Multi tasking: a good thing or spreading myself too thin?

I’m currently writing novel number two. The first one languishes, timid and shy, in the bottom drawer for fear of being laughed at. And with good reason. It’s pretty ordinary. And in the too hard basket for editing.

The second one is progressing well – nearly 30,000 words up and whilst it still needs lots of work, I’m enjoying throwing down the first draft with lots of notations ready to begin a good edit for the second draft.

I’m also writing three short stories and I’ve just signed up for a short story online competition requiring me to turn out 6 stories in 12 weeks. I’m looking forward to having a deadline to work to, but am I taking on too much different writing?

Who concentrates solely on one particular style – novel only or short stories or non-fiction or blogging? Who does everything and anything. What are the benefits or drawbacks of taking on more writing tasks rather than finishing one project at a time?

Did I also mention I have a job and four children and a small hobby farm and a life? No? Perhaps I should add that I am not a houseproud clean-freak, I regularly use my parents for chauffeuring and babysitting (thanks mum and dad!) and I’m not above throwing a load of stuff from the freezer into the oven for a quick and easy midweek meal.

Maybe my life is a little like my writing? All over the place!

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Plunge in or plan it?

Are you a plunger or a planner?

When I did a TAFE writing and editing course last year I learnt about the Snowflake method of writing long fiction. The basic premise is your centre and you add layer upon layer until you have a full working draft. I loved the idea of it working from the very core outwards to create your piece, but as I sat studiously down at my computer each day to write my one liner, my one paragraph, my full page synopsis, my four page synopsis etc, I felt that my inspiration was being constrained.

I had all these ideas for sub plots and quirky characters but the limitations of the process did not allow me to sufficiently flesh them out. The format of the Snowflake was keeping me too rigid.

So, then I wrote a short story for a closed group forum competition and had many suggestions to use it as a longer piece. Could I do a snowflake for this one?  Hell no! I plunged in and am already enjoying the many twists and turns that my new work has taken me on.

What do you do?

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Genres, crossing the boundaries with your writing.

I had some happy news this week – I won a writing award (The Mary Grant Bruce Gippsland Writer in the FAW Literary Awards) for a children’s story and it was the second year in a row that I have won this particular award.  I don’t write many children’s stories, even though I have four young children myself.  In fact, the story that I won this award with didn’t start out life as a story for children, it just happened to be about young people.  A few comments from readers later and I redrafted it specifically for the younger age group.

I have won awards or had stories published in other genres too – horror, contemporary, humour, even some spec fic.  So, do I need to pick a genre and stick with it?  Or do I go with the flow and write whatever is in my head and worry about genres they fit into later?

There are some notable authors who have had success crossing genres: Agatha Christie is famous for her crime novels but wrote romances under a pen name, Mary Westmacott; Paul Theroux writes travel books and novels; Roald Dahl, famous for his children’s stories also wrote adult fiction.

But how difficult is it for emerging writers to get away with crossing from one genre to another, or even writing cross-genre stories?  If you’re seriously trying to make a name for yourself in a crowded industry would it be better to apply your craft to your more favoured style of fiction?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, but in the meantime, I’ll just bash out whatever comes into my head and see which box it fits.

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Media star or waffling idiot?

Having had what I think of as the misfortune of being interviewed for local radio and local television in recent weeks I came to wonder at what point do writers become less camera shy and more at ease with putting themselves out there? 

I am naturally reserved, preferring to hover at the back of a room than to be in the spotlight.  I’m also extremely inept at making public speeches and even reading excerpts of my work in a closed writing class used to give me palpitations.  So how do authors do it?  After all, it’s one thing to write a novel and have it published, but the battle to sell it then begins and promotion and publicity are the key factors.

Surely writers are much more comfortable putting pen to paper and thinking about the words they string together than forming thoughts off the cuff and having to articulate them?  After my radio interview I couldn’t even remember what I’d said, let alone feel that it was a coherent and worthy media piece.  The same for the television one.  I know that had I had the opportunity to write the answers down, they would have been remarkably different to the ones I gave on the spot.

Does it become easier?  Is media presence something that can be learned?  Can you ever feel comfortable watching your own image or hearing your own voice? 

It’s lovely to imagine that one day I’ll be able to answer those questions in the positive – but until then I’ll just keep plugging away at the first draft of the novel and let the demons of self-promotion inhabit my nightmares!

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Eclectic? Nothing wrong with that.

What’s wrong with being diverse?  Nothing!  I have come to notice just how eclectic my tastes in things like music, reading and cinema are.  And it’s reflected in my writing where I’ve dabbled in romance, historical, comedy, horror and everything in between.  But I’m not worried.  It’s just me.

At work we have undertaken Myers Briggs personality testing.  I don’t particularly like being a bunch of letters but I do always think about what a different bunch of personalities I am.  I don’t mean that I call myself Betty on a Thursday and become Vena the Valkyrie on a Sunday night but I do mean that I am different according to the situation I’m in.

I am mother, wife, daughter, work colleague and would-be writer.  All these personas have different characteristics – some are strong, some are funny, some lack confidence (bet you can’t guess which!) and all of them combined together are me.

The same with books and music. I can be just as comfortable with classics such as Jane Austen, chick lit like Lisa Jewell or Erica James and fantasy like Suzanne Collins.  In the last year or so I’ve read some mind-blowing stuff – To Kill a Mockingbird (finally!), The Book Thief, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns and some real fizzers labelled as classic but that failed to penetrate my soul (they shall remain unnamed). 

My iPod would reveal my very eclectic taste in music from ABBA to Amy Winehouse; from Queen to King of Pop, Michael Jackson, from classic 80s heart-throbs Duran Duran to the new-to-me, divine Paris Wells.

With my writing I’ve used various voices and don’t feel I’ve developed a sole style yet.  I’ve tended to let the voice come to me and then bash out the words.  I know a story is all wrong when I can’t get the right feel to the voice – then I either re-write it totally or abandon in half-finished.  I have written a few stories where the character sometimes takes over me and writes the story themselves – I love those ones.  Other times, I’ve had to write, delete, write, delete for hours until the voice fits.

Maybe one day I’ll find my own unique style.  Maybe I’ve got one now but am too inexperienced to recognise it.  Whatever the truth I’m enjoying trying my hand at different genres and voices and will write whatever flows if I feel in my bones that it’s the right tone.

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Lyrics

I’m just a little excited that on Monday night, after 30 years of waiting, I am finally going to see Duran Duran in concert.  Whilst the days of believing I was going to marry John Taylor are long behind me, and my taste for pop has waned, my love for this band’s music is still strong.  I often wonder why this should be, and I don’t mean to single out Duran Duran.  They were my band, but it could be anything from one’s teen years, from a movie to a recipe your nan cooked up, to a place you went on holiday.

Is it a harking back to the days when life was all about 3 week crushes and what colour mascara to put on with your snow-washed jeans – the simple things?  Or something more profound?  Something that buries itself deep within your developing psyche and refuses to budge no matter how many grey hairs you have to cover later in life.  Does the thing that still moves you from your teen years take you to a safer place, a happier state?

The lyrics to many Duran Duran songs are slightly out there and that may be the big appeal to me –  as a writer now, I understand the appeal of a deep and meaningful string of words.  And maybe that explains why I still love to listen to their albums, especially the ones from the 1980s. It’s not just to embarrass my kids by singing the words (out of tune of course) whilst plugged into my iPod.  The words take me back to my youth, to the time before I had grown into myself, to the time when I found expressing my feelings exceptionally difficult (as do most teens).  I could bury myself in the music and think, yes, that’s it exactly!

So thanks to Simon Le Bon and the boys my journey from teen to adult passed pretty smoothly and on Monday I’ll finally be able to shout their words out at the top of my voice as life turns full circle!

 

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Wedding Vows

I attended a beautiful wedding over the weekend: my gorgeous neice Gillian married her handsome young man, Steve, in a lush garden setting.  There were some wonderful touches – guests were given bubble mixture to blow at the end of the ceremony, Gill and Steve poured coloured sand into a glass vase to symbolise the joining of their two lives as one, and the garden was filled with decorations that were special to the happy couple.

But perhaps the most special touch was that the couple wrote their own vows.  They did say the usual stuff about loving, cherishing and respecting, that sort of thing.  But they also promised to commiserate each other when their footy team lost and to try to remember to pick up their clothes.  Not necessarily romantic, but definite unique to them. 

It got me thinking about what kind of vows I would have written for my lovely hubby John, had we enjoyed a similar kind of service.  Gushing?  Heartfelt?  Tender?  Comedic?  For a writer, I am not very good at expressing my own feelings.  I can express my characters’ feelings in a heartbeat, but mine?  Huh!  That would be like peeling off my skin and exposing my bones…no thanks.

I suppose I would have gone down the track of Gill and Steve and chosen something funny but special:  Yes, John, I promise to occasionally watch an AFL match on a Friday night and not fall asleep; I will turn a blind eye when your work boots decorate the kitchen step for too long; I will try to match your navy blue socks correctly…

Whilst writing your own vows is intensely personal, a wedding before friends and family is a public declaration of love and commitment and perhaps that is the best statement of all, no words needed.

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