Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Recuperating from the Fray of Madcap Writing

A young man asleep by his computer after a pizza-fueled writing session.

I’m slowly recovering from an intense month of writing, flu and the life in between. My mum has been visiting for two weeks and we’ve been having riotous fun together.

But now it’s December and one must get back into routine! Before we do that however, let’s just take a moment to reminisce.

Things I’ve Learned During November

This is the first time I’ve ‘won’ NaNo WriMo, and I’ve learned some things in the process.

Keep Muddling Through

This draft is one of the hardest I have ever worked on. Nothing seemed to gel and I remember describing it as ‘soul destroying.’ However, it did eventually lead to a breakthrough in my novel. And, to boot, I came up with several interesting ideas, including the answer to a story problem which has been eating away at me for two years.

So I’ve learned that the most important part of writing is the ‘ing’ – the continuing process. It doesn’t have to be pretty, and it’s not going to be easy, but by chipping away at it you’ll end up discovering things about your story and yourself that would otherwise never have been revealed.

Enthusiasm is Important, But Not Always Possible

My days were always easier when I was enthusiastic about what I was writing. Words flowed (at one point 2,200 words in 60 minutes) and ideas gelled.

But part of my problem was that November started one week too late. 7 days before November 1st I was ready to go! I had my ideas, my characters and my plot all lined up, I just needed to be unleashed. During that extra week stuff happened and I ended up landing on November 1st with no enthusiasm and the sinking feeling that I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

Still, I sat down at my computer and started to write. I forced those words onto the page, even on days when they felt ridiculous, hollow and just plain meaningless. I knew what I was writing was rubbish, and even now that I look back on it I don’t think I’m going to use what I’ve written – but I set myself a goal and I achieved it, which gives me the following perks in return.

  • I have a sense of accomplishment. I did it! And I’m proud of it! I proved to myself that I can write 50,000 words in a month. If that’s possible, what else can I achieve?
  • I have propelled myself through a really tough patch of writing. On day 28, as I reached my 50,000, I came up with a fresh angle on how I’m going to write this story. I wouldn’t have got there if I hadn’t spent that time and those words on my story.

So I wasn’t always a ball of enthusiasm and excitement when I sat down to my keyboard every day, but rummaging up even just a little pep to tide me through the first 500 words (and then the next 500 and the next) helped immensely. And on days when even that wasn’t possible, I just gritted my teeth and wrote the words.

We are writers. Even if all else fails, we have to write the words.

With those words now written, I can move on to my next set of goals.

Things I Have in the Works

I will now start working on the edits for my new e-book Tips For Those Contemplating Insanity, and will share with you all soon.

Also, I plan to launch a new blog early next year to do with all the whacky, wonderful, surprising and heart-warming things I have encountered in China. Don’t worry though, Creativity’s Workshop will still carry on as normal (whenever we work out what ‘normal’ is)!

I’ll share more details on these two projects as they come to hand.

Now, please share with us the interesting things you’ve learned over the past month, or year, or lifetime. We all love hearing nuggets of wisdom.

P.S. Sorry for the randomness of my posts lately. The internet and I are having a battle of wills at the moment. It took me over an hour to upload this post. Thank goodness for Freecell and Solitaire.

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NaNo WriMo Week 4 Highlights

Well, the flu is almost gone and I’ve made it over the 50,000 word hurdle!

I’m still completely out of routine and exhausted from coughing so I’ll keep this brief.

Thank you to those who commented last week with updates on their work. It was so lovely to hear from you.

We really do care about how your work is progressing so please take a moment to comment below and let us know how your week went. We’re all in this together and love cheering our fellow writers on.

Yesterday, as I passed 49,000 words, I suddenly came up with a novel-changing idea which means I’ve basically got to scrap everything and start back at square one…and I’m so excited! The new idea requires a completely different format, and my snippet today is a sneak peak at that format.

So, here goes. Please remember this is a rough draft.

For all those who remember Edward’s previous run in with the gas stove, here is his tried and true method for turning the gas on.

1. Roll up sleeves. This prevents the likelihood of your clothes catching fire.

2. Position yourself far enough away from the stove so that your hand can reach the knob but you’re still at a distance which protects your eyebrows and various other singe-able parts of your person.

3. Hold down the knob. When you hear the clicking sound, turn the knob. The flames will gush out with force. Hold your nerve and proceed to step four.

4. Depress the knob several times in quick succession. This is to ensure the flames ‘catch’ and don’t go out the second you take your hand off the knob.

5. Once you have a good blaze going, keep holding the knob down and turn it until you’re happy with the size of flames. (You’re never going to get perfectly obedient flames so just resolve yourself to fast cooking and pick a reasonable flame height. Suggestion: 2cm is probably the smallest you’re going to get.)

6. Gently and slowly release the knob. Hopefully your flames will remain. If not, repeat steps 3 to 6.

NOTE: If you do at some point need to open the cupboard under the stove, do so slowly and carefully. If opened too quickly, the suction of air will blow gas flames out and you will need to start at step 1 again.

Now, please share with us a snippet from your writing this week. It doesn’t have to be polished, just something you liked.

Remember, everyone is welcome to join in. You don’t have to be doing NaNo WriMo, and you don’t have to be writing a first draft. Share a snippet and feel proud of it.


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NaNo WriMo Week 3 Highlights

Sorry for the delay this week. I have the flu. My husband has declared it a ‘humdinger’ and my brain is mush. I’m muddling onwards as best I can.

Briefly, I’ve just passed 40,000 words (as you can see from the nifty little word count icon on the right) and I’m nowhere near the middle of my novel (let alone the end), so this looks like a first draft which will take far longer than November…how exciting!

My brother has already made his 50,000 and he’s still powering onwards. Yay! (I’m also feeling the nigglings of jealousy but I’m not letting myself dwell on that. I’m competing with a word count, not my fellow writers!)

Please take a moment to comment below and let me know how you’re progressing with whatever writing project you’re working on (NaNo WriMo or otherwise).

It’s difficult to pick an excerpt to share with you as my writing is very rough – scenes peppered with notes for things to add further up. I’ve chosen this little exchange between Edward and Peta as they take a walk along the street together.

Please remember this is a rough draft.

‘What do you think of Beijing so far?’ said Peta

Edward thought it best to keep the majority of his thoughts to himself at this stage, frightened he’d put his foot in it again. ‘It’s interesting. Different.’

‘Overwhelming?’ said Peta, grinning at him.

Edward opened his mouth to reply, but tripped on something and struggled to keep his balance. Looking back he saw a large screw sticking out of the concrete pavement. ‘What on earth is that doing there? Someone could do themselves damage.’

‘First lesson,’ said Peta. ‘Always walk with your eyes on the ground in front of you. This place is a minefield of trip hazards. Screws, uneven pavement, dog poo, spit, manholes without their covers. Keep your eyes on the road.’

‘Manholes without covers?’

‘Oh yes, happens all the time. I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve heard rumours that people take them for scrap metal.’

Edward walked along, looking at the pavement. It was made of up grey blocks, with a strip of light pink, ridged blocks down the side. Here and there the edges of the blocks sat up, presenting the perfect trip hazard. Now that he was looking, he also saw small puddles of spit and other things he’d rather not step in.

‘Makes you realise why Chinese always leave their shoes at the door, doesn’t it?’ said Peta.

This was a something Edward had never thought of before, and he took a moment to ponder it. He also made a vow that these shoes would never make it further into his home than the front door, already dreading the stuff he might have walked through his apartment.

That makes my story (and China) sound rather disgusting, but I swear it’s not! The situation is, however, something one just has to live with here. It’s a truism.

Now, please share with us a snippet from your writing this week. It doesn’t have to be polished, just something which you liked.

Remember, everyone is welcome to join in. You don’t have to be doing NaNo WriMo, and you don’t have to be writing a first draft. Share a snippet of something you’ve written this week and feel proud of it.

P.S. Please take a minute to read the post Obvious and amazing: Sending your creative work out into the world on Carole Jane Tregget’s blog about why we should not delete while writing drafts. It is a fantastic reminder.


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Hit a Snag With Your Story? Why Not Try…

Lots of scoops of different flavoured icecream. Yum.

Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity and I’m here to give you some tips on changing things up with your story.

How’s your word count coming along? Have you reached a bit of an impasse where your character doesn’t know what to do or your plot is refusing to move forward?

It’s possible your Creativity’s attention is waning a little. But you can fix that! How?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Most Creativities love it when you throw in something random to spice things up. 

Why not try one of these?

  • Introduce a new character – Suddenly your protagonist’s brother, a trapeze artist currently ‘between traveling circuses,’ turns up on the doorstep with an overnight bag. Or your protagonist’s mother calls to ask her how she is and if she’s washed behind her ears recently. Or your protagonist is out kayaking and sees the girl of his dreams, only to have her washed down the rapids and out of his life! 
  • Discover a dead body – It might be the body of one of your main characters (gasp!) or the body of a complete unknown (now you must discover who has been killed) or it might not even be a human body (‘Oh my goodness, George. I’ve squashed an ant!’). 
  • Fire your protagonist – Nothing changes things up like unemployment. Does this give your character chance to apply for their dream job? Jump on the next boat out of here and sail to that harbour they’ve always wanted to see? Or does it mean they now have to work at Greasy Joe’s to make ends meet?
  • Give your protagonist a new pet – Perhaps they buy that cute little puppy which has been making eyes at them from the pet shop window every morning. Or their next-door neighbour goes on holiday and asks your protagonist to look after their boa constrictor for the week. Or a bird flies into the kitchen window and damages its wing, so now your protagonist must care for it. 
  • Kill off a wealthy relative and provide your protagonist (or antagonist!) with an inheritance – The sudden addition of money often shows a person’s true colours (I’m currently aqua with chocolate stripes, but that’s neither here nor there). Does your protagonist buy a new car? A new house? Plane tickets to the other side of the world? Donate to a charity? Or imagine if your chief bad guy suddenly had a windfall? ‘Yes! Now I can finally build that secret evil lair I’ve been planning since childhood!’
  • Inflict a natural disaster – Perhaps an earthquake hits suddenly. Or maybe a hurricane/cyclone warning has been issued and everyone must batten down the hatches. How do your characters cope with disaster? And what will they do with themselves when they have lost everything?

Remember, the first draft is for you to explore all the exciting possibilities of your characters, location, theme and plot. So have fun! Be random. Splash out and paint on your page with great, fearless strokes!

Also, have a read of this post from The Office of Letters and Light blog about where authors found their real life inspirations for characters like Mr. Darcy, Sherlock Holmes and Alice (in Wonderland). 


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NaNo WriMo Week 2 Highlights

We’re almost half way through the month. Eek! How is everyone going?

I’ve managed over 26,000 words, although I’ve now done almost 2 weeks of ‘writing bilge.’ In the past day or two I’ve started to feel more comfortable with how my writing sounds, but it’s been quite a struggle up until that point.

A couple of nights ago I decided to change Edward’s profession from teacher to businessman in the hope that it will make certain story points easier. However, the result is that the majority of what I’d written up until that point has to change. Doh!

But here’s where the beauty of first drafts kicks in. I will make those changes in the next draft. For now, I’ve typed up some quick notes on how will I change things and then I’m continuing on with my current draft – writing as if he’s always been a businessman.

I find this fantastically liberating for two reasons:

  • Firstly, because I don’t have to trudge back to the start and begin again. I finally have some writing momentum. I don’t want to lose that by starting at the beginning again. As I continue writing, there will always be things I want to change earlier in the story. But I’ve set the precedent – no going back until we’ve reached the end. Leave a note and keep writing!
  • Secondly, because I know it will be easy to start on my second draft. I know when I pull it out of the draw several months down the track, I won’t read it and wonder where I’m going to start. I already know. The thing is a mess and lots of scenes are out of order. By the time I clean up the structure, I’ll be on a roll – having gathered momentum again to keep making progress.

So I’m very pleased with what I’ve accomplished this week. What about you? Please share with us some highlights (or difficulties) of your week.

It’s been very hard to choose an excerpt from my writing this week because, as mentioned above, I’ve been working through bilge. However, yesterday I wrote the following and decided this was what I wanted to share.

Here’s a little background: Edward has met our leading lady (Peta) on a plane into Beijing and she’s given him her phone number in case he ever needs help. After that, he was picked up from the airport by a Chinese representative of his company and taken to his new apartment.

He is jet lagged and just wants a cup of tea before curling up for some shut-eye. In the process of attempting to make a cup of tea, he discovers there is no kettle, water is leaking from under the kitchen sink and the gas won’t light. He goes downstairs to find the building manager and ends up coming across ‘Mr. Go’ who speaks virtually no English. Mr. Go is now standing in Edward’s kitchen trying to communicate with him.

With me so far? Remember, this is first draft stuff so it’s pretty rough at this stage – spit and polish comes later.

Edward fumbled around in his pocket. There, on a piece of paper, was Peta’s phone number. When she gave it to him, he actually had no intention of using it, but right now he would give anything for an English speaker. He dialed and then waited.

‘Hello?’ said the voice.

Edward sighed in relief. ‘Hello. This is Edward. We met on the plane.’

‘Oh hi! How’s life?’

‘Frustrating.’

‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Welcome to China.’

‘There’s a leak under the kitchen sink and the gas won’t work. I think the building manager is here to look at it but I can’t understand what he’s saying.’

‘You think the building manager is there? Are you worried you’re hallucinating?’

‘No, what I mean is there is a man here who I think is the building manager.’

‘Ah. I get you. Do you need some help?’

‘Yes,’ said Edward. ‘Help is exactly what I need.’

‘So leak under the sink and a problem with the gas, right?’

‘Right.’

‘Let me talk to the guy.’

Edward handed the phone over again. Mr. Go had been feeling all the pipes under the sink and turning the tap on and off. He stopped, wiped his wet hand on his shirt and took the phone. The two of them had a chummy conversation, after which Mr. Go handed the phone back with a smile.

Edward put it back to his ear. ‘How did that go?’

‘He already knows about the leak. He says he’ll need to go get his stuff and come back to fix it.’

Edward felt his eyes close. ‘Great,’ he said, with no enthusiasm.

‘He’s going to look at the gas now.’

As she said this, Mr. Go pushed down on the stove knob. The stove clicked a couple of times and then belched fiery gas. Mr. Go fiddled with something, Edward was too tired to see what. Then Mr. Go pressed the knob again. This time the gas flames leapt over a foot into the air with a percussive whoosh, like the first few seconds of a rocket liftoff.

‘Mm,’ said Mr. Go, with a nod. Then he turned to Edward, gave him the thumbs up sign and said, ‘Okay!’

Edward realised the breeze in his mouth was caused by the dropping of his jaw. ‘Okay?’ he croaked. ‘You call that okay?’

Mr. Go glanced back at the stove. He pushed down the knob again, resulting in the same violent explosion. ‘Mm. Okay.’

Edward couldn’t peel his eyes off the spot where the flames had just been. The merest whimper escaped his lips.

‘Do you need me to come around?’ said Peta, her voice sounding suddenly far away. ‘I think you need someone there with you.’

Edward tried to speak, but the heaviness had now migrated to his throat and nothing would come out.

‘Where are you staying?’ she said. ‘What’s the address?’

A further realisation hit him. ‘I have no idea where I am.’

‘Give the phone back to the guy. I’ll ask him.’

Edward mechanically handed the phone back to Mr. Go, who was watching Edward with amusement. He started chatting, then pointing in different directions with his finger. Nodding a couple of times, he said ‘bye bye’ and gave the phone back again.

‘Turns out I live really close by,’ she said to Edward. ‘I’ll be over there shortly.’

Edward gurgled something in reply and then she hung up.

Mr. Go pointed to the sink and then to the door. He said something, then toddled out.

Edward staggered to the couch and eased himself down. Asimov hopped up beside him, putting his head on Edward’s lap.

‘Good grief,’ Edward said to no one in particular. ‘What have I got myself into?’

For the record, my gas stove does exactly that. We have to lean back whenever we light it so as not to catch any part of our person aflame. Ah, China. What fun.

Now, please share with us a snippet from your writing this week. It doesn’t have to be polished, just something which you liked.

Remember, everyone is welcome to join in. You don’t have to be doing NaNo WriMo, and you don’t have to be writing a first draft. Share a snippet of something you’ve written this week and feel proud of it.

P.S. I’ve just come across this interesting new writing blog called Swagger run by 8 writers. They’ve already posted some interesting articles. My favourites so far are Becoming a Writer (a reminder on the true definition of ‘writer’) and Can’t Please Everyone (which is something I’m always forgetting). Take a look and enter their Swagger Swag Giveaway (hurry though as it ends November 15th).


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Tips for Those Writing by the Seat of Their Pants

The front of a mountain bike heading down a dirt path at speed

How’s your story coming along? Is it heading off in a completely unexpected direction? Are your characters rebelling and mangling your carefully planned plot for their own nefarious schemes?

Have you suddenly found yourself facing the prospect of writing by the seat of your pants for the rest of November?

Fear not. This could be a very good thing!

Even if we’ve carefully plotted our story before we started, during NaNo WriMo we all end up becoming ‘pantsers’ to a certain extent. So, with that in mind, I’ve done some research and assembled the following tips on how to make a success of writing by the seat of your pants.

Map What You Have So Far

Put together a high level diagram, list or spread sheet of what you have written so far. This benefits you in at least two ways:

  • Going back over what you’ve been working on may remind you of earlier plot points which you can introduce back into your current chapter.
  • It will allow you to see what kind of tempo your story has up until this point and determine if you need to spice it up a little (add some more action and adventure perhaps).

In this post by Justine Larbalestier entitled How to Write a Novel, she speaks about creating a spread sheet of the chapters you’ve written. She suggests having a ‘content column’ where you can add symbols to show whether the chapter was action packed, people sitting around talking etc. It provides you with a wonderful overview of what you have so far, which you can then use to launch yourself further into your story.

Remember: Keep your map as high level as possible. Don’t get bogged down in the nitty gritty otherwise you’ll lose your forward momentum.

Think About Where Your Story is Going

Allison Winn Scotch wrote a post entitled Flying By The Seat of Your Pants,  in which she says:

I guess my advice is to really ruminate on the action before you put it down on paper. Even though I might not spend my entire day writing, I do spend a lot of my non-writing hours mulling over what’s going to go on the page when I do. I don’t just sit down and write to write…I’ve long since hashed out WHY I’m asking a character to do something and WHERE this is going to lead to in the plot. If their actions make sense and propel the plot forward, then for the most part, I’m safe.

Writing is not just about putting words on paper. It’s about putting thoughts, ideas and feelings into words. For those words to come, you need to have at least the beginnings of these things inside you.

So set aside time to sit and think about where you are going. Perhaps do this while you’re taking the bus to work, walking the kids to school, pottering around the kitchen (Agatha Christie apparently though the best time to plan a book was while you were washing dishes), ironing or doing other less mind-intensive tasks. If all else fails, take a shower.

Resist the Urge to Go Back

While some authors do go back and rewrite during their first draft, this is NaNo WriMo. We have a word count to conquer!

If you decide something needs to be inserted earlier in your novel, write yourself a note (perhaps in caps) on the page you’re currently writing on and then keep going. For example, if you suddenly kill off your point of view character, make a note to ‘change novel to third person’ and then keep going.

Novels come to life in rewrites. In fact, I have recently come across further evidence that the messier your drafts are, the easier it is to revise them. This post at Writer Unboxed proves it.

Live Up the Randomness

As long as you’re heading off in a different direction with your story, why not take advantage of the added flexibility?

Add in new characters, send your protagonist to another country, call in a thunderstorm. Shake things up. Throw in a bit of randomness. Work your new angles and look for ways to make your story and characters even more interesting.

NaNo WriMo provides dares for different things you can incorporate to spin your story off in a new direction. If you’re facing completely new territory with your story, why not try a dare?

Next week Creativity will be providing some extra ideas to help you spice up your story with a little randomness.

Trust in Editing

Writing is rewriting. Therefore don’t panic too much about your first try at the story. Go with the flow and leave niggly problems to the editing later on. It’s far more important to dream big at this stage and see where your imagination takes you.

Here is an example of a well-established author, Susanne Alleyn, who writes by the seat of her pants. In her post Plotting a Mystery By the Seat of Your Pants, she takes the reader through a real life example using one of her own novels.

This example just goes to prove that you should allow yourself to discover new characters and plot points, because there’s a good chance your story will end up in a far more interesting place. And this is perfectly okay because you can always go back and edit later.

If all else fails and you’re really starting to panic, remember this quote from Martha Alderson (author of The Plot Whisperer):

I don’t care how you write the first draft. Just get it written all the way from the beginning to the end anyway you can – pre-plotting, plotting as you write, or writing purely by the seat of your pants. With a completed draft, no matter how wretched you may believe it is, you can then get down to the real work of plot and structure.

In the end you just might discover that writing by the seat of your pants is liberating. If this system works for you, then embrace it!


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NaNo WriMo Week 1 Highlights

Hello all! How did your first week of November go?

Mine went exceptionally well as far as word count is concerned. My draft is a delicious mess of unattributed dialogue, story notes in all caps and odd character moments. Already I’m having some trouble with a particular character who arrived in the story three chapters too early and then refused to turn up to dinner at her mother’s place, which I’ve had written on my plot cards for weeks (she’s going to be a handful, I can tell!).

As a side effect of all this writing, I have all sorts of ideas buzzing around in my head. I’ve been finding new pieces to a story I cooked up last month and I think I’ve solved a story problem for another project which has been bugging me for a couple of years. (Back! Back, I say! All you ideas must wait until December!) I’m making sure they’re being recorded in my journal, Evernote or e-mails so I can come back to them later.

Now, I’d like to implement something special for the month of November. Every Monday I’m going to put up a snippet of what I’ve written during the week, something I liked. It’s not going to be polished, or edited (unless it makes no sense without the changes), just put up to share.

Then all of you are welcome to add your little snippets from your week of writing. They don’t have to be brilliant pieces to blow us away. Just something cute, or funny, or special, or something you feel ‘clicked.’ Use this as an opportunity to realise what you’ve accomplished and get encouragement from your fellow writers.

Everyone is welcome to join in. You don’t have to be doing NaNo WriMo, and you don’t have to be writing a first draft. Share a snippet of something you’ve written this week and feel proud about it.

So here’s my offering. It’s from my first day of writing. My main character, Edward, is getting dressed for a wedding when someone makes an entrance. It was written in quite a flippant (almost P.G. Wodehouse style) manner, which I’ve since toned down considerably as I’ve written further – so it will doubtless not been seen in future drafts as it is now. So I figure it’s the perfect thing to share. (Remember, rough draft!)

At that moment the door to the bedroom where they were dressing burst open and in rushed a very disheveled toddler – his blonde hair looking like it had just been through a car wash, a chocolate smear down one side of his face and a red mark flushing up on the other. His [coat]tails made him look like an oversized cricket.

Running after the little chap came his sister, two years older and dressed as a flower girl, frills about the waist and bows in the hair.

‘Charles!’ she squealed. ‘Charles you’re all untucked!’

Charles scuttled around the room, squeaking and chirping as he ducked out of his sister’s reach.

Henry and Barry watched with great amusement.

‘Oh, Uncle Edward,’ the girl wailed. ‘Help me catch him.’

‘Uncle’ Edward (an honourary title he didn’t mind too much until such times as it necessitated him catching small, chocolate covered children) bent down to grab at the little fellow who, although his legs were spectacularly short and lumpy, made excellent time and nipped straight past him.

‘Uncle Edward!’ wailed the girl.

‘I know Tasha, here he comes again.’

The little tike had indeed effected a u-turn and was coming back past. Edward made a swipe, the urchin altered course to avoid him and blundered straight into a table leg.

Until this moment it had not occurred to Edward how quiet the house had been – an accomplishment considering it was the morning of a wedding and the house was full of groomsmen, parents of the groom and other peripheries all dressing for the big day. It was a quiet, now that he reflected on it, that should have been savoured seeing as it was henceforth convincingly wrenched apart by Charles’ infantile lungs.

Edward squatted down beside the wailing child. ‘There there,’ didn’t seem to cut it somehow, and he was just wondering whether he should try and pick the little fellow up when the child paused to suck in a fresh lungful of air and then screamed, ‘Mummy!’

As far as Edward was concerned, this got him off the hook. If a child bellowed one’s own name, then one was under obligation to render aid – hugs, pats and consolation included. But if the child expressed a firm and deliberate preference for the assistance of another, well what is one to do but find the person the child is calling?

There was no need however. ‘Mummy’ arrived within seconds.

So, there you go. Now it’s your turn. Please share with us a highlight of your week.

P.S. If you’d like to follow my progress, here’s the link to my NaNo WriMo page. Feel free to make me your writing buddy.

P.P.S. If you’re suffering with white page fright or the fear of what your writing will be like, then have a read through some of these quotes about ‘the courage to write’ at A Beautiful Ripple Effect.


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3 Myths About The First Draft

A piece of paper with NOW! written across it

NaNo WriMo starts today! With that in mind, I’ve prepared this post to wish us all well as we start our journey and remind ourselves of the purpose of The First Draft.

The following are 3 myths which we might consciously or unconsciously believe.

Myth 1 – My First Words Must Be Gold, Otherwise I Can’t Start

“I’ve read that the first page of your manuscript is the most important. It’s what hooks the reader. So I have to make the first lines the best.”

That’s very true, but not on your first draft. Your first words will very rarely be gold. More than likely they’ll be green sludge. But that’s not the point. The point is that you put words onto the page.

Editing is a marvellous thing, a process which discovers the gold in your manuscript. But it only works if the manuscript actually exists.

Don’t wait for the gold. Just Start.

Myth 2 – My First Draft Will Be Perfect

“I’ve got a great idea and some really good characters. I’m pretty well set. All I have to do is get it down on paper and I’ll have something to send out to publishers!”

Let’s not beat about the bush here – 99% of first drafts stink. They’re rough, badly spelled, just about impossible to follow and riddled with continuity errors. And this is exactly how they’re supposed to be! 

First drafts are there for us to begin getting the idea down on paper. It’s the first time they properly see the light of day – like the little green shoot peeking out of the ground at the beginning of spring. Most first drafts glisten with potential, but there’s far more work ahead before they’re polished enough to submit.

Therefore they must not be perfect. I don’t just mean ‘they are not perfect,’ I mean ‘they must not be perfect.’ First drafts are your chance to play, explore and gallivant off into territories you’re not prepared for. The messier your first draft the better!

Sometimes you will read back over a 150 page first draft and find one page which tells you what the story is. Then you throw the rest of it out and start afresh with that one page. This is not a waste – it’s a process. Those 150 pages were absolutely worth it because they gave you that one page.

So, when writing your first draft, don’t go back and perfect every sentence, correct every spelling error and rewrite your opening paragraph 12 times till you’re happy. Write with abandon. If you’re writing on paper, then scribble, scratch out, write in the margins, doodle – make it a delightful mess. If you’re typing your manuscript, then type in caps, write scenes as you think of them without worrying about the order, write notes as you go instead of scrolling back up to change it now. Work on creating a happy flow which keeps you moving forward – because momentum is the most important thing.

Don’t let your messy drafts make you feel inferior to ‘published writers.’ Many published writers work on this principle. Don’t believe me? Listen to this interview with Andrea Levy, where she speaks about her first drafts as ‘the meandering of an idiot’s mind’ (29:30 minutes in). She goes to her local library and writes the first things that come into her mind “and they’re bad. The first things I write down…oh no…they’re not good.”

This post from Ann Aguirre over at Writer Unboxed also shows that it’s perfectly okay, in fact preferable, to have a messy first draft. She speaks about how each novel comes differently, some chapter by chapter and others completely out of order.

If the process good enough for them, it’s absolutely good enough for you!

And in case you needed one more reason, in this guest post by Martha Alderson over at Through the Wardrobe, she says:

As a matter of fact, the worse the first draft, the better. Trying for perfection before you know what you are trying to convey commonly leads to procrastination.

Convinced?

Myth 3 – I Must Have My Audience In Mind

“I’ve got to think about the people who will be reading this manuscript and make sure the story appeals to them.”

If you remember nothing else from this blog post, remember this: The first draft is for you.

Your story’s eventual readers will be reading the 4th, 9th perhaps 33rd draft of this story. Virtually no one will read your first draft. It’s for you.

It’s for you to discover your voice, your characters, the plot, unexpected scenes, special moments – to discover your unique story. It’s the opportunity for you to bond with this creation, to form the emotional ties and depths of understanding which will carry you through the following months or years of bringing it to completion.

Don’t let other people get in your way. Shield it if you have to – don’t tell others what you’re writing and don’t let them read it if you feel their comments will break your momentum. This is your creation and your special time with it.

Later on you will consider your audience and the hook on your first page and polish the work to perfection. For now, this draft is a first draft and it’s just for you.

So go write! Start now!

P.S. For those of you who haven’t plotted your novel, here is some great advice from Martha Alderson (mentioned above) about how to plot your story by scheduling it into the four weeks of NaNo WriMo.

P.P.S. Thank you to everyone who took the time to declare their novel. If you haven’t been following the comments, take a minute to pop back past the post and give feedback to our intrepid writers.


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Declare Your Novel!

NaNo WriMo starts in a couple of days. Are you excited? I am!

Do you have an idea of what you’re going to write? If so, tell us about it! Scroll down to the comments and declare it to the world!

We’re all in this together, and we’re all starting from scratch. So if your story idea is rough, vague and/or clichéd it really doesn’t matter. Get it out and get it going!

Telling others about your story helps you in a couple of ways:

  • It provides you opportunity to gauge people’s reaction and interest in your story. Perhaps you can tweak your plot and characters depending on your audience’s reaction. (Although when working on your first draft, I highly recommend you ignore people’s suggestions and just go for it! Leave the tweaks for revision.)
  • It gives your friends incentive to encourage your progress. If they know details about the story, they become invested in the project and interested to know more.

So here I am, declaring my novel! (Just give me a minute to finish biting my fingernails.)

The Colour of Jam

The cover artwork for my new story - a photograph of a chinese corridor lined with green columns.

Edward Cockburn leads a perfectly planned life, teaching IT in a London college, walking his dog (Asimov) and waiting for his ideal woman to come along…until the day he finds out he’s being replaced by a younger teacher.
Desperate to keep his job for another 12 months to qualify for long service leave, he is given only one option – apply for the college’s Teacher Exchange Program and go to China for a year.
Plunged into the culture shock and mayhem of Beijing life, Edward and Asimov are guided through the learning curve by Australian expat Peta. She teaches Edward how to barter, cross the road, snowboard on the subway, order street food and many other essential skills.
As Edward gradually comes to appreciate the beauties of Chinese living, he also falls for Peta. But Peta is waiting for an ideal man of her own. Can Edward sacrifice his carefully planned life to convince Peta that he’s the man for her?

The cover art is actually a photo taken by my father at the Summer Palace in Beijing. If you make the image smaller and squint your eyes a little, it looks like a jam jar on a green background. (Not intentional! A friend of mind discovered that after I made it.)

Okay, so the title, story and characters will most probably change during the writing process, but this is what I’m starting with.

What about you? Tell us about what you plan to work on. (It doesn’t have to be anywhere near as organized as mine! I just had a bit too much time on my hands before November.)

P.S. If you’re worrying about where and how to start your writing, The Creative Penn had this great post on the subject.


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How to Write By the Seat of Your Pants Through NaNo WriMo

A little girl squealing as she shoots down a metal slide.

Okay, we’ve had several posts now about how to prepare your novel, your Creativity and yourself for NaNo WriMo, but what if you’re one of those people who writes by the seat of their pants?

Well here are some suggestions for you on how to make November a success.

Set Aside Time to Write

Keep to a writing schedule as much as possible. If you don’t plan your writing time, it’s all too easy to just let things slide and end up realising it’s November 25th and you’re facing an insurmountable deficit.

Ideas will come if you have a consistent schedule. First you need to get into the habit of sitting down and facing the page.

Expose Yourself to Plenty of Writing Fodder

While it’s all well and good to keep your head down and dutifully pound out the words, don’t forget to actively look for ideas during the process.

  • Watch people as you walk along the street.
  • Pay attention to shops, houses and back alleys during your travels.
  • Notice different forms of employment – postman, window washer, air hostess, bank clerk. Perhaps even take the opportunity to ask your friends or acquaintances for more information on their typical day at work.
  • Read! Read articles you normally wouldn’t be interested in. Read classic books. Read new books.

Find time to get away from your computer and absorb some of the interesting world around you, then inject it into your story.

Select Music for Your Writing

As mentioned before, music can help your Creativity. Soundtracks are created to tell a story, with interesting changes in pace and emotion just waiting to fit your scene. Different tempos evoke different moods, so listen to a variety of genres to find the sound you feel fits with what you’re working on.

Each character’s choice of songs will reveal their personality, age, likes and dreams. Spend some time considering what kind of music would interest them.

Once you’ve got this collection together, why not create a playlist of songs you feel capture your story and characters. Listen to it during your day to provide ideas for your writing.

Keep a Notebook

Once you get into your story, it’s a good idea to have a notebook or a document on hand to record things. Okay, you may not want to write down your plans for your characters, but at least record the details you’ve already written about.

For example, if your character is an orphan, make a note of it so further down the track you don’t suddenly have him call his father asking for money.

Jot down descriptions and history in your notebook so you can refer back to the details easily, instead of having to scroll through your whole story trying to find them.

Enjoy the Process

Have fun while you’re writing, without worrying too much about the outcome. The beauty of writing by the seat of your pants is that you never know where you’ll end up. And if you finish up somewhere completely different from where you started, you can always go back and rewrite.

After all, this quote is very true:

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages. —William Campbell Gault