Tag Archives: Wednesday Writers

Wednesday Writers…is not here

Because I am currently working in Tasmania, and having such a great time I forgot to organise anything! To keep you going, here is my view from work:

996552_10151809435876264_1440635017_n

946625_10151809436951264_1012820322_n

Unfortunately, the iphone camera doesn’t do it real justice, but hopefully it shows why I think Tasmania is the most beautiful place in Australia (and that’s saying something!).

See you next week! :-)

 
0 Kudos
Don't
move!

Wednesday Writers: Lee Battersby

Lee Battersby has long had a reputation as one of Australia’s leading writers of short fiction – in fact, even I had heard of him when I first came on the scene! The acclaim for his novel, ‘The Corpse-Rat King’, and the buzz surrounding its sequel showed that he is equally adept at the long form. I had the privilege of beta reading CRK and, while I am not sure I was much help, it means that I felt a degree of proprietary interest in its success. For that reason, and because Lee is an all round good guy, I’ve been delighted to see how well it has been received.

Lee is someone who is incredibly supportive of both other writers and the arts scene in Australia (see this amazing exhibition he played a big role in making happen). He also possesses an emotional honesty that is all too rare, something he brings to this guest post. Here, he eschews the usual platitudes about writing being a constant delight and how being a writer is an easy choice to make. It’s something we all think, but are not always brave enough to say aloud. Thank you for doing so, Lee.

IF THIS IS PARADISE, WHY DO THE DRAINS STINK?

 My problem is, I write in bursts: very heavy investments of both emotions and ideas, followed by periods where I lie fallow, exhausted or just plain worked out, and open my receptors to the Universe around me in an effort to refill the idea banks. It’s a great way to create intense, correlation-heavy texts—there’s an amazing synchronicity when your subconscious throws up two unrelated things that suddenly, in a way that neither you nor anybody else has ever seen before, fit together just so—but it’s draining, both mentally and emotionally.

I have down periods; great big down periods, where I question why I even bother writing. It’s a valid question: I have a large family, a job that attracts a lot of pressure and forces me to spend a number of weekends and evenings at work, a monster of a mortgage… writing takes me away from living my daily life. Much of the time I can’t adequately juggle the need to pay attention to all of my responsibilities, so I end up falling between them all and disappointing everybody. I’m not very good at my job, I don’t see enough of my family, I’m constantly under financial pressure, and most days I feel like I’m not a particularly good writer. Certainly, I can’t manage the business side of being a writer as well as some of my peers, because I simply can’t devote the time necessary to learning to be an effective businessman. Like an overweight Southern has-been, I often just rely on the kindness of strangers.

TheMarchingDead-144dpi

None of this is good for the mindset. Writing is an essentially selfish act. It demands total focus, and all the advice you receive from established professionals reinforces the selfishness—“Write every day”; “Live in the world of your characters”; “inhabit the world of your novel/short story/poem/limerick every single day”. Close yourself off, turn yourself inward, ignore outside influences. Place the imaginary, egocentric world of your imagination above the real, empirical needs of those around you and make them understand that it is more important than them right now and don’t damn well interrupt!

To which my sick son and hungry dog and dripping kitchen sink cry bullshit. Because we live in the real world, and once you’re a husband, and father, and wage-earner, and home-owner—at least, if you’re trying to be a better one than your ancestors—the real world is bigger than you are, and more selfish, and frankly, more important than some figment of your imagination that might, in all likelihood, net you a couple of grand two years after you first start ignoring your family to write the damn thing.

Which begs the question: why do it?

Which would normally beg the answer: I don’t know. And to be honest, 75% of the time, I don’t know why I don’t know. It’s an instinct, like a homing pigeon or an elk that still crosses the same highway, year after year, to get to mating grounds long dried up by an industrial estate, no matter how many times it almost gets run over by 18-wheelers on the way. But every now and again— not often, and sometimes, not often enough—I sit back from my keyboard in the certain knowledge that what I’ve just written, what I can see blinking back at me from the screen, is not only a unique fusion of two thoughts but an amalgam of two concepts that have never, ever, been combined in that way before, and even if it were to happen again it would not be so sweet, so explosive, so goddamned perfect. And it doesn’t matter that I’m eating baked beans for the last three days of the pay cycle, or that the dog’s pulled another work shirt from the line and has chewed a hole through it, or that I’ll be in another meeting tomorrow where the boss who doesn’t believe in me and the subordinates who don’t respect me will take turns to outline all the ways I’m responsible for the world being shit.

Because for that moment, that one, tiny, incandescent moment, I am a creature of sublime thought and purpose.

And apart from my wife and children, there is not a single thing in this world I could not live without to have that one, tiny, moment.

Lee Battersby is the multiple-award winning author of ‘The Corpse-Rat King’ (Angry Robot Books, 2012) and its sequel, ‘Marching Dead’ (2013) as well as over 70 stories in various markets round the round world including Australia, the US and Europe. He blogs at the Battersblog (www.battersblog.blogspot.com) and has a sometimes-belatedly-updated website at www.leebattersby.com. He lives in Mandurah, Western Australia, with his wife Luscious Lyn, three moderately insane children, a dog he doesn’t like much, and the piles of detritus that come from life-long obsessions with Daleks, Lego, Nottingham Forest and the like.

rsz_battersby

 
0 Kudos
Don't
move!

Wednesday Writers: Tor Roxburgh

The Aussie Spec Fic scene is interconnected enough that even if you don’t know someone, you are friends with people who do. I have to be careful sometimes, there are people whom I have heard so much about from my friends that I feel like I know them and when I do meet them or interact with them online I have to restrain myself from being overenthusiastically effusive and treating them like we are bosom buddies (my apologies to people that has happened to!).

While I hadn’t met Tor Roxburgh in person, there was a pretty big overlap of friends,and I had definitely heard the name. In fact, the week before I did meet her, I had just had two separate lunches with people who had mentioned her, and praised her highly as a writer, and as a person. So, when we caught up at a book launch there could have been two problems – forgetting that she would have no idea who I was, and being disappointed if the reality didn’t match the reputation!

Fortunately, Tor not only proved extremely approachable, but was even nicer in person than I had been told! And, as I chatted to her, I could immediately see that here was someone extremely passionate not only about her writing, but about her artistic pursuits in general – to the point where she had moved in part because her local council was not supportive of the arts. I’m really pleased to have Tor here today, as she talks about a subject every writer can identify with.

Hiding From Your Writing

June hasn’t been a great writing month. It began with an allegedly work-related viewing and reading binge. I was on a couple of panels at Continuum 9 in Melbourne and wanted to be better prepared than I had been the year before.

I’m not one of those lucky people who can remember plot lines and characters so I decided to revisit some of the narratives that the other panellists and I had decided we’d focus on. I watched six movies and a season of Game of Thrones. I also read a couple of Tamora Pierce’s books and lots of scholarly articles on fantasy and mediaevalism and on female warriors in speculative fiction. And I made notes.

It all sounds really worthy but, honestly, it wasn’t called for. Continuum discussion panels are relatively informal and friendly affairs and they don’t demand the sort of preparation that calls for you to halt your writing.

I spent the post-Continuum week getting ready to open my new shop, which was necessary, but which also stopped me writing. I then spent a couple of days on writing-related activities that didn’t actually involve writing (meeting up with my writers’ group and then attending a social media master class). I realised something was up when I found myself reading four of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novels in a classic on-the-couch-wrapped-up-in-a-blanket-feeling-guilty binge.

Before I go any further, I’m going to show you a breakdown of my 2013 word count:

January – 4,547 words
February – 4,363 words
March – 22,497 words
April – 6,406 words
May – 3,915 words
June (with two working days left) – 2,477 words

The obvious stand-out months are March and June.

Productive March is easy to explain. I woke up one morning and decided I was getting lazy. I recalled my late twenties when I used to produce three teen romances a year and I compared that with my most recent fantasy novel, The Light Heart of Stone, which took about five years to write. I resolved to do better, pushed aside the other tasks in my life and wrote.

The slower the writing, the messier the desk.

The slower the writing, the messier the desk.

It felt good but there is a difference between writing a light and simple teen romance and writing a deeply plotted, YA, sci-fi/murder mystery in a fully resolved future world. There is more imaginative work involved in the latter so I wasn’t upset that I couldn’t keep up the pace.

But what about Unproductive June? Well, there was all of that busy, busy stuff that I’ve already told you about, but that wasn’t the real problem. The problem was I lost my vision for my novel and my vision of myself as a writer. Both states are familiar to most writers. Personally, I can manage one or the other but combined… Well, it was a challenge.

A writer friend of mine once told me that when you’re having trouble writing it can be a signal that there is a specific plot, character or a world-building problem. I realised my novel had all three. I forced myself to keep working on the novel while I tried to find the solution (because there’s nothing worse than stopping and having to restart) but mainly I just thought.

I lay in bed and wondered about the world I’d created. I imagined being one character or another and I thought about how I’d feel and what I’d do, what I’d believe in and what values I’d hold. I dwelt on the world itself and took little logical steps: if this, then that. I remembered what that same writer friend had once said to me: think about what’s happening off-stage, when your protagonist isn’t around. In a realistically drawn world there is a momentum beyond the actions of your protagonist and supporting characters.

It all helped, but my plot problem refused to resolve. In the end, my characters had to creep forward, word by word, into the problematic territory that stood between the written story and the envisioned end. Soon enough, things started to order themselves and the problem disappeared. Such an act of faith can be difficult for a hard-line atheist.

The good news is I discovered that losing your vision of yourself as a writer clears up when you find yourself back in the grip of your novel. Evidently, that sort of existential pain only hangs about when you’re disengaged from the sweet siren of narrative.

Tor Roxburgh is a writer and artist. Her non-fiction includes Taking Control, one of the first successful Australian titles about family violence, and The Book of Weeks, a tale of the complex story of the weeks of pregnancy. She was senior writer and researcher on the National Inquiry into Youth Homelessness. She is also the author of 12 teen romances.

Tor’s latest book, The Light Heart of Stone, is an epic fantasy novel that explores many contemporary themes. The Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Prue Bentley calls it “very Australian”.

You can find out more at www.torroxburgh.com

Tor_Roxburgh_with_book_cover

 
0 Kudos
Don't
move!

Wednesday Writers: Tom Dullemond Returns

As promised, here is the second piece from Tom Dullemond that I wanted to run. All the nice things I said about him here are still true, unless in the time since his last post he has descended into a pit of drug and booze filled depravity from which he hurls abuse at the rest of us. Unlikely, but rejection can do funny things to us all, and no one knows rejection like a writer. Fortunately, Tom has seen fit to share with us some tips for dealing with its ever present spectre – enjoy!

Living with Rejection

(A 10-step guide to coping with the everyday reality of rejection letters)

by

Tom Dullemond

Rejections come in many forms, and it is interesting to note that the grander the magazine or publisher, the nastier and more impersonal the rejection letter or email. To soften the incessant rain of misery that all writers must at one stage or another deal with on their journey to becoming professional writers, I have drawn upon my own vast experience in this field to provide a quick reference guide to dealing with rejection.

  1. Cultivate your own sense of self-worth

This is an important skill to help you survive the initial shock of receiving a reply email without an attachment, or a SASE without the additional bulge properly associated with an acceptance contract. As you rip open the letter and unfold the tiny slip of paper within, or double-click the ‘New Mail’ notification, you need to hang on to the simple truth that you are a damn good writer. Learn to grow your nails – every extra millimetre helps as you desperately cling to this idea.

  1. Bemoan your misfortune

Remember, it’s not your fault the story was rejected, it’s the magazine’s. Some sub-editor clearly flicked through your story or article in a bad mood. The mantra, If only the idiot had handed it to the editor, everything would be fine now, may be useful at this time.

This acceptance of your misfortune will help you reconcile the rejection note with the fact that you were simply hard done by. You’re just going to attach your submission to another email and send it to another magazine. After all, it’s perfect. You’ll send it right after you read through it again to see why they might have rejected it.

  1. Maintain a professional attitude

Your cover letter should include something to remind the editor that you’re impatient with the rejections you’ve received in the past. Perhaps include something passive-aggressive like ‘I have been collecting rejection slips professionally for about a year now.’

  1. Learn to detach yourself from the natural flow of time

Three months may be a long time in politics, but for a writer, three months is nothing: it’s a perfectly acceptable period of time to wait for a magazine or publisher to get around to looking at your work. It’s possible to wait four months for a magazine to tell you that they like your story, but want you to clear up the ending a little and resubmit it, only to receive a final rejection 2 months later because it is in first person.

Time is completely irrelevant in this industry. Do not fall into the common misconception that, just because it is taking a long time to get a response, the recipient of your submission is considering it for publication. As the days tick over past the ‘expected response time’ and your palms grow sweaty with anticipation, as images of words in ink on paper begin to haunt your dreams, just remember that the delay is most likely due to an accident in the editor’s office, and that your submission may just be filed in the ‘personal’ or ‘insurance claims’ folder on the editor’s computer, because you didn’t follow the submission guidelines.

Detach yourself from the natural flow of time by ensuring you have a handful of stories out to magazines at any one time (preferably different stories). This means that even if you haven’t done anything for a week, someone, somewhere, is being forced to look at your writing.

An unfortunate side-effect of properly mastering this step is that your life will seem a lot shorter, but then no one said writing was easy.

  1. Discover the joys of indignation

So you’ve finally received a personalised rejection letter? Apart from this positive indication that a human being actually laid eyes on your words, you should be prepared to vent your frustrations at the incompetence of the editor who rejected your submission. ‘Not enough dialog’ a cheery checkbox might exclaim, or ‘flat characters’, or even ‘tired plot’.

What the editor has missed, of course, is that you were highlighting the protagonist’s alienation from society through his lack of vocalisation; that the blandness of the main characters is entirely due to their empty childhoods (it’s in the second paragraph, how could they have missed it?); and that the predictable nature of the plot is an ironic commentary on the trivialisation of modern relationships. Duh.

  1. Abandon your friends and family

You friends and family are great. Really, they are. Wonderful, supportive people. Their availability to read your material is a bonus, especially since no magazine seems to be accepting your stories. Your family will tell you how good/bad/exciting/interesting/confused your stories are. When they tell you how good they are, you feel great. When they diverge from your perception of the story, however, you revert to indignation (see step 5) although usually it is wisest to internalise these emotions so as not to jeopardise your inheritance/marriage/friendship.

This repression of emotion is unhealthy, however. It is far more beneficial simply to end the editorial relationship you’ve cultivated with your acquaintances. Do it now! It is easier to accept rejections from faceless (and ignorant) editors.

  1. Remember that you are only being rejected because you’re not famous

It’s a well-known fact that as a writer gains fame, their writing becomes lousy. This is obvious every time you pick up an edition of the magazine you’ve been trying to submit to and you see a famous name on the by-line of a story. After you’ve read the story, sneering all the way, you throw the magazine aside in disgust, because the famous writer’s story was crap. Your last seven have been much better, and not a single one of them was accepted.

Obviously this famous writer’s name is what’s selling her stories, not her inherent ability to write. If only you were famous you’d be published too. Although this logic is so circular you could use it as a spare tyre for your car, you must never forget to ignore the inherent problems of your assertions if you wish to combat the gloom of rejection.

  1. Destroy your rejection letters

Although some rejection letters are helpful, by virtue of positive comments on your writing, the majority of them are either critiques or form letters and these are of no relevance to your work of art. The only solution is to destroy them the moment you have finished reading them. Simple filing them in the trash or archive of your email is insufficient. You will need to print them out in order to tear them up.

Remember: if you destroy a rejection letter, then it never existed and you were never rejected.

NB: Do not forget to delete the email afterwards to avoid recurring trauma.

  1. Your writing is for the elite

It is completely understandable that popular magazines, the ones you want to be published in so badly, are produced for the masses. Your intellectually challenging short story (really a subtle examination of religion’s relevance to today’s society) is all too easily misread, leading to rejection. What you wouldn’t give for an intelligent editor, one who reads your piece with the concentration and devotion which it requires!

If the masses were more intelligent, you would be published by now.

  1. Ensure you always complete every project to which you commit

Tom Dullemond stumbled out of university with a double degree in Medieval/Renaissance studies and Software Engineering. One of these degrees got him a job and he has been writing and working in IT ever since. Tom was a co-editor of The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy and has sold short fiction to a handful of anthologies, including Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper. He writes a regular flash fiction column for The Helix science magazine, and is working on Literarium (www.literarium.net), an online service to help with the project management side of writing. His first middle-grade book, ‘The Machine Who Was Also a Boy’, has just been published through e-Mergent Publications (http://emergent-publishing.com/bookstore/the-machine-who-was-also-a-boy/ ).

Bio-TD

 
0 Kudos
Don't
move!

Wednesday Writers: Maurice Broaddus

I first came across Maurice Broaddus when I was researching an intriguing market called “Dark Faith”. The idea of an anthology that examined the intersection between horror and faith was one that appealed to me greatly, and I had to know more. While I didn’t manage to get a story up to the standard I felt was necessary in time to submit, I’m glad that I stumbled across Maurice’s blog. By doing so I found someone who not only shares my faith, but lives it in a way that I admire deeply. You can see how Maurice’s faith informs his life in his passionate and outspoken advocacy for social justice. It’s an example of what I aspire to myself.

Maurice is a talented writer and editor, and is even cool enough to have his own Con! You’d think those things might lead to an overinflated ego and a sense of being better than others, but nothing could be further from the truth. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Chicon last year, and found him to be great company and extremely friendly and welcoming to a nervous new writer on his first overseas trip. And, when I imposed on our acquaintance and asked him for a guest post, half expecting such a busy guy to say no, he was gracious enough to send me this great piece – something I think we can all identify with.

Writing Through Tough Times

A friend of mine sent me this note:

“Please teach me how to go on producing writing when things around you are in total disarray.  It seems like no matter what the world throws at you, you can carry on with very little interruption.  At the moment, I’m so stressed out by all the crap life has thrown at me lately that I can’t seem to think straight.  Please advise.  This is a serious question, so don’t give me some flip-ass answer. :-)

image003

Let me say that I’m shocked and offended that someone who knows me would assume I would give up a flip answer to something.*  So since my first response was “I still got bills to pay no matter what kind of drama I’ve got going on,” I’m left with a two part answer.  The first thing is to consider Michael Jackson.  His life was crazy and dramatic pretty much from the word go. Chaotic, dysfunctional family.  Surrounded by temperamental artists.  In a cut throat business.  Trying to navigate childhood.  Nothing we as writers could relate to.  But over the years, he answered the question of producing the same way: the only place he felt at peace and in control was on stage.

Writing is my stage.

The second thing to consider is that with writing the doctor is in and cheap.  No matter the clutter building up in my head and heart, art is a way to process emotion.  Whenever I sit down in front of a page, I am feeling SOMETHING.  That’s the place I write from.  Even if I’m not aware of WHAT I’m feeling, I just know that there is something for me to mine.  When I’m not feeling something, my writing is and reads like an intellectual exercise. So I sit down at the page and begin writing.  It doesn’t matter if I’m not specifically writing about what’s going on.  For example, I might not have written a story about someone being unemployed, but I can guarantee you that I wrote a character who struggled with the image issues (not being a man) or the loathing (from not being able to provide for his family) that comes from unemployment.

Writing is my therapy.

Writing allows you to put some distance between you, what’s going on, and what you are feeling.  You’re able to examine it from a variety of perspectives (not just what the main character is going through but how it impacts those around her/him).  You can talk things through using your character, dig deep within and plumb their heart and hidden feelings and truths.  Apparently this is so true for me that my counselor often began our sessions by asking “what are you working on?”  As you can probably imagine, I am pure joy when someone’s trying to get me to open up, however, I’m always happy to talk about my work.

This is part of how I inhabit the emotional space of my characters.  It’s no different than an actor preparing for a role.  You are standing there needing to cry.  So you draw upon a painful moment in your life and emote it.  It you want your characters to convey a certain feeling, you have to open yourself up to that feeling.  it’s why such great art comes from pain.  Pain is universal.

Writing is my medication.

So if I were you, I’d begin with character who is stressed.  Period.  Just see where the story goes. What are they stressed about?  How is the stress playing out, internally and externally?  How do the relationships change around them because of the stress?  What are they going to do to handle the stress?  Are they going to self-medicate?  Are they going to take a drastic action in order to regain some semblance of control in their lives?  There’s a story in your circumstance.  By writing that story, focusing on that character, I am distracting myself from the pain of life without just numbing myself and checking out.  I’m engaging it, wrestling with it, and not simply letting it have its way with me.

image005 Life happens.  We don’t always see it coming.  It can sneak up on us, break into the secure house of our lives, break our stuff, and make a mess of our routines, leaving us completely unsettled.  Unemployment.  Death.  Sickness.  Homelessness.  Loss.  People.  Each day brings a new challenge and new opportunities to grow.  Writing can be a valuable tool to help navigate those experiences and bring meaning and order to the chaos.  For me, everything gets used.  Every hurt, everything that makes me angry, every tear, every laugh, nothing gets wasted (I may be extreme because I’ve been in some pretty dire circumstances but could only think “this is going to make a cool story.”  The first step is to sit down with the blank page, put a pen to it, and see what comes out.

*Though you should probably also keep in mind that some of us function better in chaos and believe, consciously or unconsciously, that we thrive on it to gin up our creativity.

Maurice Broaddus is an exotic dancer, trained in several forms of martial arts–often referred to as “the ghetto ninja”–and was voted the Indianapolis Dalai Lama. He’s an award winning haberdasher and coined the word “acerbic”. He graduated college at age 14 and high school at age 16. Not only is he credited with inventing the question mark, he unsuccessfully tried to launch a new number between seven and eight.

When not editing or writing, he is a champion curler and often impersonates Jack Bauer, but only in a French accent. He raises free range jackalopes with his wife and two sons … when they are not solving murder mysteries.

The way he sees is, as a fiction writer, he’s a professional liar.

Coming closer to the truth, he was originally born in London, England, but has lived in America most of his life. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Purdue University in Biology (with an undeclared major in English) and comes from a family that includes several practicing obeah (think: Jamaican voodoo) people.

Whiling away his days as a freelance writer (including as a senior writer for HollywoodJesus.com) and ministry worker – he is about the pursuit of truth, be it by art, science, or by religion. He believes that lives should be lived missionally, that people should be about loving and serving one another, a lesson learned in his most important job: that of husband and dad.

Speaking of which, he’s married to the lovely Sally Jo and spends as much time possible with his two sons, Maurice the Second (giving him an excuse to retroactively declare himself “Maurice the Great”) and Malcolm X (named before realizing his son would be blond and blue eyed).

You can find his blog here.

IMG_7488

 
0 Kudos
Don't
move!

Wednesday Writers: Laura E. Goodin

Hot on the heels of last week, I get to introduce another of my favourite people, Laura Goodin! I had met Laura online just before Swancon 2011, when we both came up with the same answer in a competition to win one of Richard Harland’s books. Laura graciously allowed me to have the book, giving me an early introduction to her generous spirit. This was only reinforced when she made a point of welcoming me to my first con and showing me around, and introducing me to a number of people, a kindness I have never forgotten.

I soon discovered that Laura’s spiritual gifts were matched by her artistic ones. Not only has she written a number of wonderful stories, but she has also written poetry and plays and libretti and the list goes on…makes you sick, doesn’t it? Well it would, but for one thing – Laura is as humble as she is talented. Not humble in the sense that it so often used these days to mean someone of little importance, but humble in feeling no need to exalt herself or her achievements (as numerous as they are!), rather desiring to celebrate the achievements and milestones of those around her.

That’s why I was so happy to hear that she had won this year’s Kris Hembury Encouragement Award at the Aurealis Awards. Reading the description:

“The award was created in 2009 by Fantastic Queensland to honour one of their founders, Kris Hembury, who sadly died that year. Kris was an unceasingly positive and encouraging influence on emerging writers and artists of speculative fiction. Each year since, as part of Aurealis, an emerging writer and/or artist is chosen. The person chosen is seen to embody the spirit of creativity, leadership, self-motivation and fellowship that Kris had in spades.”

I can’t think of a more deserving winner, or anyone more qualified to write a guest post about community and building others up. Enjoy!

Community (Not the Epic TV Series, Although You Should Totally Check That Out*)

Writers work alone. In garrets. With caffeine as their only companion, and maybe a cat. We all know this.

Thing is, it’s completely untrue, and not just because we all waste time on Facebook (admit it). In fact, I don’t think it’s ever been true, even before the Internet. Fundamentally, writers need readers. Until very recently, writers have also needed publishers, and by extension, editors, printers, truck drivers, booksellers, advertising and marketing people, paper millers, lumberjacks, oil refiners — and on and on. But even as we reduce our dependence on paper books and traditional publishing, it becomes more crucial, not less, that we pay attention to the people around us. And the good news is that the more we focus on building communities that are joyful, courteous, cooperative, and dedicated to a common purpose, the more fun writing gets.

The most common form of writing community is the writer’s group, either in person or online. Many writers find these communities highly useful in helping them hone their own writing, but the benefits really come when writers learn to critique. (One of the basic principles of Clarion-style workshops is that you learn at least as much about how to write well by relentlessly critiquing story after story as by getting your own story relentlessly critiqued — and most find they learn much more.) When you focus on helping the other people in the community be the best they can be, that’s when you really start to grow.

Conventions and festivals are another type of community in and of themselves. They are a wonderful bubble of time and space when you’re at Hogwarts, you’re in Starfleet, you’re at Harper Hall, you’re focused solely and intensely on writing. Everyone there is a comrade, an actual or potential friend, an ally in the fight. Cons become a thousand times more fun when you move up from just going to panels and wishing you were famous to actually talking to the writers whose work you love, and then to volunteering. Even if you’re not yet ready to participate on a panel, there is always something that needs doing, some newbie who needs welcoming, some awesome genre-fiction icon who could really use a cup of coffee and a place to sit quietly. If you’re committed to making the con the best it can be for your writing buddies and heroes, it will alchemically become the best it can be for you.

Artistic collaboration is yet another type of community. It can be as small as you and one other person writing a piece of flash fiction together, or it can be you and a dozen other people producing a play, concert, podcast, anthology, art exhibition, graphic novel, or film. One of the very best things about being an artist (which writers are, of course) is that you get to hang out with people who have superpowers. Revel in that! Take time and take the opportunity to stare, open-mouthed and grinning, as your friends do amazing things. Help them to do them better. And above all, make sure the work, not your little piece of the work, is the most important thing, and that alchemy will happen here, too.

You see the trend, of course. The secret to good communities that feed your soul and improve your art is focusing on the other people. I’ve read a lot of blog posts that urge you to advocate for your own work, promote yourself, develop a platform, yadda yadda. I guess that’s important to a point, but frankly, the people who are the most focused on that are usually the least fun to work with. And this is kind of self-defeating if you’re looking for readers, publishers, collaborators — all those communities that are always so crucial to what we do. Instead, I’m urging you to consider a different model: trust.

Stop worrying about whether your contribution will get lost. Stop evaluating every acquaintance for how much they might be able to help your career. Stop whining about other people winning too many awards. Stop choosing which panels you’ll attend or participate on based on whose attention you want to catch. Just…stop.

Instead, start looking for ways to give, and accept that you may never see any payback, or even any thanks. Accept that when the work, when other people’s success, is more important than their gratitude to you, your career will move ahead as if by magic, because the work will simply be better that way. Trust that people will see and value your work without your having to smack them about the face with it. If you put your work out there with a clear intent to make something or someone who isn’t you the best they can be, trust that you will progress, you will improve, and you will accomplish.

Remember what it was like to admire and enjoy people’s talents for their own sake, not for what those people might do for you. Remember it and reclaim it. Just about everyone — and the stars of the con scene are definitely in this group — can spot a crawler or a climber a mile away. Ever wonder why they’d rather talk to some gobsmacked newbie who’s working on their first piece of fanfic than you? Might it be because the newbie wanted to tell them how much joy she got out of their last novel, whereas you were waiting, tense and eager, to say something clever that would reveal how special you were, in the hopes that they would rest their gaze upon you and say solemnly, “Yer a wizard, Harry — send my agent your latest manuscript and tell them I sent you”?

Take on new projects because you want them to happen, not because they’ll advance your career. Be content to let go of some of your pet ideas about how a project should be, especially if someone you respect artistically thinks another way will be great. Trust that there are many, many ways a given project can be good, and let some of these other ways happen, with cheerfulness and good grace and genuine faith in your collaborators.

Have adventures doing something you’ve never done before. Write a play. Perform your writing as performance (not just as a reading) in front of an audience who paid to be there. Take a dance class, and then write a story that can form the basis for some wicked-cool choreography. Illustrate your next piece with photos of the character figurines that you’ve crocheted out of old shopping bags. Trust that these adventures can lead to glorious things, new skills, new collaborators, new people who love your work and who love working with you.

Trust.

Enjoy.

Love.

That’s what communities are for: not to give you a platform, but to give you the honor and joy of boosting other people up. And that will have magical results for you. I promise.

* Here’s their official web site

Laura E. Goodin’s stories have appeared in numerous publications (both print and on-line), including Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, The Lifted Brow, Adbusters, Wet Ink, and Daily Science Fiction, and in several anthologies.  Her plays and libretti have been performed in Australia and the UK, and her poetry has been performed on three continents.  She attended the 2007 Clarion South workshop, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Western Australia.  She lives on the South Coast of New South Wales with her composer husband and actor daughter, and she spends what little spare time she has trying to be as much like Xena, Warrior Princess, as possible.

goodin_headshot3_medium

 
0 Kudos
Don't
move!

Wednesday Writers: Amanda Rainey

I could do a whole post listing nice things about Amanda, as she is one of my favourite people in the Aussie spec fic scene. But for her sake, and yours, I will refrain and keep it short! Amanda is one of the smartest people I know, and one of the kindest and most genuine. It is fair to say that many of the good things that have happened to me since I came on the scene owe a lot to the fact that she took the time to make me so welcome when I went to my first con.

But, more relevantly to this series of guest posts, Amanda is also one of our foremost cover designers. Her work is instantly recognisable, and you’ve probably seen a great many of her covers, whether you realise it or not. Her work on the Twelve Planets is a classic example of her ability to create totally unique covers perfectly suited to the book inside, while maintaining a consistent style across the range that makes it obvious that they are part of a collection.Outside of the Twelve Planets she has produced some beautiful stand alone work, and I was thrilled to appear in an anthology that featured one of her designs,

If producing a cover that seizes your eye, and makes you want to pick up the book in front of you even before you know what it is about, is a measure of success in cover design then Amanda is right at the top of the game. So, I am delighted to have her here today as I can’t think of anyone more qualified to talk about the subject.

As a cover designer for small publishers, I have the privilege of working directly with editors and authors in designing the covers of their books, rather than through a series of middlemen. The process is always different with each author, and some experiences are more productive than others – not dissimilar to the editor/author relationship, I imagine.

images

I try to emphasise early to the writers I work with is that they know their book better than me – print deadlines being what they are, in many cases I don’t necessarily get time to even read the book thoroughly before starting work on the design. The main thing I want from my clients is a sense of the feel and atmosphere of a book – I think that’s often as important as talking about what’s actually in the book. For a lot of readers, the cover is the first (and perhaps only) bit of marketing material they will see for it – I try to make covers that do something to tell a reader why they should pick up a book for a closer look.

The cover isn’t an illustration of the story that people will read alongside it. Leave room for the possibility that an illustration that makes sense after you’ve read it may give an entirely different impression to a potential reader. You have only seconds to tell the reader what kind of book it is. Sometimes accuracy is over-rated – more important is giving a potential reader some sense of why they might like the book.

crackle

Big publishers have access to the best information about the market, and this can help them design covers that will appeal to all the right demographics and sell lots of books. It’s not a perfect science, but it gives your book a pretty good chance. Most small presses don’t have a market research budget so we have to rely on other information to base our decisions.

Small press at its best isn’t just a cheaper copy of what the mainstream publishers are doing, and the small press publishers I work with try pretty hard to play up their differences. I think it’s worth writers publishing in small press (or those self-publishers commissioning design work for something they’re releasing) be aware of that, and try to play to it too.

thief

In many cases basing a style on what the bigger presses are doing can be a smart strategy – but you need to be skilled at interpreting how and why the style works, in order to figure out which bits speak to the reader, and to what extent they’re helping define reader expectations within genre. But if you can’t do that, then chances are you’ll end up with something so generic, you might as well buy one of those $20 ready-made covers from the net.

You may want to start by showing your designer some recent covers that you think will appeal to a similar target audience. Explain what you like about each one and why, but accept that at the end of the process your ideas won’t look the same. They may be the wrong fit for your book, perhaps they’re more clichéd that you realise, perhaps they appeal to the wrong people, or have the wrong tone. If they’re any good, your designer has probably spent more time analysing design trends than you have, because that’s their job and their passion. Leave room for the possibility that the cover you envisioned isn’t the best option for your book.

badpower

At the other extreme from those who want to copy something successful are the authors that want a cover that will blow people’s minds, because it’s soooo original! It’s true, the benefit of small and self-published press is that we can experiment a little more – there’s no point trying to look like the big sellers, because we will always lose. With faster turnaround and a smaller niche audience, small press can take risks that the bigger publishers can’t or won’t. But the best cultural works interact with and build on what went before and what’s happening now. Small press may be pushing the boundaries, but you want to make sure you’re still part of the conversation.

Lastly, and most importantly: a cover isn’t a work of art, it’s a guide to what’s inside. Your cover isn’t necessarily there to impress people, it’s there to spark their curiosity about what’s inside enough to get the chance to impress them with your book.

Kaaron-SpinteredWalls-01

The trick to getting the most out of a designer is to understand the purpose of a cover, and focus on that. If you feel like the cover is wrong, you’re probably right, so say so. Don’t be scared to voice your opinions. The best results come from a great conversation about why something is or isn’t working. At the same time, accept that your proposed solution to the problem may be wrong, so be willing to let go of your ideas. Trust me, the designer has already rejected hundreds of her own ideas too.

Amanda is a graphic designer and PhD student. She designs for Twelfth Planet Press and FableCroft, and then gets to read the books for free. You can watch her avoid doing all of those things at twitter.com/vodkandlime

Amanda-Pic

 
0 Kudos
Don't
move!