I have been all over the place for the last couple of weeks, doing chores, finding out why our cat is pooing in inappropriate places and getting ready for KidLitVic2019. Luckily for you, this post is about that conference and not about the cat’s new toilet habits.
This is the fourth year that I’ve been to KidLitVic and it never fails to leave me energised, enthusiastic and wiser. This year, as with last year, it was held in the beautiful Melbourne Town Hall. There’s something so inspiring about a building that is both old and beautiful. There were a number of different panels, manuscript assessments from publishers, master classes run by publishers and, for the first time, up close and personal groups (which I didn’t do this year, but might if they’re available next year).
The best part of the conference, for me, is meeting other writers and for this reason alone I would encourage you to attend a writing conference. Meeting other people who are on the same journey as you, each at various stages of that journey, is exhilarating. Meeting people who know what you are talking about when you mention your manuscript, your hook, your saggy middle or anti-climax-of-a-climax is a relief.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the writing community is one of the most open, friendly and welcoming communities I have ever come across. I have yet to meet a writer (or publisher for that matter) who wasn’t warm, enthusiastic and generous with their time and knowledge. What’s more, being surrounded by that makes it easy to be generous with your own time and knowledge.
Conferences can be expensive but they’re worth saving for. If you really don’t have the money to put towards something like a conference (and let’s face it, it’s not just the conference but travel, food and sometimes accommodation you have to factor in), then consider being a volunteer. While you will be working, you will still be able to listen in on panel discussions and mingle with other writers and publishers through out the day.
We’ve talked before about, unless you’re writing for your own eyes only, you need to consider your readers when you write. You can find that post here. In order to do that you’re eventually going to need to ask for feedback on your writing. Feedback can come from many places and in many forms, but some is going to be better than others. Let’s take a look at some common places to get feedback, and their pros and cons.
Family is (mostly) awesome. They love you, they think you’re cool and they want you to be happy. Also, they might be happy to read your work for free (cha-ching). But is family the right place to get feedback on your work?
They don’t charge
They’re easy to approach
You trust and value their opinions
They may not be totally honest with you (because they love you and don’t want to hurt you
They don’t necessarily know how to assess a manuscript
They’re biased (again, because they love you)
They’re unfamiliar with the technical aspects of writing
They can be unreliable
Other writers should have your back, right? Yep. And they’re in the same boat as you, so they’ll know their stuff too.
They understand the technical aspects of writing and how to express them. They can point out problems with plot, structure, dialogue and character arcs etc.
They don’t charge
They’re honest because they know honesty is what you need to improve, and their feedback is constructive
They may ask you to read their work in turn and that in itself can be useful
You may need to join a critique or writers group to have access to other writers and you may not feel comfortable about this (it’s something I’m still struggling with)
They may not be at the same level of writing as you – a less experienced writer may not be able to give you the level of advice you need
They’re busy and may not be able to work to your time-frame
They may ask you to read their work in turn, and you might not feel like it
A Mentor or Manuscript Assessment Service
A mentor is an experienced, usually published, writer who knows what publishers and agents are looking for and can give you excellent feedback. A manuscript service is just that, a service offered by an organisation (such as a writer’s association) to assess your manuscript.
They are extremely professional
They are efficient
They are constructive
They have insight into the publishing industry
They understand the technicalities of writing
They charge and they can be expensive. Assessing a manuscript takes many, many hours of work and both mentors and services charge accordingly
They will be honest and, while they will be professional and constructive, that honesty can sometimes be painful and confronting
In my opinion, finding a mentor or using an assessment service gives you the best return on your time and money. But, they can be pricey.
For example, the assessment service offered by Writers Victoria (of which I am a member) starts at AU$540 for a long manuscript up to 10,000, with an additional cost of AU$40 for every 10,000 words over that you go. The standard for a YA novel is 50,000 words. Yikes!
The mentor I have worked with in the past charged AU$25/half hour and she often did upwards of ten hours of work on my manuscripts. For me, it was well worth the cost. But, while both options can result in a better manuscript, they don’t guarantee that your work will end up published.
Asking other writers to look at your work is the next best option, and this is where cultivating your writing tribe is useful. If you’re not in a position to pay for assessments (and, lets face it, we don’t always have extra cash floating around) then other writers can be a God-send.
Family, in my opinion, are the worst people to ask to assess your work, unless you’re looking for a confidence boost (or your family may be the brutally honest kind. In that case, just don’t go there. Why do that to yourself?). They may be avid readers, but a reader does not necessarily make a writer. And they’re less likely to be able to give you subjective feedback (whether negative or positive).
My husband loves the wrestling. As in, incredibly athletic men and women inside a ring pretending to fight in the most spectacular way. Wrestling may be fake (please, don’t look so shocked) but I have no doubt the talent and endurance (and injuries) of the performers is completely real.
I don’t mind the wrestling either, but the thing I love most is the stories. The writers are masters of conflict and tension (for a great article on conflict, check out this post on Writers in the Storm). The stakes are always epic, the rivalries are always intense, and the characters walk through ever shifting shades of grey. These characters don’t just want to win (we all want to win), they’re willing to do anything to win. Coz, let’s face it, the writers need to create characters that people don’t just like, they need to write characters who’s t-shirt people want to wear.
I assume that’s why my husband has those shirts, anyway.
I’ve talked about the importance of voice before (you can find that here), and about how finding your unique author’s voice takes time, patience and practise. I want to clarify author voice further in this post.
A visceral reaction is the physical feeling that often accompanies an emotional response to an experience or event. Think about the last time you were excited about something – the way your fingers and toes tingled and you felt a little bit light headed. That is a visceral response.
Visceral responses are great tools in the ‘show, don’t tell’ toolbox. You show your character being afraid (She looked over the edge of the cliff and her stomach clenched) rather than telling the reader she’s frightened (She looked over the edge of the cliff and felt afraid). There also a great way of showing the reader, hey this is real. This character feels things just as you’d expect them to if they were real.
A while ago a new friend and I discovered that we both wrote, and he asked me what my process was. I was surprised. I’d never been asked that before, but I had to admit that my “process” was getting home from dropping the kids off at school, making a cup of tea, and sitting down and banging out the words. Continue reading “The Writing Process”→
Part of the reason I’ve been so inconsistent in talking to you all in the last several weeks is because I’ve been having manuscript problems. One still isn’t quite working for the people who could give it a home, one needed to be completely rewritten and one I just can’t write. It’s that one I’m going to talk about here.
The idea for the story I’m working on now has been sitting in the back of my mind just waiting for me to have the time to give to it. I’ve written up the character profiles, character arc and the main plot points. You’d think that all there’s left to do is write the damn thing. But it won’t come. It’s not just writer’s block, which I think you just need to write through, it’s a lack of passion for the story.
It’s a shame because I think the premise is a good one. Grace wakes up after a party to find a dead boy beside her. Although the police have put her in the clear, the boy’s girlfriend convinces everyone who will listen that Grace did it. Grace is determined to salvage her reputation. As a subplot, Grace has a strained relationship with her identical twin sister. She feels family holds you back but is going to learn that it can also lift you up.
Too bad I can’t get the words on the page.
So what do you do when the story won’t write?
Just Keep Going
According to Stephen King:
And I have taken that advice on more than one occasion in the past (and no doubt will do again). But It’s getting me no where this time.
Change It Up
In an attempt to get the creative juices flowing I’ve tried sitting in different places, writing at different times, listening to music, not listening to music, writing around people, writing on my own, re-reading my old favorites, throwing my old favorites across the room because-how-come-they’re-so-friggin’-awesome-and-I’m-so-crap-ohmyGodnowI’mrantingand….BREATH!
In all serious, changing things up can help me when I’m getting stuck or my brain is actually working against me. Just not this time.
Let It Go
This is my least favorite option. I feel bad for my characters, stuck in limbo with no sign of resolution. But sometimes you just need a break from what you’re working on. Read a book, get into one of your hobbies, go back to another story that needs tweaking. You’d be surprised what comes to you when you’re thinking of other things. (Vacuum. I get great ideas when I’m vacuuming AND I look like a hero because there’s no cat fur on the floors).
Drop Like A Toxic Friend
Me and my latest WIP aren’t quite here yet but we might get here. Some stories are meant to be told, but not by you. My experience has been that all manuscripts look like unworkable piles sludge every now and then, but if your manuscript always looks like that and the thought of working on it sucks the joy and colour out of your life, it might be time to break it off for good.
Have you every had an idea for a story but you can’t get it on the page? What did you do about it (please help me out here! I need to know!).
I write for young adults. Or you could say I write YA fiction. YA is not a genre, even though some people will talk like it is. The genre I write in is contemporary realism. Which means, it’s set in the present and it deals with realistic situations and characters.