to get published, how the annual salary for full-time writers in Australia is ridiculously low, how you ‘shouldn’t give up the day job’, how you ‘shouldn’t get your hopes up’, how everything is so competitive and how the slush pile is so high and the editor’s time is so short.”
The rest of the article goes on to talk about the importance of believing the positive, visualising success, and channeling all that creative energy you have into something useful, rather than something that’s going to tear you down and bring others down with you–incorporating some sports psychology and some new age theory too.
But most importantly, it poses the question, ‘Why can’t it be you?’
Now, my first novel, The Tea Chest, has finally made it out into the world. And I am living proof that you can rise above all that negativity out there that will shoot down your dreams before they’ve even started. I’m not saying it’s easy to face more than a decade of writing books (10 manuscripts in 12 years for me before I got a publishing deal) and literally hundreds of rejections. It’s emotionally hard going when you’ve put your soul into a piece of art that other people criticise. And then it just sits silently and invisibly on your laptop with no where to go (which is why I’ve turned some of my manuscripts into books via http://www.lulu.com, just so I could see the completion of the project).
And just for the record, The Tea Chest was submitted to every mentorship program and manuscript development program out there and not picked up.
You’ve got to do the work. Of course you do. I guarantee your book won’t get published if you don’t write it. But there is no predetermined expiration date or outcome on this. The sky truly is the limit (or maybe not even then).
Having said that, I do actually want to ‘ground’ this notion in a larger philosophy: that of art for art’s sake. Because I’m not saying you WILL achieve all those things you dream of. Sometimes, good work just won’t get published. This is not about bulldozing your way into perceived success via milestones and paycheques. The most important thing of all is to write. Just WRITE.
If you are going to become attached to anything, become attached to being a writer, not to your manuscript. Then you will be able to move on from the wonderful manuscript you’ve worked so hard on for so many years and write a new one, or indeed something else entirely.
And just for once, I won’t quote Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way (I do not work for Julia Cameron or get commission though the amount I plug her I probably should…), but instead I will quote Australian author, Torre de Roche:
“Forget the stats, the numbers, the wealth, the prestige, the popularity, the things you imagine to be waiting for you on the other side of ‘success.’ They’re not there, and if they are, they won’t stay long. Instead, work tirelessly to make your soul happy. Keep going until you’re standing before a big, glorious creation made by you, for you. Your baby—made of cells, or paper, or clay, or words. That’s yours.
Be proud. You did it for the simple joy of creating. There is nothing more to life than that.
But there is no harm in expecting the best along the way. There is no harm in valuing a financial reward for your art. Imagine your biggest, scariest possibility of whatever you deem to be ‘success’. Got it? Good. File it away somewhere in your heart and mind to revisit at a later date, shrug of the criticisms and the crazy looks you get when you say you’re working on a book (to which someone will instantly say, ‘oh, do you have a publisher?’ and you’ll squirm inside and say, ‘no, not yet’), and go write. It doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say about your ‘chances’ of being published. That’s their reality, not yours. Feel free to invent your own.
My brain is liquid tar. The reasons are pretty simple: a bubbalicious who doesn’t yet sleep through the night, the fourth day in a row of extreme heat in south-east Queensland (hence less sleep), storms that send one of our dogs into frantic drooling terrified mess (hence even less sleep), and that general worn out feeling you get at this time of year anyway as the life pace cracks its relentless whip to muster you towards Christmas day.
But I do like to try to do something towards my writing each day, even if it’s very small. How do you keep going when the sludge hits? Here’s my Top 12 activities to do when the sludge hits and no amount of coffee, fresh air, face slapping or hot-coal-walking will move it.
Read. Our job as writers is first and foremost to read. No reading is ever a waste of time. It is valuable. It is research. It is educational. It’s relaxing. And it’s fun! Read, read, read.
Watch DVDs. Seriously. Similar to reading (though obviously not as good), television and movies (when carefully chosen) can be a rich source of compost for the fertility challenged mind. This is a particularly great option if you’re researching another time period or another city or country. YouTube is also a fantastic source of research and often even better because it’s raw, without the gloss and professional spin.
Pull out those literary magazines and association newsletters you’ve got stashed under the fruit bowl or nappy bag and catch up on snippets of tips, info and trends in the writing and publishing world.
Fossick in magazines. Look for pictures of houses, people, products or anything that might be useful as inspiration for your book, grab some scissors and glue and act like a six-year-old and cut them out and paste them onto a vision board.
Writer admin. This can be a trap for procrastination, but it’s still a good alternative to eating a block of chocolate and moaning about how tired you are. (I can speak from experience. The most oft spoken sentence in our house in the past six months is ‘I’m soooo tired!’ Yep. We know. Can’t fix it. But you can try to work around it.) Admin includes activities like buying that domain name; renewing your membership to the Queensland Writers Centre or Romance Writers of Australia; sending emails of enquiry; or even mindlessly entering receipts into your tax bookkeeping system.
Now’s a great time of year to buy a year wall calendar and plan out your 2013 writing career. Take in the overview of the whole year. What goals do you have and how you can plan to achieve them? If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo in November, what else would need to move over to make room for that? When do you plan to have holidays? Are you travelling? When are the writers festivals? Are there courses of study to do? And, oh yeah, when do you plan to write that 90,000 words??
Internet research and Google map walking. God bless the internet. Seriously. If you’re writing a story set in another city or country, the internet is the most valuable tool you’ve got. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent satellite walking the streets of London. And if you need scientific research, a sludgy brain can often deal with writing down facts and numbers that you can go back to later.
Write blog posts, Facebook updates and Twitter tweets and schedule them ahead of time. Okay, so I’m writing this blog post on a sludgy brain day, and it mightn’t be the most witty and entertaining thing I’ve ever written, but for some reason dealing with non-fiction is far easier for my sludgy brain than characters who may or may not want to play the game by the rules I’ve set for them. But social media is an important part of the business of writing and better you get it out the way on a day like today rather than on a day when you’re all fired up to write, write, write.
Go for the experiential. If all of the above it too hard, and you think you will vomit if you look at the computer screen, try going for the experiential. My current book waiting for publication is about tea and the business of designing teas. Many an hour I spent picking random things from my garden and pouring boiling water over them to see what would happen. Unfortunately, my current book revolves around chocolate so the experiential… well, let’s just say my waistline isn’t going to benefit the same way my story will.
Contact a writing friend. It’s so important to keep a close support network of writerly friends to share the creative journey. No one will understand you like another writer will. Phone or email and make a date in your diary to catch up and talk all things books and adjectival.
Buy new stationery. Yes, I’m a nerd. But I don’t find too many things more inspiring and motivating than new stationery! Pens, notebooks, planners, rulers, paper clips… love, love, love.
Clean your office or writing space. Can’t see your keyboard for the pile of unpaid bills and unfolded washing sitting on it? No brains needed for this activity. Just some mindless muscle. A brilliant last resort and one that tends to clear the way for a new flurry of activity tomorrow.