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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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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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.

 

 

New Years Writing Treats

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Resolutions get a bad wrap, for obvious reasons.  January seems like the time to reach for the skies, and when March comes you’ve fallen flat on your face.  But they can work, and I seem to be the kind of person who thrives with specific targets.  In light of that I have a few writing goals that I have set for the year, like finally polishing up my first novel, or entering some writing competitions.

But that is not what this post is about.  As I said, I tend to find resolutions suit me.  But there is one thing that I find a huge struggle.

Doing things for me.

It is probably a female thing, and definitely a mother thing.  I click on an interesting literature festival, or I see a book on writing that would be helpful to buy.  And then I think “I’ll get it another time.” or “It’s tricky to find someone to watch the kids on a Saturday.” or “It’s too much money.”  Constantly saying no to myself because I’m not quite sure I deserve it.

So, I declare 2019 as the year of giving myself some writing treats!

Here are my resolutions:

I will attend three face-to-face writing events.

Unlike 95% of the writing world, I am a big E extravert. I love meeting people, I love seeing people, and I love talking to people.  However, with a few (awesome!) exceptions, most of my writing friends are on-line.  I want to change that.  I want to start going to events and networking and getting to know people.

At the moment I am down to go to KidLit Victoria in May.  I am still not sure of the practicalities of the Writers Victoria YA day with a not yet weaned 14 month old. I am also looking at the AWC Story Doctor course in November in Melbourne. So that is three good possibilities without breaking a sweet.

I will have some sort of writing retreat.

Every year my husband and I talk about it.  Me going away for a few days to write.  He is happy for it, and I know I will love every minute. But it never happens.  I don’t plan it, because I feel guilty or unsure, and then we hit the end of the year and it is far too busy to fit it in.  Not this year.

This year I will go away for at least two nights to get some writing done.  I will plan ahead, booking in a couple of days so I can’t back-out due to Mother-Guilt.    I will write, my kids will survive, and I will be a better writer and mother for the time away.

I will Buy and Read more New Books

Okay, so I cheating a bit, because this one started last year.  I knew in theory that I should be reading more new books.  But it takes so much more time and concentration and bother than picking up a Harry Potter again and reading it for the hundredth time.  Time and concentration I could be spending on my family, or even on my writing.

But I realised something last year.  My best writing tended to follow on after I had just finished reading an excellent new book.  The quality of the book, the excitement of the story inspired me on and I was a better writer because of it.  So I started buying books. I am a naturally tight individual who isn’t great at spending money on myself. But a book cost less than a fancy meal out, and was much more satisfying.  And I was supporting other authors in the process.

And when my money-spending guilt was on overdrive, I went to the local library.  There are plenty of great books that I haven’t read, sitting on the shelf waiting for me to reserve them.  And when I reserve them, it barely takes a minute to go into the Library and find all the books I want already there, waiting for me to pick them up.  Win-Win

I will Keep Writing for Fun

My favourite aspect of writing is the first draft.  The heady excitement of new characters popping into being as my fingers tap. Plot twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. The fun of creating a budding relationship, building the tension and sprinkling in the romance as grows.

But the problem with loving first drafts is you end up with too many projects, with none of them ready. And many of my goals for the year involve getting some of those project polished up to be ready for submission.

But writing is allowed to be a hobby as well as a job.  So I will give myself permission to indulge in the occasional new, shinny project.  My five year old has been keen for me to write a space-based story for him, and the plot and characters for this children’s story have been bubbling away for months.  One of my treats for this year will be writing that story, something new and different and as much for my own amusement as for any future publishing merit.

So those are my New Years gifts to myself.

And I’d love to hear other writer’s fun plans for the year ahead.

Belinda

 

 

 

Younger

I don’t remember how old I was when the conversation happened.  Probably still young enough to be eating coco-pops in bed with Nan and Pa when we visited.  But I remember where I was standing, by Nan’s dresser, just below the picture of her when she was a girl.  Those portraits that were closer to a painting than a modern snap.  I think I had made a comment that she looked beautiful or pretty.  I don’t remember my words, but I remember hers, as clearly as if she spoke them just a moment ago.  She pointed to that picture and said “I’m still like that inside.  You might look at me and think I’m an old lady, but inside I’m the same as you.”

I did think she was old, which is funny, because my parents are now older than she was then, but they don’t feel old at all.  Maybe parents never do.  But her words stuck with me because they changed me.  I could never quite look at her, or my parents, or anyone older than me in quite the same way

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I started watching the television show “Younger”. It is about a women in her forties who pretends to be 26, so she could fake her way into an entry-level job.  She couldn’t get into the industry of her youth after so many years out of the workforce.  The show didn’t grab me, but as I watched the first episode, I had to remind myself that I technically should be relating to the Liza character rather than her young peers.  But I didn’t.  Twenty-six seems not that long ago.  And yet as tomorrow we tick-over to 2019, my fortieth seems much closer than it did even a day ago.

Inside I feel so much younger than I am.  Maybe it’s because I spend my days watching Disney-movies, putting together lego, and taking parts in imaginary ballet concerts on my daughters bed.  Or maybe it is the strangeness of the SAHM world, where people start again, and the only age that matters is the age of your offspring.

Or maybe, like my Nan, I am just younger.  Younger than I look, or am.  Maybe that is how we all are.  Like the story of the man walking down the street, noticing the old guy in the shop window, then starting because it is his own reflection.

A few years ago I found this dissonance troubling, as I realised the “young people” in our lives no longer saw me as a peer.  I am slowly making peace with that, accepting the change, realising that it doesn’t matter how others view me.  That I am more than a number, an aching back or a new grey hair.  That I am a product of experience, that I am wiser, more objective, and less materialistic.  But still myself.  That as long as my legs will let me, I will be the first person on the dance floor at a wedding.  I will still be unable to put down an exciting novel no matter the time.  I will still walk the beach at sunset, and cry at the sappiest things.  Because those aren’t young-people things.  They are just me.

And now my parents are young and in their sixties, and my Nan is in a nursing home.  But she keeps a box of toys under her bed for the Great-grandkids, and her face lights up at the sight of a baby, the way it always has.  We are both a great deal older than we were.

But not so different on the inside.

5 Lessons I learnt from ‘Winning’ Nano

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On my forth attempt, I have succeeded in a long held dream of completing Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time.  (Here is my post about why I would attempt such a thing)

Before this year I didn’t even bother aiming for 50K, I kept my goals modest because 50K just seemed impossible.  But after four years of a mostly daily writing habit,  I was ready for the challenge. And at about 8pm on the 30th of November, I ticked over to the mighty 50K.

It was a great month.  A story that had been stewing in my head for most of 2018 was finally given a chance to be.  There were twists that I didn’t see coming, and characters that I grew to love.

And there were lessons I learnt along the way.

Don’t be competitive

The first day of November I had the almost unheard of opportunity of sitting in cafe for two hours to write.  This was after already waking at 6am and writing for a good hour and a half before the kids woke up.  So I started Nano with a 1K lead, and was excited for the month ahead.

But as I followed people on Social media, I was surprised to find I was the middle of the pack.  There were people aiming for 70K, even people who got to the 50K by the fifteenth of the month.  It was easy to feel like my ‘success’ wasn’t all that impressive after all.

And of course there were also those who struggled to hit the 1667 words per day, who felt like giving up, or who wrote 10, 25 or 35K for the month and felt rubbish because they ‘failed’. Which of course they hadn’t.

If I had been too caught up in what others were doing, I might have been discouraged.  But any words you get down are more than you started with, and we all have very different lives and writing strengths.  It is important to celebrate your own achievement, and not let comparisons take away from your successes.  And I would have never had got to 50K if I had gotten caught up in what others were doing.

Life is very hard to put on hold

I had many intentions of making writing the priority.  And there were things I did to make that happen.  I watched much less TV, I got less sleep, and I didn’t even open the packages that arrived from Booktopia over the month.

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My overly-ambition cake, I had been dying to try a mirror glaze. Chocolate Cake Base with Strawberry curd and White Chocolate Bavarian Cream Mousse, mirror glaze and a ginger-nut sand. #procrastibake

But life is almost impossible to put on hold.  You can plan to wake up early to write, but sometimes there is a baby that decides that 530am is the time to play.  Or that same baby turns 1 and you want to host a party with an over-ambitious cake.  There are forms that can’t fill out themselves, and meetings that can’t be missed. Sometimes the kids are sick, and the husband is sick, and you are sick and that is just life.

I had this blissful image of a beautiful month of writing.  And it was.  I just had to squeeze that beautiful writing time out of the hectic-ness of a normal month.

It turns out you can’t always switch off life to write.  You just have to fit your 50K words in admits the chaos.

The Writing Community is amazing

Three years ago, when I started NanoWriMo-ing.  I didn’t even join the website, I just kept track of my totals and posted them occasionally on Facebook.  But over the last three years I have steadily been building connections with writers, mostly over social media.  It has been such a joy, and that power of community really hit home during Nano.  We shared our totals, celebrated each other’s successes, and reminded ourselves why we do it on the days that were tough.  I am a better writer because of all the people I have writing beside me.

There are limits to what you can do in a month

Writing fast is a wonderful thing.  There is a heady excitement of getting the words down, the emersion that comes from swimming in the new world you have made.  Nano is permission to stop navel gazing and just see what happens.  But there are definite limits to what you can do well when you are writing so fast.  I got to the end and I could name about four characters who were well-rounded enough for my taste.  The rest were on the wooden side and need lots of work.  And though I had plotted, and world built in preparation, as the story unfolded there were questions about my world and how it worked that I just didn’t have time to properly answer if I was going to reach my words goals each day.

There might be experienced writers who can come up with something brilliant in a month. But I am not there yet.

It is only a Beginning.

Thanks to some work I did before Nano, I now have the roughest of rough first draft of my new novel.  And there is definitely a little thrill that comes from that knowledge.  But as I saw that winners certificate come up on my computer, it didn’t feel like an ending.  If it was anything I would say it was the Inciting Incident. Belinda Grant has written a rough draft of a story.  What will she do?  Will the editing get the better of her?  Will she lose focus on her goal and move onto the next shiny thing? Or will we see that triumphant moment of her story on the pages of a real, in-her-hands-book?

November is over.  I have the first draft of a new novel.  And now the real work begins.

The Power of Food in Writing

soup with onion and meat

Photo by FOX on Pexels.com

My Mum, sister Sandy and I were sitting at a table at the Lake House.  Once a swampy marsh, Alla Woolfe Tasker and her husband decided to buy a block of land in Daylesford to start a Country restaurant using local produce, many years before that was a thing you did.  Now it was one of the top restaurants in all of Australia.

It was in the early days of the Masterchef revolution, and it was like walking into a paradise. The waiters gave a detailed description of every dish and drop, and you didn’t even notice your glass of sparkling water was empty, before it was filled.

Every dish was a production, every sensation on your tongue was carefully orchestrated perfection.

But the most memorable moment was the lamb broth.  It was completely clear and smelt divine.  Mum, Sandy and I slipped our spoon’s into our broth and took a sip.  We all looked at each other, wondering why it was that the taste was so familiar.

“It’s Nan’s soup!”

I don’t know who was the first person to say it, but we all thought it.  The delicate clear broth might have looked world’s apart from Nan’s hearty lamb soup, but they tasted identical.  And in that moment I was transported away from the white table clothe’s and matching wines, and was back at Nan’s dining room table, the fire cracking in the corner, eating soup out of a mustard-coloured bowl, elbow to elbow with my cousins.

Taste is a powerful sense.  Your Grandma’s chocolate mousse, your Dad’s stir-fry, that one perfect coffee.  You taste it again and you are transported to another time and place.  You remember.  And for a reader of a novel, it is an instantaneous trick for getting them into the moment.  A character bites an orange, nibbles on some chocolate, or licks the icing off the cake.  Readers will know those sensation, and it will help them to slide into the mind of the character they are reading.  We might not know what it is like to live in a world of dragons, to run a country, or to climb a mountain range.  But we know what it is like to hunger and to feast.

blur breakfast close up dairy product

Photo by Ash on Pexels.com

Why don’t we use it?

Why doesn’t food get used more in writing?  Partly I think it is because we don’t think of it.  There is so much to do when it comes to putting together a narrative, it is easy to let eating and food slide off the list.  But food is such a key part of human life, and it can be a wonderful addition to your writing tool-box.

So how do you go about using food in your writing?

Food helps you build a World

Food is a powerful tool for world building.  One of the great challenges for writers, particularly of fantasy, is to get facts and information across to the reader without ‘dumping’ the information in a great, dull heap.  But food can quickly communicate various aspects of the story: How poor a family is, how a party works in that world, or the economics of a society.

One of the most powerful examples of this is in “The Hunger Games” series, where Katnis has spent her life desperately hunting to feed her family (as well as putting her name into the reaping lotto extra-times in exchange for food for her family).  Then she goes to the capital, where the food is plentiful and excessive.  The nature of the two communities is highlighted by that contrast.  And when Katnis is asked what she loves most in the capital, she says the Lamb Stew, because for someone who has fought every day of her life to put food on her table, a beautiful dish she doesn’t have to hunt is a miracle.

(BTW, here is a recipe for a Lamb and dried plum stew like the one Katnis loves so much, I’ve made it and it is delicious!)

Food has such a huge influence on a society, it is a wonderful way of communicating a different world.

Food can help you develop character

Food can also be used to show what a character is like.  My Mother tells of her Step-Grandmother, who would never use her hands to eat. Mum remembers watching her eat a chicken wings and drum-sticks with a knife and fork.  With just a little piece of information, you can tell something of who she is.  Is the person health conscious?  A sloppy eater?  Does a family all rush to put as much food on their plate as they can, as if it could all disappear in a moment? Watching a character eat can give you a window into their personality and heritage.

woman drinking wine

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Food can make you want to visit a fictional world

I am sure I am not the only person in the world who is still waiting for my Hogwarts letter.  And I think part of it is just for the food.  Right up to the point where I realised that enslaved house-elves made the food, I was entranced by those big tables in the great hall, and the piles of deliciousness that appeared every night. And again the food is made all the more tempting because Harry has never had enough to eat up to that point.

The same thing happened as I read Crazy Rich Asians.  Everything, from the elaborate culinary production at Tyersall Park, to the Hawker-market Satay, made me want to go to Singapore.  I made Asian food for weeks in response to all that deliciousness.

Good, interesting, exciting food can draw you into a world, and make you want to be part of it.

A note for Fantasy writers Or How I got thinking about this.

I have always used food in my writing, mostly because I love food (I am one of those people who will be in a good mood all day because I know there is a particularly nice meal coming for dinner).  But I got thinking about this again after a writing dilemma.

A character in my novel was making balls of dried fruit and nuts.  Now, I could do one of two things.  I could give those fruits and nuts completely new names from my world.  That would give the reader a sense they were in another place.  But if those balls are made of almonds and dates, when a character takes a bite, most readers can imagine the sensation of what they tasted like, and it will help them get into that world.

It is a difficult line.

In the end, in discussion with some of my fantasy writing buddies, I decided that ‘made-up’ food should be used occasionally and sparingly.  Yes it can give a sense of other worldliness, but because the reader doesn’t know the food you are talking about, it wretches them out of the world and doesn’t give them that ‘sensation on the tongue’ memory that is so immersive.

But one little technique I’ve notices authors use, is to give familiar food an other-worldly feeling.  You might have a in-world animal cooked into a familiar dish.  You might have food eaten with different utensils, or have the simplest meal of the day in the evening.  In Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight books he has ‘men’s food’ (meat cooked in spicy sauce) or ‘women’s food’ (meat cooked in sweet sauce).  You can taste it as he writes, but you are still convinced you aren’t in Kansas anymore.  Or you might explain a dish without using its our-world name.  You can’t use a term like Boston Bun or Black Forrest Cake in a place without a Boston or a Black Forrest!  But you can eat a Fruit bun with icing or Chocolate and cherry cake!  If a character eats sushi, that might seem too specific for a reader, but they will understand what it tastes like to have rice-balls wrapped in dried sea-weed.

So, if you are a writer, why not think hard about how food and taste can be used in your writing.  It is a small aspect of writing that can make a big difference.

I highly recommend if you are a fantasy writer (or even if you aren’t) that you listen to this Writing Excuses Podcast on Fantasy Food with Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch.  It is extremely hilarious as well as informative on this topic.

Also K.M. Allan has an excellent post on writing with the five senses here. Well worth a look!

 

Why Nano?

 

The month of October has arrived.  That means more sunshine, Cherry blossoms, and days in the backyard (at least for me here in Melbourne).  But it also means that Nanowrimo is on its way.

Nanowrimo is a yearly writing challenge that runs every year in the month of November.  Working on the basis that a novel is around 50K, the challenge is to write an entire novel in a month, along-side other writers.  You can find out about it here.

Writing-twitter and my writing related Facebook pages, are filled with people talking about and planning for Nano.  There are also others who are wondering, is this the year to try it?

And while it isn’t for everyone (and some years just don’t work), this is my plea for you to consider it.  Because it is an experience that has changed my life.

You realise just how much time you have.

The first time I did Nano, I had two year old twins and a 5 month old.  An editor friend asked on Facebook who was doing Nano and I said “I would love to do it one day but…” and brought up the afore mentioned off-spring.  She replied that I could always set a modest goal and see how I go.  So at the time in my life where I had less time for writing than I ever had, I set myself the goal of writing 1000 words a day.

I managed 25K words that month.  I cut out night-time television and day time naps and I  wrote more in that month than I had written in years.

Nano is great because when you are forcing yourself to stick to a word goal each day, you realise how many little pockets of time you have in your day.  You realise that television and social media aren’t half as satisfying as writing.  Nano taught me how much time I had, and how much I could get done if I spent it writing.  And those lessons have carried on into some excellent writing habits.

It is a finite time

New Years resolutions rarely work.  Promising yourself that for a whole year you will X, Y, or Z might seem a great idea in January, but come March that enthusiasm starts to wane.

But one month of working hard at a goal, is much more manageable and realistic.

One month of your kids watching slightly more television than normal is okay.  One month of a messy house is okay, or one month of easy, simple meals.  One month is measurable, finite.

And I can plan for it.  I can spend October getting the house in order, and preparing for activities that couldn’t be moved.  Because it is only a small block of time, I can work hard the rest of the year to make it possible.

It is accountability

This is the first year I am trying for the 50K, and also the first time I have actually signed up on the ‘official’ website.  But even before I did that, I have always been public with my Nano-goals.  I have Facebooked my Nano-journey, celebrating the milestone’s and despaired during the difficult days.  Not everyone who read my status’ would have cared or understood, but for me it was a powerful incentive.  I had told the world I was going to write, and so write I did.

And while I had set myself the goal of finishing the first draft of a Novel every year for most of my life, with the accountability of Nano, it became a reality.

 

These are all really good reasons to do Nano.  But there is one big reason why every year since that first faithful 25K, I have made myself do Nano.  And it is not about good habits (I write most days now), or accountability (I have writing friends who help me with that), or the finite nature of the month (though it is related to that).

For One Month, I let myself prioritise writing

My life is very full of good things and I have lots of wonderful responsibilities.  I have four beautiful children, with various important needs and wants, and as a Stay at Home Mum I have day-time duty for them.  I have friends, I have responsibilities.  I have a house that is never tidy and people I care about and volunteer work I do and family and friends I love and…the list goes on.

And I find it very hard to put any of that aside for my writing.  It feels selfish to say- “No, that is my writing time”.  Sure, I am happy to spend my leisure time (Ha!) on writing, but to treat it like a job and not a hobby makes me feel like an imposter.

But I want writing to be my job one day.  And it never will be unless I treat it as such.

So Nano is my permission to do that.  It is the month where I let myself say ‘Yes’ to writing, and ‘No’ to the other good things in my life.  And every year I do it, every year I reach my goals,  I get a little bit better at believing in myself.

October might have Cherry-Blossoms and my favourite mild weather.  But November is my favourite month of the year.  Because November is the month where I get to write my heart-out.

And what could be better than that!