Friday, October 20, 2017

Students write about their writing course

I love how at this time of year, our Diploma nonfiction teacher, Michelle Fincke, asks her students to write about what they think/know they have learned while studying our course. Usually I post them one at a time, but these are all so different that I think they are a great example of "give a class a topic and every single one will approach it differently with their own style and voice".

Which is exactly what we aim for. We don't aim to produce cookie-cutter writers. We aim to teach skills and techniques, professionalism, and having confidence in your own voice. So here goes:



"FIND OUT WHAT YOU'RE GOOD AT, WHAT LIGHTS YOUR SPARK AND WRITE THAT."
Anne Richardson​ on five things she's learnt from her writing course.

When I was in my mid-fifties a career change beckoned. Following my nose rather than a well-thought out plan, I enrolled in a professional writing and editing course. I had no clue when I started, and don’t have much now, but here’s what I know:

There’s lots to learn.
Genres, platforms, ethics, history, technique, craft, industry standards, grammar and punctuation…some of it you can choose, but lots of it you just have to know. Get your running shoes on. It’s hard to keep up.

It’s hard work.
Who knew how many hours it would take to write a 50 word bio, not to mention a blog, or a short story?

Your inner critic is on your side.
Keep a weather eye on her. Cultivate an equal relationship and make sure she knows who’s the boss.

You can’t do it on your own.
You’ll need to be brave and get used to sharing your work. The feedback of people you trust always makes your work better, even if it’s just because you know why you’re ignoring them.

You can’t do it all.
Learn everything, then pick the eyes out of it. Find out what you’re good at, what lights your spark and write that.

Anne Richardson


Image result for images of i am a writer
WHAT I'VE LEARNT FROM MY WRITING COURSE


The start of the year on a university campus is full of students becoming disillusioned by the realisation they had picked the wrong course.
Not a lot of thought went into my decision to study writing, but here are some of the major points I would consider if I was making that decision now.

1. Grammar is important
In my first semester studying writing, I saw many students attempting to debate rules for use of grammar with my teacher. They insisted they had been taught different rules and
further refused to accept what they had been taught was wrong. Don’t do this—it doesn’t impress anyone and you’re probably going to look like an idiot.

2. The story you want to write isn’t always the one you end up writing
Having an idea of what you want to write and how it’s going to sound is good, but it isn’t a guarantee. Often a piece of work will take shape through the editing process and you will
discover that what you originally wanted to say and what you finished up with are not the same.

3. Not everyone who wants to write is cut out for it
Many hobby writers expect writing to be fun and fulfilling, which it can be. It just isn’t right away. Writing takes discipline, scrutiny and persistence. To properly, correctly articulate a message, to convey the right emotion and to have your words resonate is difficult. Keep in mind that underneath the prestige and perhaps fame you might be chasing, there is a mountain of hard-work that most people are not cut out for.

Emmanuel Giakoumakis


11127201_10206556475134706_8567167505085211335_n"Criticism is the heat that tempers writing"
Here are Stefan Downey Najdecki's thoughts on studying Professional Writing and Editing at VU.

The Five Wisdoms of a Young Writer.
If I had five cents for every time someone said “Writing is easy” or “I want to write a novel” I don’t know how much money I would have because I haven’t kept count.
However, writing is not easy and you won’t find it easy after reading some of the things I’ve learnt in the last years studying Professional Writing and Editing at VU but one of them might make it less of a challenge.

1.Know how you write.
Some authors forge diagrams and rustle into the wilds of extended backstories, down to knowing the name of their Hero’s (or Heroine’s) childhood soft-toy. These writers are ‘plotters’ and only start typing when they have a map of where to go.
Others fly by the seat of their pants, jumping headlong into the blank page and come out the other side drenched in thousands of words. These ‘pantsers’ type to their heart’s content and heavily edit later in the process.
Know which of these two you are, then write accordingly. The struggle to write might just be dislodged with knowledge of the Hero’s teddy-bear or an hour-long dive.

2.Beg, Borrow and Steal
Tolkien loved Norse Mythology, George R.R Martin took from the blood-red War of the Roses and E.L. James loved Twilight. Every author needs fuel to power their imagination, but you can’t find it staring into the abyss of a blank page.
Read widely into genres and nonfiction that you would never have picked up before your quest as a writer — flicking through Mills and Boon could reward you with the most stunning ideas for a high-fantasy epic or the report by the Financial Review on milk-powder imports spur a neo-dystopian poem.
Imagination comes from the most unlikely of places.

3. Learn grammar like I never learnt French
Just as I never got my five-cents each time someone commented on the ease of writing, I never was awarded my five-assarius curse upon grammar. Romans be damned.
Grasping grammar on a high level requires a whole new language-set to identify problems. Predicate Adjective, Demonstrative Pronoun & Present Perfect Continuous, all sound baffling without the framework behind them. Writing may be the tool of emotion and creativity but “It doesn’t feel right” won’t help the placement of your commas.
Good Grammar is good communication and the better communicated your ideas are, the happier people will be to enjoy them. So come at Grammar with the mindset of a language you’ve never known, not the witticisms that survived from primary school.

4.Criticism is the heat that tempers writing
Cook a cake, slave over an oven and hear someone say “That’s nice!” Try not to yell at them as the subtlety of the flavours couldn’t make it past their chilli-burnt palate. The same applies to writing.
Find someone who knows how to jump into your brain for just a moment and tell you what your writing is lacking. Workshopping, or Writer’s Groups, help chip off any imperfections that your writing has. As you also help others chip off theirs. The duality of learning from other’s mistakes and correcting your own is taken with a solemn step to polishing your work.
A writer in my course didn’t take advice, nor did they give advice, and their work could not prosper. Let others help you lift your writing higher up.

5.Just do it.
I sold-out for a few more five-cent pieces, but Dan Wieden & Nike are right.
Find the time in every day to write. Write something. Spend half an hour describing the feeling of mushy banana on your gums and you will have flexed your brain and progressed with your RSI. Each throw away paragraph digs deeper into the nugget of perfect writing underneath it.
This also means that you need to find the time to write. No scented candles, hand-pressed orange-juice or more-than-six-hours-sleep should be needed. For each time you sit down and just type is another moment you can steal away the day reading about milk-imports.
The perfect condition will never arise, nor the perfect author. Perfection is in every step forward.
So step out into the world and get writing.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Interviewing - Cath Crowley



Where did the idea come from for Words in Deep Blue? Can you describe the writing process?
  

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when the idea arrived. In the end I discarded the first scene I wrote. It was of Henry’s dad sitting on the veranda. He was writing to Pablo Neruda about love without an address for his letter.

A while after that I opened a copy of A Streetcar Named Desire to see that a stranger had underlined the same phrases that I love. Of course you see this often – but the markings always feel like notes taken in a class, markings directed by a teacher. The underlines on Streetcar felt like a person marking them out of love, or need.

I thought about a whole bookstore where people were allowed to write in books, but that seemed impracticable, and so it became a set of shelves in the store, a letter library: a place where people could write to strangers, to the poets, to people they’d lost.

The writing process was hard! It took me six years to write. The whole time I was dreaming, writing, replotting, and then writing and replotting again.


Was writing this book different from your other novels? In what ways?

I tried to plot from the start! I was studying film structure at the time, and reading everything I could about the correct way to write character - I wonder now if that unsettled my process. I think next time, I’ll write the first draft, and then apply my editing skills to it later. I need to give myself some time to dream.


 Your new novel, Take Three Girls, is co-written with two other YA authors. Can you tell us about that process? How did it happen? How did you go about writing it?

It was a wonderful process. We had a lot of meetings where we talked character. Fiona, Simmone and I had autonomy over our individual characters, but we did a lot of group brainstorming. Fiona and Simmone have worked for TV, so I learned a lot from their plotting sessions. It took us eight years to write, but we had a lot of breaks in there. We always said that the friendship and individual writing projects came first. Editing was the hardest part for me. It’s hard enough editing when you’re the only one making changes. But when three people are making changes, at the same time, on a manuscript, it’s logistically difficult. 

We hear a lot about authors having to promote their books now. How do you approach this? Any tips to share?
I do what I love now – speaking to young people and running writing workshops. I don’t have tips as such, but I would say you have to protect your writing space. Take yourself away from the crowd (if you can) to write without distraction.

You also teach creative writing. What kinds of craft and skills do you think a writer can learn that will help them? What can’t be learned?

I do think writers can learn craft and skills. It’s good to study the work of good writers – study how they write dialogue, structure scenes, use language, write character. I loved studying structure. What can’t be learned? I can’t put it into words, but I read a book like Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Good Squad, and I know there’s an X factor that can’t be taught.

What are you reading at the moment? What are a few of your favourite books?
 I’ve just finished State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and loved it. Loved Hunger by Roxanne Gay. I’m in the middle of The Answers by Catherine Lacey, and loving it. My favourite YA of late is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. It’s a brilliant read. 

Thanks, Cath!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Interviewing - Bren MacDibble

9781760294335.jpgPeony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. All Peony really wants is to be a bee. Life on the farm is a scrabble, but there is enough to eat and a place to sleep, and there is love. Then Peony's mother arrives to take her away from everything she has ever known, and all Peony's grit and quick thinking might not be enough to keep her safe.


Where did the idea come from for How to Bee? Can you describe the writing process? What was the most important element for you?

Lots of ideas went into How to Bee. I’d been wanting to write a children’s book showing childhood poverty in a farming situation for a while, and when I saw images of people in the Sichuan hand-pollinating pear trees, I knew I’d stumbled on a perfect and worthy scenario. I could see that this is something we could also be doing in Australia in the future. We also truck bees to crops and if farmers can’t afford that, like the farmers in the Sichuan, then what option do farmers have in a country that doesn’t value its farmers or food security.

Also I didn’t want to show a disaster. I wanted to show life going on after a disaster. I don’t think it’s fair to terrify children with possible disasters when they can’t do anything about it at their age, but I wanted them to talk about bee loss, and for that reason it couldn't be overwhelming.

I think ultimately I really wanted to explore values. Peony has a good life and everything she needs even though she’s desperately poor. The rich people in the story are completely insulated from the disaster, but their daughter is miserable and terrified of the world. The reader gets to see the world through the eyes of a determined young character who clings to her simple values no matter what.

The voice dictated the mood of the character and it all flowed really nicely. It’s a very simple style. I edited it again and again to keep it on track basically, because it’s difficult to work a lot of hours elsewhere and try to fit writing in around the edges and keep the flow.

How did you get it accepted for publication? Describe the process for us.

I wanted to send How to Bee into the Ampersand Prize but it was too short at the time, so sent it off to Allen & Unwin's Friday Pitch. Their reader liked it, said they’d be reading for a while, and sometime around five months later they asked for me to write more in the middle, because it was too short. By then I’d had a great idea for the middle, wrote it over a couple of months, and they liked it so much they sent a contract at that point to lock it down. After that it went fairly smoothly. I added a couple of scenes, agreed with all the edits, fell in love with the cover art immediately, and now it’s a real thing. It was lucky it went so smoothly as I had signed a contract for In The Dark Spaces with Hardie Grant Egmont just before How to Bee, and In The Dark Spaces was full of rewrites, so to pull myself out of the Dark Spaces occasionally and see How to Bee actually coming together so quickly was rejuvenating for the soul.

In the Dark Spaces is also speculative fiction – tell us about how you wrote this one.

I was learning some new stuff about voice and pacing and textures of information and I had some ideas of my own I wanted to play with, and I was getting bogged down by 'the market wants this, the market wants that', you have to do it this way to be acceptable to this age group, so I wrote this just for myself. Just to play. Just to entertain me. If I didn’t have to show anyone, I could try anything. And I did. And it was wild and crazy and I rewrote it a few times to get it right for me and put it in the bottom drawer. But I loved it too much so got it out and sent it off to about eight agents and got rejected by them all. I only hauled it out again and sent it to the Ampersand Prize because How to Bee was too short.

I always think in the future the poor people are left behind. So I like to show what it’s like for the weakest of them. In this case, poor people are being exploited by space shipping companies, and are quickly caught in a poverty cycle that keeps them working on freighters going further and further from Earth with no hope of ever leaving.

It won the Ampersand Prize – what happened then?

So it won the Ampersand Prize after some discussion as to whether I already had a career or not (this was before How to Bee, when I only had short stories and educational fiction). I convinced Marisa Pintado that I didn’t want to limp along, I needed a break-out opportunity and she agreed. And so work began on overhauling it to give it hope and heart and to not terrorise Young Adults. I added a whole new character and new thread, and chopped a couple of other characters and threads out. Scene by scene Marisa Pintado and I picked through the wreckage, keeping the gems and remodelling the rest. Luna Soo came on board later and we went through it again, adjusting the ending, paring it back, making every scene and word worthy. It was a long process of more than 18 months work. During which time How to Bee passed In the Dark Spaces in production. (Ed note - In the Dark Spaces is published under Bren's pseudonymn, Cally Black).

You have been writing for quite a few years and have had a lot of chapter books and stories published, but these are your first novels. That takes a lot of perseverance! What has kept you going?

I like to write. I like creating stories. Something from nothing. I regularly stopped submitting and went off to learn something new. It’s never the writing that’s not fun, it’s being told that what you’ve created is mediocre. I turn inwards sometimes, and read. I read a whole lot of work I admire and think about why, what technique the author is using, and why it speaks to me. I try a few techniques. I try to combine all my favourite techniques. That takes time and space and that's why sometimes I just play at writing. You can’t call play persevering!
 
We hear a lot about authors having to promote their books now. How do you approach this? Any tips to share?

I have no idea. An author can only reach so many people via social media, and there’s no point banging on and on about how wonderful your own book is. I rely on book bloggers and reviewers to say nice things which I share on social media. As well as just being a decent person and championing other people’s successes. Have lots of writer friends. Be generous, get some karma back. Sometimes I repost items about bee loss, to keep the discussion going. It’s only through people knowing I have a book that has value in aiding understanding of the effects of bee loss in a simple and entertaining way, that they will see it as worth reading. I had little book cards and little silicone bracelets with bees on made to hand out to kids and they seem to like that. It’s something they can take away to remind them about the book, or show a friend. I look for cons to go to, and I visit book clubs. I’m not a great marketer, so I just hope it gains some momentum and readers tell other readers about it.
 
What are you reading at the moment? What are a few of your favourite books?

Still Life as a Tornado, by AS King. She’s such a great writer. Favourite Books? I read widely, really widely. I love science fiction ideas and worlds but sometimes the delivery of contemporary stories is easier and more immediate. I really like Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson, packed full of great ideas. Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan is amazing, the atmosphere, the world building, so beautiful. I love the patchwork plotting and great storytelling of Chuck Palahnuik in Invisible Monsters. I love Kaufman's and Kristoff’s Illuminae and Gemina, also patchwork plotting but told through reportage. The varying textures of the delivery of the story in Illuminae and Gemina keep me actively engaged in the plot, and keep the me refocussing on new information. So brilliant. And I really love the ideas and viewpoints in Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie. The idea that artificial intelligence cannot recognise sexual orientation, basically calling everyone female even though the reader guesses some aren’t, is just one more refreshing idea in that book. I love the language and mood of NoViolet Bulawayo’s book, We Need New Names. I love how the kids talk to each other in that book, and the matter of factness about the poverty of their lives, and how they cope. They remind me of kids I met in Malawi.

In the Dark Spaces -
a genre-smashing hostage drama about 14-year-old Tamara, who's faced with an impossible choice when she falls for her kidnappers.
Yet this is no ordinary kidnapping. Tamara has been living on a star freighter in deep space, and her kidnappers are terrifying Crowpeople – the only aliens humanity has ever encountered. No-one has ever survived a Crowpeople attack, until now – and Tamara must use everything she has just to stay alive. 
But survival always comes at a price, and there’s no handbook for this hostage crisis. As Tamara comes to know the Crowpeople's way of life, and the threats.

Thanks, Bren!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Deadline = motivation + discipline



I can’t say I love deadlines. There’s a famous quote about loving the sound of deadlines as they fly past! But if they do nothing else, deadlines draw a line in the sand, one that your conscious and unconscious brains recognize. By this date, or else. Or else you get fired. Or else you lose marks. Or else you never get work from that company again. Or else your editor has conniptions and starts talking to you in a very strained tone.

We all know what a deadline means. It’s how you approach a deadline, how you think about, or feel about it, that makes the difference. If you’re like me, you plan ahead, you get started early, you probably finish the work before the due date and that gives you time to revise one more time. Why am I like that? Not because I’m super-writer. Because I’ve never been able to pull an all-nighter to get something in. Never. I love my sleep too much, and I can’t function without it. Just the idea of having to stay up all night to complete something on time makes my brain feel fuzzy.

I’ve had to accept that some people thrive on this kind of work method (or think they do). They wait until the last minute and then throw themselves into the work, totally energized and working at the top of their game. Not. I actually don’t believe it. I believe that they can stay up all night, that they can work really hard and get some good stuff done. I guess what I don’t believe is that it’s their best work. If they’d started earlier and given themselves more time to rework and revise, surely then what they produced would have been even better?

Maybe that doesn’t count anymore. Maybe it’s ‘pretty good’ work that gets the job done is all people want. I don’t know … I love the euphoria of the first draft as much as anyone. But I also love the feeling of growing, building, developing, stretching, imagining more – all the things that happen when you have plenty of time.

So is a deadline only about motivation + discipline? Can it also be about allowing time to stretch? A good deadline gives you dreaming time when you use it well. It can help you establish a routine of a little every day, which keeps the project in your head where your brain can quietly keep working on it for you, even when you’re off doing something else. Yes, it’s not that I love a deadline as it swishes past me. It’s that I love a deadline as it waits patiently under those trees in the distance while I meander along, picking flowers, day dreaming, doing a little work at a nice pace, but edging ever closer to meeting it.

PS Last year I had four deadlines to write the Ellyse Perry series. I spent more time on Book 1 than the others because I was also setting up the series concepts, four plotlines and introducing all the stuff that has to be in the first book. But it was worth it. "Pocket Rocket" has just been named a CBCA Notable!