Writer in Motion- Final reflections

Over the last month, I’ve been taking part in the #WriterInMotion initiative. I wrote a short story, and I shared the revision process. There was my first draft, my self-edited draft , my critique partner draft, and my final draft, which was edited by a professional.

To end off this project, we’ve been asked by our fearless leaders KJ Harrowick and Jeni Chappelle to write a reflection post over the experience. So here it is, the things I have learnt or gained from doing the Writer In Motion project.

The importance of ‘demystifying the editing process

This project grew out of a discussion of how different a first draft is from a polished, edited one, and wouldn’t it be good if more writers showed their process. That was something that really excited me. I spent far too many years putting manuscripts away for months on end, because they weren’t good enough. I compared my work to the words found in publish books and of course I came up wanting. I’d no idea the work which was involved in between draft 1 and the book on the shelf. And though in time I came to understand how much of writing is polishing and re-writing, I now have a deeper understanding of that reality, thanks to this unique opportunity to stop and reflect at every step. I really believe in Writer In Motion. If the writing process is demystified, then hopefully less writers will grow discouraged and quit.

That I can write short stories

I love writing Short Stories. Every month I enter the Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction competition. I love crafting fun reveals, or creating worlds that are contained in a tiny story. But after entering 18 stories and only being short-listed for one, it was easy to grow discouraged. Almost without realising it, I’d begun to assume short stories weren’t my thing. One unexpected bonus of this process is getting positive feedback on my story. It’s made me realise it’s worth the effort of continuing to improve, and maybe taking my own short story writing a little more seriously.

That I should never skip the ‘critiquing’ stage

You often hear about writers who send in their manuscripts to agents or editors without anyone else having a look. I have had the helpful (and sometimes painful) oportunity to have my novel critiqued, and I know how crucial it can be. They pick up mistakes that should be obvious, but that I am blind too because I made them. And with my particular style of weird fantasy and Sci-Fi, it is so important to make sure that everything makes sense to a reader.

So why is it I don’t do the same with my short-stories? I previously haven’t shared my short stories with others before sending them into Furious Fiction. Sometimes that has been because I am working to a tight deadline, but often it is just because I am too scared. It’s strange how I am more embarrassed to show my story to my writing friends than I am putting a shonky draft into a competition.

No longer. Writer in Motion has reminded me how important it is for other people to look over my work. And this month of Furious Fiction, I made sure I finished in time, so my friends could do a quick read through before I sent it in. And it was better story for it.

That Editors are worth their weight in gold!

I’ve known in theory the difference an editor can make to your work. I’ve even had a little taste of it, having Cathie Tasker of the Australian Writers Centre give feedback on my novel in their Write Your Novel Course. But having Maria Tureaud work through my story showed me the value of a professional editor. After my CP feedback I was pretty pleased with my story. But Maria had the ability to look under the skin of my story and see what was going on underneath. It was so useful. I hope I will get a chance to work with an editor in the future.

Friends

When Writer in Motion started, Jeni set up a Twitter chat so we could all communicate about our stories. But of course we ended up talking about much more than that. We shared pictures of our kids and pets. We shared our struggles and worries. And we learnt from each other. I got to quiz more experienced writing people on how to fix my wonky novel ending and how to go about querying agents. They are an amazing, talented group of writers (go here and read their stories and gush along with me). But they’re also lovely, generous people. I learnt so much from this experience. But the biggest thing I got out of it was a new group of wonderful writing friends.

So what’s next?

So what is next for the Writer In Motion crew? There are lots of whispers going on about what we might do with our stories or this project. Many of the critiquing groups are continuing to help each other with other writing. Several people are now saving up for professional edits on their novels, having seen what an impact an editor can have.

And as for me? Even my editor thought there was room for more of Hannah’s story. So while I am on tight deadlines with other things, I do think there might be room in my plans in the next little while for a novella about poor Hannah and her gloves.

But my more immediate challenge? What will I blog about next?

Any suggestions?

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Writer in Motion- Professional Edit

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This last month I have taken part in an event called Writer in Motion, where a group of writers show the steps of writing a short story from first draft to finished product.  You can read about it in my first post.

Today is the day. This week after having feedback from a professional editor, my story is complete. Or at least I hope it is.

I find it difficult to judge.  It might benefit from more read-throughs, or a second go with an editor.  But you can tinker with things forever. And I am so excited how far this story has come.  I loved this story, and my poor Hannah from the first draft of my story, rough though it was.  But it has been so exciting to see it improve, step by step, week by week.  I’m thrilled with how it has turned out.  I will discuss the editorial stage at the end of the story, but without further ado, here is the final draft of my story: Gloves.

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Gloves

by Belinda Grant

Another box of fifty gloves arrive.

I walk to Doveton and pick them up under the Post-worker’s suspicious gaze.

“What do you do with all these gloves?” It’s the same question he asks every week.

What am I supposed to say? I give a bland smile and flee, holding the box to my chest. As if I could hide behind such a flimsy thing.

I should’ve avoided town after last night. The stares are worse today than normal, and that’s saying something. No pretext of politeness, people stop mid-sentence as I cross Main street. I know what they’re saying. About the MacIntosh’s boat going from new to decayed in twenty-four hours, and how weird things didn’t used to happen in their precious town. I feel their eyes on my Lizzie Bennett dress, my curly-hair piled up high. Mum’s idea to make the gloves appear part of an eccentric fashion statement, and not a precaution against disaster.

The sun beats down as I lift my skirt to run between the shade pooled at the base of the ghost-gums. Doveton is beautiful if I only look with my eyes.  Dad says there is no point in moving on, that everywhere will be hard at first. Make more of an effort, Hannah. He doesn’t feel the stares. I want to move to the hippy hills, where people think crystals help a cold and a taro-deck warns of your impending death. Where strange is a draw-card.

I arrive home and go straight to the glove room. I drop my new box on top of last weeks haul, identical but for the FOUR HOURS scrawled on the side.  That’s about how long they last. The scent of rosemary lamb and bubbling gravy wafts through the door. It’s time to face the most painful stares of all. My family’s.

Mum’s fork shakes as she stabs her potato. Sadie looks up from her plate to glare at me at regular intervals. Her friends always pull back from her after an ‘incident’ like the boat. One day of my life, one tea-spoon of my torment, and she looks ready to go at me with the carving knife. Cow.

Father stirs his remaining peas around his plate, trailing gravy across the china.

“I’ve ordered two more replica vases.”

Mum puts down her wine. “I told you, I don’t want us doing that anymore.”

“We need the money. What happens if this boat thing blows up? We’ll need savings until we find our feet somewhere new. Precautions.” No one looks at me.

“It’s dishonest.”

Father strikes the table with his fist and the peas jump.

“I don’t mind.” While the vases turn ancient under my bare-hands, I get to press my head against them and see the life they could have lived. Peonies, gerberas, tulips and roses. Views of lounge rooms from the mantel, watching families growing up and growing old as they fade and age themselves.

And forged antiques make good money.

“I didn’t ask you, Hannah,” snaps Mum. Sadie chews on a carrot and smirks at me.

Maybe I should run away. Quit school and find a job in the city. Save precious Sadie from all her suffering–and myself from Davison’s gaze.

I can’t sleep that night, so I put on a four-hour pair of gloves. They’re yellowed and worn–they could be my Great-Grandmothers’. I press a gloved finger to my forehead and I watch, as if on screen, what could have been. Debutante balls and costume parties. A life, rather than a few small hours protecting everything around me. I pull on my boots and head to the river.

The boat leans against the bank like it’s been there for years. So different from the day before. Why didn’t I leave it alone? There’d been something about that varnished wood glowing in the late afternoon sun. A stupid compulsion to stroke the bow, and it was twenty-years older in an instant.

But tonight it’s deliberate destruction. I take-off both gloves and press my hands against the side. The wood is worn, and splinters dig into my skin.

“You should keep going. Just to be safe.”

Davison. How the heck does he always know where I’ll be, when he’s so clueless about everything else? I rest my forehead against the hull to try to block out his presence and watch the life the boat should have had. Adventures down the river, beers on the deck.

Davison’s like a spinning magnet, cycling round from repellent to attractive and back again. Gloves back on, I sit beside him, and we wait. The boat lives out hundreds of years in minutes, crumpling to dust and settling into the river under the stars. They’ll still be talk.  But at least the evidence is gone.

“It’s just a boat, Hannah, don’t feel bad. Your hands are amazing.” He reaches for one, and I let him take it, almost feeling his skin through the faded fabric.

“We could leave Doveton together.”

Mysterious, naïve Davison. He gets stared at too. Would it be so wrong? To have a friend who sees me as the heroine, not the witch.

A friend who knows what it’s like to be a miracle and a curse.

Memories of a baby’s face flash over the handsome grown one. Choking and gasping for breath, his preemie lungs struggle against a simple cold. An older baby could survive, but he was too small and weak to fight it off. What else could I do? I’d whipped off a glove and placed my hand on his tiny chest. But I wasn’t quick enough.’

“Hannah.” He reaches for my face and I let him take it, resting my forehead against his. I see the years my hands took from him. Baby Davison learning to walk. A giggling boy, jumping the waves. Ten-years-old, shooting hoops with his Dad. All of it sacrificed under my touch.

I stand up and run.

“Hannah, wait!”

I don’t listen, I just run and run.

And the gloves on my hands crumble to dust.

What changed in the Professional Editing Process

I have to admit, one of the main selling points for me in getting involved in the #WriterInMovement project was the chance to receive some professional editing.  I had the pleasure of sending my manuscript to the amazing Maria Tureaud.

I know there are many people reading this who aren’t writers, so I want to explain a bit about editing. My picture when I was young of an editor was someone who would go through your document and correct all your spelling and grammar mistakes.  But there are several other steps in the editing process.

Before proof reading there are two stages.  In Australia we call the first stage a ‘structural edit’, in America it is known as a developmental edit.  The developmental edit looks at big picture things like plot, story structure, character arcs and the like.  Then the ‘line edit’ or ‘copy edit’ works on improving the language and flow.

So rather than just going through and fixing the wrong tenses (though she had to do that too!), Maria had both development and line editing suggestions for my manuscript. One of the things I appreciated most about Maria’s edit, is she wasn’t afraid to make big changes to the story.  She suggested that my mention of Davison be removed from early in the story. It was helpful, because though I had liked the idea of setting up Davison for the ending early on, there was already SO MUCH going on at the start, so many questions and uncertainty, that it was much cleaner to keep him at the end.

The other big thing that Maria was helpful with is transitions.  She pointed out when I hadn’t made a clear enough link between paragraphs and scenes.  She suggested Hannah should smell dinner which would be a better lead in to the dinner table scene.  And thinking about how to transition lead to a few new sentences which I really love.

Maria also put her foot-down and made me reveal more about the boat early on.  She was right.  I was trying to be too clever, too cagey, but she pointed out, there were truths in the story that she didn’t get until the forth reading!  She also pushed me to be more specific about Davison.  Most of my changes near the end where small tweaks to sentences, but I think they made a huge difference to the clarity of the story.

Maria was keen for me to get rid of the word repellent, because it made it seem like Hannah found Davison gross.  I decided to leave it in (I think the magnet image works well as a picture for their relationships), but I took out the second use of the word when she ran away, so to use it more as a metaphor than a straight emotional reaction.

And Maria wanted paragraphs 5 and 6 swapped, but I chose to keep them in their original order, with a little bit of tweaking.  I remember hearing a writer say at a workshop that you might not agree with an editors solution to a problem they’ve found in the manuscript, but then your job is to come up with a better solution to that problem.  I don’t know if I’ve done that, those two paragraphs have been the trickiest ones to deal with in this round of edits. But I did a little tweaking so I hope they flow on from each other a little better.

Bellow is a screen shot of Maria’s edits. As you can see, she had lots of detailed comments all through my manuscript, causing me to think hard about why I was doing what I was doing. 

And while I was a little shell shocked when I first opened up her email (😜), I quicky came to see the value of comments, and how right she was. I can really see the value of a professional editor. I hope I have the opportunity to work with one again in the future 🙂

Next week will be the final week in the project, as I write a post about my overall experience of #WriterInMotion

You can find links to all the other amazing writers and their stories here 

Writer In Motion Critique Partner Draft

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I am taking part in an initiative called #WriterInMotion where a group of writers show the development of their story from first draft to professional edits. You can read about it here. This week my story was critiqued by two fellow WiM writers (the wonderful and talented Ari and Dawn), as well as my normal critique partner and all-round super-star writer friend KD Kells.

Handing your writing off to others to be critiqued is a pretty scary thing. But over the years I’ve seen how much help it is to get fellow writers feedback on my work. So here is my newly edited story, as well as my explanation of how it changed through the critiquing process.

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Gloves

by Belinda Grant

Another box of twenty gloves arrived.

I walk to Doveton to pick them up and suffer under Max’s suspicious gaze.

“What do you do with all these gloves?” He asks for the seventeenth time.

What was I supposed to say? I give a bland smile and flee holding the box to my chest. As if I could hide behind such a flimsy thing.

I should’ve avoided town today. After last night, the stares are worse than normal, and that’s saying something. No pretext of politeness, people stop mid-sentence as I come into view. I know what they’re saying. About the boat, and how weird things didn’t used to happen in their precious town. As I wait at the crossing for the lights to change, I feel their eyes on my Lizzie Bennett dress, the gloves, the hair piled up high. Dad’s idea to make the gloves appear part of an eccentric fashion statement, and not a precaution against disaster.

But the gloves aren’t why people stare. Not today.

Davison exits the butcher. I speed up to a trot, pretending I don’t hear his “Hannah” as I head down the street.

At least the box is light. The sun beats down as I lift my skirt to run between the shade pooled at the base of the ghost-gums. Doveton is beautiful if you only look with your eyes. Dad says there is no point in moving on, that everywhere will be hard at first. Make more of an effort, Hannah. He doesn’t feel the stares. I want to move to the hippy hills, where people believe that crystals help a cold and a taro-deck warns of your impending death. Where strange is a draw-card.

I arrive home and go straight to the glove room. I drop my box on top of another, this one with ‘four hours’ scrawled in red texta on the side.

Dinner’s quiet. Sadie takes turns glaring at me and Mum. Mum because she has to stay at the table and not use her phone. Me because of last night, and the way her friends pull back from her after an ‘incident’. One day of my life, one tea-spoon of my suffering, and she looks at me with daggers. Cow.

Father stirs his remaining peas around his plate, trailing gravy across the china.

“I’ve ordered two more replica vases.”

Mum puts down her wine. “I told you,I didn’t want us doing that anymore.”

“We need the money. What happens if this boat thing blows up? We’ll need savings until we find our feet somewhere new. Precautions.” No one looks at me.

“It’s dishonest.”

Father strikes the table with his fist and the peas jump.

“I don’t mind.” While my bare hands touch the vases, I press my forehead against them to see the life they could have lived. Peonies, gerberas, tulips and roses. Views of lounge rooms from the mantel, watching families growing up and growing old as they fade and age themselves.

And forged antiques make good money.

“We didn’t ask you, Hannah,” snaps Mum. Sadie chews on a carrot and smirks at me.

Maybe I should go without them. Quit school and find a job in the city. Save precious Sadie from all her suffering. And myself from Davison’s gaze.

I can’t sleep that night. I put on a four-hour pair of gloves. They’re yellowed and worn; they could be my Grandmothers’. I press a gloved finger to my forehead and I watch, as if on screen, what could have been. Debutante balls and costume parties. A life, rather than a few small hours protecting everything around me. I pull on my boots and head to the river.

The boat leans against the bank like it’s been there for years. So different from the day before. Why couldn’t have left it alone? There’d been something about that varnished wood glowing in the late afternoon sun. A stupid compulsion and it was twenty years older in an instant.

But today it’s deliberate. I pull off one glove and press my hand against the side. The wood is worn, and splinters dig into my skin.

“You should keep going. Just to be safe.”

How is it that Davison, who knows so little, can always guess where I’ll be? I rest my forehead against the hull to try to block out his presence and watch the life the boat should have had. Adventures down the river, beers on the deck.

Davison is like a spinning magnet, cycling round from repellent to attractive. Gloves back on, I sit beside him, and we wait. The boat lives out hundreds of years in minutes, crumpling to dust and settling into the river under the stars.

“It’s just a boat, Hannah, don’t feel bad. Your hands are amazing.” He reaches for one, and I let him take it, almost feeling his skin through the faded fabric.

“We could leave Doveton together.” Davison’s voice shakes.

He gets stared at too. Would it be so wrong? To have a friend who saw me as the heroine, not the witch?

A friend who knew what it was like to be a miracle and a curse.

Memories of a baby’s face flash over the handsome grown one. Choking and gasping for breath, his preemie lungs struggling against a simple cold. Too small and weak to fight it off. What else could I do? I’d whipped off a glove and placed it on his tiny chest. But I wasn’t quick enough.

“Hannah.” He reaches for my face and I let him take it, resting my forehead against his. I see the years I took. Baby Davison learning to walk. A giggling boy, jumping the waves. Ten-years-old, shooting hoops with his Dad.

Repellent again. I stand up and run.

“Hannah, wait!”

I don’t listen, I just run and run.

And the gloves on my hands crumble to dust.

How critiquing changed my draft

Here is a screen shot of my document with the combined edits.

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They picked up all the typos that I somehow missed in all my passes as well as my double spaces (sorry KD!). They told me what worked, which is both helpful and encouraging.

They also had some good suggestions for tightening it, and noticed when my tenses or capitals were wrong, or where I repeated words. The format has improved and it makes much more sense.

Ari also pointed out that I hadn’t set the time period clear enough at the start, so the mention of mobile phones in the dinner scene came out of the blue. So I mentioned Hannah crossing at the lights in town, so we know, despite the Lizzy Bennet dress, that it’s set in modern times.

But the biggest help was having outside people to help me with my reveal.

You see, writing a story like mine, where the truth of what is going on only comes out at the end, is a delicate balance. You don’t want to annoy readers, or have them confused the whole time, or even have them get to the end with no clue of what was really going on.

My CPs were able to say where I lost them, and give hints of where being specific would be more helpful. So I reworded a few things, particularly in the scenes where Hannah ‘sees’ what life the items she touches might have lived.

Did I take it all on board? Not entirely. Everyone wanted me to make it clear in the paragraph about the Premie baby that it was Davison, and suggested I made it obvious at that point. But I still really like the deliberate confusion about Hannah saying “I wasn’t quick enough.” At first it seems like she wasn’t quick enough to save him, but actually she wasn’t quick enough in her touch, so instead of him ageing just enough to get well, he aged over a decade. I LOVE the surprise meaning of that sentence. It still might not be clear, it might even be a darling I need to kill. But I left it in for now.

My story has now been sent off to a professional editor. I am looking forward to seeing how that process improves the story.

Thanks for following along my Writer In Motion journey.

You can find the others taking part in #WriterInMotion here

Writer In Motion Self Edited Draft

c6c958_213260a29e1041698965f91dc9a15733_mv2-3I am taking part in Writer in Motion this month, bringing a short story from First draft to polished edits before your very eyes.  You can read more about it here

Here is the second draft, my self-edited version of my short story based on the photo below: Gloves

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Gloves

by Belinda Grant

 

Another box of twenty gloves arrived.

I walk to Doveton to pick them up and suffer under Max’s suspicious gaze. “What do you do with all those gloves?” He asks for the seventeenth time.  What was I supposed to say? I give a bland smile and fled away, holding the box to my chest as if I could hide behind such a flimsy thing.

I should’ve avoided town today. After last night the stares are worse than normal, and that’s saying something. No pretext of politeness, people stop mid-sentence as I come into view. But I know what they’re saying. About the boat, and how weird things didn’t used to happen in their precious town. I feel their eyes on my Lizzie Bennett Dress, the gloves, the hair piled up high.  Dad’s idea to make the gloves seem part of an eccentric fashion statement, and not a precaution against disaster.

But the gloves aren’t why people stare.  Not today.

I see Davison exist the butchers and I speed up to a gentle run, pretending a I don’t hear his “Hannah” as I head down the street.

At least the box is light.  The sun beats down as I lift my dress to run between the shade pooled at the base of the ghost-gums.  Doveton is beautiful if you only look with your eyes.  Dad says there is no point in moving on, that everywhere will be hard at first. Make more of an effort Hannah. He doesn’t feel the stares.   I want to move to the hippy Hills, where people believe that crystals help a cold and cards will warn of your impending death. Where strange is a draw card.

I arrive home and go straight to the glove room.  I drop my box on top of another, this one with ‘four hours’ scrawled in red texta on the side.

Dinner’s quiet. Sadie takes turns glaring at me and Mum.  Mum because she has to stay at the table and not use her phone.  Me because of last night, and the way her friends pull back from her after an ‘incident’. One day of my life, one tea-spoon of my suffering, and she looks at me with daggers. Cow.

Father stirs his remaining peas around his plate, trailing gravy across the plate.

“I’ve ordered two more replica vases.”

Mum puts down her wine. “I told you I didn’t want us doing that anymore.”

“We need the money. What happens if this boat thing blows up? We’ll need savings until we find our feet somewhere new. Precautions.” No one looks at me.

“It’s dishonest.”

Father strikes the table with his fist and the peas jump.

“I don’t mind.” I lay my forehead on the vases, and I see the lives they could have lived.  Peonies, Gerberas, tulips and roses. Views of lounge rooms from the mantel, as the Vase watches down on families growing up and growing old.

And forged antiques make good money.

“We didn’t ask you Hannah.” Snaps Mum, and Sadie chews on a carrot and smirks at me.

Maybe I should go without them.  Quit school and find a job in the city. Save precious Sadie from all her suffering. And myself from Davison’s gaze.

I can’t sleep that night.  I put on a four-hour pair of gloves. They’re yellowed and worn, they could be my Grandmothers.  I press a gloved finger to my forehead and I watch, as if on screen, what could have been. Debutant balls and costume parties.  A life, rather than a few small hours protecting everything around me as I pull on my boots and head to the creek.

The boat sits, leaning against the bank like it’s been there for years. So different from the day before.  Why couldn’t I leave it alone? But there was something about that varnished wood glowing in the late afternoon sun.  A stupid compulsion and it was twenty years older in an instant.

But today it’s deliberate.  I pull off one glove and press my hand against the side.  The wood is worn, and splinters dig into my skin.

“You should keep going. Just to be safe.” How is it that Davison, who knows so little, can always guess where I’ll be?  I rest my forehead against the hull to try to block out his presence and watch the life the boat should have had.  Adventures down the river, beers on the deck.

Davison is like a spinning magnet, cycling round from repellent to attractive.  I sit beside him, and we wait.  The boat lives out hundreds of years in minutes, crumpling to dust and settling into the river under the stars.

“It’s just a boat Hannah, don’t feel bad.  Your hands are amazing.” He reaches for one, and I let him take it, almost feeling his skin through the faded fabric.

“We could leave Doveton together.”

He gets stared at too.  Would it be so wrong? To have a friend, who saw me as the heroine not the witch?

A friend who knew what it was like to be a miracle and a curse.

A baby’s face flashes over the handsome grown one. Choking and gasping for breath, his preemie lungs struggling against a simple cold.  Too small and weak to fight it off. What else could I do? I whipped off a glove and placed it on his tiny chest.  But I wasn’t quick enough.

“Hannah.” He reaches for my face and I let him take it, resting my forehead against his. And I see the years I took. Baby Davison learning to walk, then giggling boy, jumping the waves.  Then ten, shooting hoops with this Dad.

Repellent again. I stand up and run.

“Hannah, wait!”

I don’t listen, I just run and run.

And the gloves on my hands crumple to dust.

 

Self Editing

So what did Self-Editing involve?

-Giving it a 48 hours of space to get some distance

-Proof reading for typos, tense mistakes, and sentences that didn’t make sense.

-Clearing up things that I knew were issues with clarity, like making more obvious Davison’s back story.

-Cutting words to get it below the 1K (I cut about 100 words I believe)

-Reading through it around ten times, tinkering with every go.

-And I settled on the title “Gloves.” Might change, but I tend to prefer simple titles that don’t give away too much.

Here is a screen shot of my track changes, to give you a sense of how much the story changes from first draft to self-edited second draft.

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I’m looking forward to the next round, where fellow writers go through my piece and give me feedback.  This has been so helpful with my novel writing, I can’t wait to see how it tightens and improves Hannah’s story.

 

WiM Week 2 (Part 2) From Prompt to First Draft or Finding the Weird

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So, I am taking part in #WriterInMotion (Read about it here), showing the drafting process of a short story from rough draft to professionally edited polish.  By Saturday I will self-edit my story and post it up here, but I also thought it might be worth showing how I went about getting from prompt to the my first draft of my WiM story (which you can read here)

So, before I decided to do #WriterInMotion, I was feeling quite a bit of FOMO as various twitter people were taking part and it sounded like a wonderful exercise.  But it was already a week in and it seemed too late.  Until I realised I had over 55 hours to get it done.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I am a #SuperFan of the Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction competition (you can find out all about it here).  So for the last seventeen months, I have been writing a 500 word short story based on criteria circulated at the start of the weekend.  It might be a word you need to use, or a first sentence, or an item that must be visible in the story.  Twice it has been a photo prompt.  So I had plenty of experience of writing quickly and decided to I sign up. But now I had to find the weird.

You see, one thing I’d realised over seventeen short stories is that I like weird. I am a speculative fiction writer, and I like taking everyday things and turning them strange.  The picture for our prompt was beautiful and evocative.  What weird could I find in that broken boat?

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It leant itself to something spooky.  I wondered if my protagonist could sense something evil or malevolent about the boat? Somewhere the idea struck that maybe there was something in that spot that aged things.  But then that quickly flipped to a protagonist who aged everything she touched with her fingers and that was what happened to the boat.  She would need to wear gloves to protect the world.  But then wouldn’t the gloves themselves age? She would need so many!

And as I thought about the practicality of endlessly ageing gloves, I was there. I’d found my weird.

After that I just started writing.  Hannah became Hannah because that’s what Davison yelled out to her across the street. Davison was always the boys name.

I wrote little bits and pieces but it wasn’t really a story yet, I had a scene in town and Hannah and Davison at the boat and the image of Hannah saving the preemie baby, but I couldn’t work out what went in the middle.

So I opened a new document and started again.  This is my technique when I get stuck.  Something about the fresh start helps it all to come together.  And after I wrote a new version of the trip from town I realised what I needed in the middle.  A family dinner.  An easy way to show how Hannah’s gift affected those around her and an opportunity for tension and characterisation.

I probably spent a day and a half thinking about the story, an hour or so on my thrown away version, and an hour on the first draft.  I did a quick proof read for spelling (I couldn’t resist), but other than that I posted about fifteen minutes after I finished it.

So that’s how I went from a writing prompt to a first draft.  I have really enjoyed hearing how others wrote their stories, and you can find links to the other participants here.

And for my other fellow writers, and Furious Fiction friends, I’d love to hear from you. How do you go from a prompt/criteria or idea, to the first draft of a story?

 

Writer in Motion- Week 2 (Part 1)

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I am taking part in #WriterInMotion this month.  You can read more about it in my first blog post here

Below is the first draft of a story prompted by the following photo.  I finished the story two minutes ago.  I read through for typos and that is all the editing I did.  Over the next few weeks you’ll get to observe the editing process as I polish up this story.

(This is so nerve-racking!)

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(CURRENTLY UNTITLED)

Another box of gloves arrived.

I missed the post-man, so had to go into Doveton to pick it up, and suffer under Max’s suspicious gaze. “What do you do with all those gloves?” He asked for the seventeenth time.  What was I supposed to say? I gave a bland smile and fled away, holding the box to my chest as if I could hide behind such a flimsy thing.

I should have avoided town today. After last night the stares are worse than normal, and that’s saying something. There isn’t even a pretext of politeness, people stop talking the moment they see me approach. But I know what they are saying. About the boat, and how weird things didn’t used to happen in their precious town. I feel their eyes taking in my frame, the Lizzie Benett Dress, the gloves, the hair piled up high.  Dad’s idea to make the gloves seem part of an eccentric fashion statement, and not a precaution against disaster.

But the gloves aren’t why people stare.  Not today.

I see Davison exit the butchers and I speed up to a gentle run, pretending a I don’t hear his “Hannah” as I head off down the street.

At least a box of twenty gloves is light.  The sun beats down as I run between the shade gathered at the base of the ghost gums.  Doveton is beautiful if you only look with your eyes.  Dad says there is no point in moving on, that everywhere will be hard at first, if only I made more of an effort. But he doesn’t feel the stares. I want to move to the hippy hills, where people believe that crystals can take away a cold and that cards will warn of your impending death. Where weird is kitsch, and strange is a draw card.

I yank open the fly wire and walk through the house straight to the glove room.  I drop my box on top of another, this one with ‘four hours’ scrawled in red texta on the side.

Dinner is quiet. Sadie takes turns glaring at me and Mum.  Mum because she has to stay at the table and not use her phone.  Me because of what I did last night, and the way her friends pull back from her whenever there is an ‘incidents’. One day of my life, one tea-spoon of my suffering, and she looks at me with daggers. Cow.

Father stirs his remaining peas around his plate, making little trails of gravy across the plate.

“I’ve ordered two more replica vases.”

Mum puts down her wine. “I told you I didn’t want us doing that anymore.”

“We have to.  We need the money. What happens if this boat thing blows up and we need to leave? At least we’ll have money in the bank until we find our feet in some new place.  We need to take precautions.” No one looks at me.

“It’s dishonest.”

Father strikes the table with his fist and the peas jump.

“I don’t mind.” I like contributing. I lay my forehead on the vases, and I see the life they might have lived.  Peonies, Gerbras, tulips and roses. Views of lounge rooms from the mantle piece, as the Vase watches down on families growing up and growing old.

“We didn’t ask you.” snaps Mum, and Sadie chews on a carrot and smirks at me.

Maybe I should go without them.  Quit school and find a job in the city. Save precious Sadie from all her terrible suffering. And save myself from Davison’s gaze.

I can’t sleep that night.  I put on a four-hour pair of gloves. They are yellowed and worn, they could be my Grandmothers.  I press a gloved finger to my forehead and I watch, as if on screen, what could have been. Debutant balls and costume parties.  A life, rather than a few small hours protecting everything around me as I put on my boots and head to the creek.

The boat sits, leaning against the bank like it has been there for years. So different from the day before.  Why couldn’t I leave it alone? But there was something about that vanished surface, the bright wood glowing in the late afternoon heat.  A stupid compulsion and there were the consquences.

But now it’s deliberate.  I pull off one glove and press my hand against the side, destroying the evidence with a touch.  The wood is worn and wet, and splinters dig into my skin.

“You should keep going. Just to be safe.” How is it that Davison knows so little about everything but always seems to know what I will do and where I will be?  I put my forehead against the hull to try to block out his presence, and watch like a movie the life the boat should have had.  Adventure down the river, beers on the deck.

Davison is like a spinning magnet, cycling round from repellent to attractive.  So I sit beside him and we wait.  We watch as the boat live out his final years in minutes, crumpling to pieces and settling into the river under the stars.

“It’s just a boat Hannah. You don’t have to feel bad.  Your hands are amazing.” He reaches for one, and I let him take it, almost feeling his skin through the faded fabric.

“We could leave together you know. Get out of Doveton forever.” He faces the stares too.  Would it be so wrong to have a friend, a friend who saw me as the heroine not the witch.

A friend who knew what it was like to be a miracle and a curse.

Another face flashes over the handsome grown one.  A baby, choking and gasping for breath as his preemie lungs fought against a simple cold.  Too small and weak to fight it off. What could I do? I whipped off a glove and placed it on his chest.  But I wasn’t quick enough.

“Hannah.” He reaches for my face and I let him take it, resting my forehead against his. And I see it.  I see the years I took. The baby learning to walk, the giggling boy, jumping the waves.  The twelve year old shooting hoops with this Dad.

Repellent again. I stand up and run.

“Hannah, wait!”

I don’t listen, I just run and run.

And the gloves on my hands crumple to dust.

 

So that is the first draft of my story.  My next post will look at how I went about writing the draft.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

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Writer in Motion- Week 1

 

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Does this sound familiar to you?

You sit down and you begin to write a short story or a novel.  The words are flowing and you’re excited about the little world growing under your finger-tips. You put it aside and  pick up a book.  It’s good. In fact it’s excellent.  The characters sing, the story compels you forward onto the next page, and every word is where it should be.  Then you turn back to your first draft.  How did you ever think it was good? It is a pile of steaming garbage and you never want to look at it again. You just can’t write. Nothing you do will ever be as good as the published book in your hand.

It sounds familiar to me, because for many years it was the story of my writing life. I believed the lie that good writers are born and not made. I believed that a bad first draft meant a bad book.  I was easily discouraged, both by quality writing that I read, and by my own writing weaknesses

But over time I began to realise just how much of writing is in rewriting and editing.  How different a first draft can be from the finished document.  That by the time a book hits the shelf it has been heavily edited by the writer, it’s usually been critiqued by other writing friends, and then a professional editor has done their work.

But often writers when they start out don’t realise the steps involved in getting books as good as we see them on the shelf.

It is this kind of experience that lead to the creation of a new writing initiative I have become involved in called Writer-in-Motion.  The idea is over the month of June, writers will put on their blog a short story at different levels of completion.  First the unedited first draft (gulp). Then a self-edited version. A version edited by CPs (critique partners). And finally a professional editor will give their own thoughts to the piece. This means writers can have a glimpse at how writing changes as it is edited, and the writers involved will see the different ways other writers go about editing their work.

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The short story will grow out of the following photo prompt:

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So, on Sunday Australian time, I’ll be posting my Short story. My unedited pile of steaming rubbish first draft.

And hopefully my humiliation will help others to see that writers are made, not born.

 

Here is the official blog for the initiative:

Writer in Motion Blog

And here is you can find a list of editors and writers involved.

 

 

The tale of Daddy’s Secret Toilet

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Once upon a time there was a Daddy who lived in a two bedroom unit with three kids and a wife.  And though it was squishy, it was home and he loved it. But there was one aspect of his living arrangement which was less than optimal. He shared a toilet with the rest of his house. With toilet training twins who were still learning to lift the seat. With a wife who was petrified of waking kids in that tiny apartment, so had a habit in the night of letting it mellow.

So when baby number four was on the way, and it was time to move to a bigger house, he had a modest goal.  Not too far from work, space for a trampoline.  And a secret toilet of his very own.

It worked so well for the first six months in the house.  Mummy was sympathetic, and the cry would often be heard, “No, that’s Daddy’s secret toilet.” But after Miss Three joined the toilet training crew and there was a baby on the scene Mummy decided she too deserved the best toilet in the house. Which was Daddy’s secret toilet.  At least until the mouse plague of ’18 when Mum spotted a black blur there in the middle of the night. Then it was back to the ‘Kids toilet’ for her.

Meanwhile, two little boys were growing up.  Growing up and admiring their big, tall Daddy.  Mummy would catch them in the adjacent bathroom. “What are you doing?” “Using Daddy’s secret toilet.”  They loved him so much, of course they wanted to be just like him, to lift the seat (mostly) that he too lifted.

And then when Summer hit, tragedy struck. The fly wire in the Kids toilet got a hole in it, and throughout the night it filled with all manner of moths.  Now Miss Three refused to use it. “I don’t want to go to the Bug toilet, I want to go to Daddy’s secret toilet.”

And once again, Daddy was sharing his toilet with the whole family.

Well almost.

You see, summer ended, and the moths went away. And the toilet known as the Bug toilet, now contained neither bugs, nor young children who occasionally missed the seat or forgot to flush.

And now that toilet is all mine. Mummy’s toilet.

But don’t tell anyone.  It’s a secret.

A Letter to Myself for When I Receive Feedback

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dear Belinda,

First of all- hugs. Good on you for putting yourself out there, for taking your hard work and risking it out there in the world. It’s a big deal and I’m proud of you. But those hugs aren’t just congratulatory ones. I know you’re hurting. And I’m sorry. Know that the tears and the disappointment will happen, and will keep happening. But also know it will pass.

I think one of the hardest things is the shock. You should be prepared for it, you’ve been receiving feedback for years now, and you know what it’s like. You know how much you have improved, and how helpful it is to find out what’s wrong and how to fix it. That a second set of eyes is crucial for making your work the best it can be. Maybe that is why it feels so strange every time. Because you know all these things, but for a day or two, you turn back into that Year Seven girl, crying because your English Teacher wrote “good grief!” on your melodramatic prose.

It isn’t that you thought it was perfect.  It isn’t even that you now think you’re no good. You’ve been doing this long enough to know that the writers who succeed aren’t the ones who have the most talent, they are the ones who keep improving and never give up.

Really it is about the time. You’ve worked hard and you’ve climbed the mountain and got so far. And then you realise that you have only reached a small peak on the side, and the rest of the mountain towers before you, just as high and difficult as before. You’ve given up sleep and TV and all kinds of things to get this as good as you could, and now there is more sacrifice, more climbing to go.

And all you want to do is throw the story in the bin and pick up another one. As if the problem is the mountain you chose and not the reality that getting better requires patience.

So I’m hear to remind you it’s okay. This is a marathon and not a sprint. And you aren’t in this for fame or money or because you are being forced. You made this choice. You decided that the story, that this sacrifice was worth it. That the view from the heights is worth the pain of the climb. And deep down you know it is, despite your tears.

So Belinda, I will allow you to wallow for a day or two, but no more. Work on other things. Why don’t you write a blog post? Expressing your feelings always makes you feel better.

And then in two days pick that feedback up again. It’ll be like reading something new. All those positive comments will shine out, instead of fading to the background. The things that didn’t work will become possibilities. And you’ll see it.  That new peak to climb. It isn’t that much further to go. And how much better will the view be?

Think what this story you love could become. You owe it to yourself to find out. You’ve got this.

Love Belinda

In Defence of the Socialising on Social Media

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Did you know it is only four months until MasterChef Australia?  I know, because I have been counting it down.  Is it because I miss George, Gary and Matt? Sort of.  Or because my life is presently bereft of parfaits, journeys and food-dreams?  Maybe a little.  But the real reason that May can’t get here fast enough is because of a Facebook group.

Last year, two friends decided that out of respect for their Facebook friends, they would start a group to discuss Masterchef, so their friend’s feeds wouldn’t be clogged with in-jokes and fennel fronds.  The title of the group would be regularly changed over the season to reflect incidents in the show (at the end of the season we voted “I just Khanhn’t Even” as our favourite name). And so our little group was born.  My husband thought it was hilarious that I spent more time looking at my phone than at the television, but the banter was half the fun.  We fan-girled over Samira’s bread making skills, and joked about Ben’s ocka lines.  We laughed at the pretension, all the while being brought to tears as the contestants left the competition.  We had our own virtual mystery-box competition (turns out Snow-eggs aren’t that difficult, who knew?). In our Grand-final thread we easily surpassed one thousand comments.

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My Strawberry Snow Eggs with tuille shell, strawberry granita, and ginger fool.

May and June of 2018 would not go down as the best two months of my life.  At it’s peak, I calculated I had 7 different appointments for my kids in the one week.  Sickness cycled round our family, finding it’s regular resting place on me.  A good friend had moved interstate, another was in the midst of new studies, while another planned a wedding.  It was a lonely time, but not a time where the loneliness could be fix by just going out and being social.  I didn’t have the health; mental or otherwise, to do much more than survive.  But my little Masterchef Crew and our Facebook group made that time bearable.

Social Media gets a bad rap.  With Instagram influencers, Twitter-trolls, cyber bullies and our information being sold to corporations, it is understandable.  And there is something beautiful about communicating away from a keyboard. One of the highlights of the year was a good interstate friend deciding it was time to resurrect the phone conversation.  We talked for over an hour and I could have talked for two more. And I know I need to get my head out of my phone and into the world more often than I do.

But Social Media connections can get a bad rap for being fake.  And yet I have some very real, very wonderful friendships that have grown over the internet.

Many years ago I met a friend through blogging, who introduced me to an online support group.  A group who all were going through the same struggles, and who needed a safe place to vent, cry, and enjoy our own macabre little jokes (#TeamShrubberyForever).  I wasn’t going to meet those women in person, they all lived half a world away.  But they were there for me, and my friendships with them are not fake or inferior because we are yet to met in person.

Fiction writing is a lonely pursuit for an extrovert.  Yet I have friends on almost every continent who I interact with daily, as we spur each other on through the writing game. I remember loving Uni, because it was moving from the small circles of high school, into a wider sphere where there were people who really got me.  I found my tribe.  And the internet is an even bigger world to find your tribe. If you look in the right places you are sure to find those who share your love of crocheting or anime.

Or who love yelling together at the television set “Just put it in the Blast-Chiller!”

The reality for some friends is that socialising face-to-face is a challenge all the time.  It could be because of chronic illness or social anxiety.  For them, social media is where the real friendship happens.  And it is rude to imply that because those friendships are connected by a keyboard, and not a coffee-table, that they are somehow not real.

2019 should (hopefully) be a very different year for me.  I am looking forward to a year where I can come up to breath.  Where I can go to things, and meet people, and hang out.

But I am also looking forward to May.  Because there is a new world of foodie-fun awaiting me, and I can’t wait to watch it with my friends.