Writing on writing

Writer Reboot (again)

I open up WordPress and see it is 180+ days since my last post. Oh, the bitter tears I could weep over  my dewy-eyed optimism I had back in May that I would be able to sustain a writing routine, yet here I am again, starting over once more.

I’m not gonna lie, 2015 has been a tough year, for my writing and in general. Re-writing is HARD and all you can do is figure it out as you go. I spent two months mapping out a new structure scene-by-scene on the dining room table then got about 5 chapters in and realised it wasn’t working. I’ve sent the manuscript off to publishers having open submissions and to a competition and had no response. I’ve had some encouraging news too, but it’s hard to fight the self-doubt. I tell myself rejection is part of the game and that I’m conditioning myself for it, but that doesn’t mean the knocks don’t hurt.

Right now, I feel like I’ve got my mojo back. I’m telling you in an effort to embarrass myself into sticking with it, but I am back to writing regularly again. And I intend to make the blog part of that (again).

My new energy is thanks in large part to GenreCon, a brilliant convention for genre writers I attended at the end of October. I had started writing again while on a long overdue break from work in September, but it was patchy and slow. I came home from the first day of GenreCon and wrote for two hours. I’ve written almost every day since. I’ve figured out another approach to the structural issues in my novel and have worked through 14 chapters, including writing 3 new ones. As I have found before, doing the work creates magic.

I was anxious going to the State Library for the first session. Here was a group of people I want to be part of: what if they reject me? Worse, what if I realised I don’t belong?

(I’m comforted by science that says that people who disasterise-think the worst- are often successful. I always think the worst. That’s a fun part of writing, thinking of the worst thing that could happen and doing it to a character.)

I wore red lippy in self-defense.

Turns out people who kill people off in books for a living are LOVELY. So are fantasy writers, romance writers, and all the rest. To a person, delegates and speakers alike were warm, welcoming and generous. Credit must go to Peter Ball from the Australian Writers Marketplace, who organises the event, because his deft programming no doubt contributes to the tone. I learned so much in the three days that my eyes ached by the end of the third day, my brain was so full. But at the time it was fun, and easy. Writers are, of course, great storytellers, so they give great panel.

And nobody thought I didn’t belong. Better, the more I listened, the more I felt that I do belong, that I am a writer.

There’s a strange, energising calm in the flow of writing that can be as seductive as a drug. But at the same time, it’s a lonely past-time. Sometimes being in your own head for long periods of time is a really bad idea. Being around other writers was a great tonic.

I have to confess I haven’t been proactive about seeking out Australian authors to read, and an added bonus of Genrecon is the discovery of a bunch of new authors whose books I can devour. I bought Angela Savage’s first novel Behind the Night Bazaar on day 2 after her keynote address. I loved everything about it: the female protagonist (Jayne Keeney) who is refreshingly “normal” (no superhero powers), the exotic Thai locale, the cultural insights, the political subplot. And I loved Ange too (see, we’re mates now I’ve read her book), who wore a red flower in her hair and sparked with intelligence. Knowing it took her 11 drafts to produce such rich prose comforts me. My struggle with draft 2.5 is just part of the process, especially for a beginner.

Sulari Gentill‘s process gave me no such succour. She writes a book in 3 months, sitting in bed in her pyjamas. Although I don’t think that will ever be me, she and Kim Wilkins (who is also terrifically prolific) reminded me of two things: firstly, that if you do some every day, the mountainous task of a novel shrinks to manageable size. 90,000 words can be knocked off 1000 words a day for 3 months. Secondly, they reminded me that writing is something I enjoy and can have fun with. One of my editing sessions was done in bed with scented candles burning and a glass of wine by my side. Why the hell not? At least one person will be getting the first Rowland Sinclair novel for Christmas this year, and I’m trying to decide which Kim Wilkins book to start with.

Then there was Marianne De Pierres who, amongst other things, writes feminist cyber punk. I have not even heard of this genre before (sheltered) but it sounds awesome.  There were others too. Some of the romance writers were so brilliant (Kylie Scott, for example, is hilarious) that I’m even tempted to revisit that genre, although I haven’t really read any since I was a teen (when I would read romance novels under the desk in maths class and thrice attempted to write a Mills & Boon but never finished).

The big takeaway from Genrecon was something I already know, but had forgotten: that it’s the doing that gets it done. (“You know what books get published?” asked Kylie Scott “Books that are finished.”) I needed to stop agonising about it so much and get on with it. And have fun with it. What’s the worst that can happen? Not “getting it wrong”, that’s for sure. I get unlimited do-overs.

The worst that could happen is that I stop trying. I almost did for a while there. Since Genrecon Mary Robinette Kowal, one of the most vivacious speakers (she is also a puppeteer and voice artist who, fabulously, has played Oskar the Grouch), has blogged about writer’s block sometimes being depression. I recognise that has been a factor for me. At the same time, now I am back in the groove, I’m remembering how good writing regularly is for my mental wellbeing.

Thanks to social media I can ‘stay in touch’ with the amazing community of writers I discovered at Genrecon and continue to be inspired by, and learn from, them. It’s two years until the next one, but I’ll be looking out for other events to attend to get another shot  of motivation.

That’s my tip for other aspiring or struggling writers: get out and be amongst your people.

If you are thinking of buying books as present this Christmas, check out the Genrecon guest list to discover some amazing  writers you may not have heard of yet. And try to buy from a small  retailer,  or direct from the publisher if you want to help the local industry.

Until  next time (soon, is the plan!)

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6 thoughts on “Writer Reboot (again)

  1. Never flagellate yourself for having to do what’s necessary to deal with life. You did your best at the time and the past is past. So look forward and enjoy your new resolve. And enjoy writing. (The end result is satisfying but the process itself can be invested with all kinds of positives.) So revel in the moment when you’re doing it. And when you’re not!

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