How I Write

An author wearing a helmet-like oxygen mask and writing.

Image from “Science and Invention” magazine, July 1925

Write three sentences on my laptop then check Facebook; check Twitter; scroll through emails; listen to podcasts; go to the shops to buy food to eat; eat; draw a picture; grab a drink with a friend; talk logistics about how to replace a current housemate; organise interviews for potential housemates; copy CDs onto my computer; search around tumblr for “writing inspiration”; do nerdy things to get more followers on Twitter; do nerdy things to get rid of all my unfollowers on Twitter; call my boyfriend; clean my room; do my laundry even though it isn’t Sunday (aka Weekly National Laundry Day); get lost in a YouTube spiral; write blog posts for my own personal blog; go for a walk because clearly I can’t write until I get my blood pumping; run into a friend while on the walk; call up our mutual friend to come join us who then suggests a road trip to Ballarat to visit another mutual friend; all move to Ballarat where I’m sure I can become a resident writer at whatever writing places there are in Ballarat; end up working in the Ballarat Maccas; wonder how my life ended up this way; move back to Melbourne; write three more sentences on my laptop.

Ah yes, procrastination.

-Claire

What we talk about when we talk about editing

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It’s been said that For Sale (which we wrote about last week) is some of Hemingway’s best work, but how does this story achieve what most novels attempt to do, in just six words?

Anton Chekhov once wrote: ‘When you want to touch the reader’s heart, try to be colder. It gives their grief as it were, a background, against which it stands out in greater relief.’

Tight writing can often reveal something about ourselves we rarely understand.

Instead of using a ton of descriptions, stripping down your work can be revealing. It exposes subtext, increases tension and creates rhythm. It reveals elements of characters, setting and atmosphere we can relate to. It can also bring in a break in pace when you need it.

Less is more, but not easy to achieve. There is often a fear of your work becoming a Gordon Lish rewrite, and you need to be sure you don’t lose the voice or meaning of your piece.

Don’t stress, there are methods to lose the clunk and keep the voice. Use one word instead of three, know your vocabulary, create a rhythm, and use active words.

Cara

If the editing side of things interests you, check out The Emerging Writer’s Festival ‘Emerging Editors’ conference this Friday at Melbourne Town Hall, discussing art, beauty and limitations to an editor’s craft.

For details visit: Emerging Writer’s Festival ‘Emerging Editors’

Image is by Nick McPhee

Writing prompts

heart-in-hand_thumb

[Image by D. Sharon Pruitt]

 Try to use these phrases in a short story or use them as inspiration to begin one:

“I don’t love you anyone.”

Bee Stings by Hannah Story
Visible Ink 2013 – On the Ledge of the World

Or

“I debated if love was the answer.”

Sleeping by Michael Crane
Visible Ink 2009 – Lost and Found

 

Workshopping

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Why workshop?

Let’s face it. It’s rarely easy pulling off a great piece of writing – be it 200 words or 20,000. Getting feedback from your family and friends on something you’ve written is nice, but unless they secretly hate you they’ll most likely tell you it’s awesome. And maybe it is. Or maybe it’s not quite as awesome as it could be… yet.

“All writing is rewriting” goes the popular saying. A workshopping group can help make that process a whole lot less painful.

Starting a group

Five people to a group is a pretty good number. Any less and you risk not having a wide enough pool of opinion; many more and you could drown in feedback. Some groups like to workshop one writer each week; others, a couple. It’s best if you forward your work to the group a couple of days ahead of your meeting day so that everyone has enough time to read it a few times, think it over and make some pertinent notes.

It’s probably best if the group is made up of writers at a similar stage in their career. You want to all feel equal in your abilities — or at least equal enough to feel confident offering and recieving feedback from each other. Likewise, it’s useful to work with writers who are interested in similar material to you. There’s not much point joining a science fiction or fantasy group if you’re into writing bodice-rippers. Unless of course you write sci-fi bodice-rippers — in which case: great!

It’s helpful if your group’s members have a mix of strengths. Someone might be great at structure, another might be a gun with voice, character or dialgoue. Draw on each other’s gifts.

Meet at each other’s houses, or other quiet spaces.  And meet regularly — once a week or fortnightly.

Giving notes

Be constructive. As Sian Prior, author of Shy: a memoir, suggests in her ‘Guide to constructive workshopping’: ‘focus on the good points first’. Writers are presumably in the workshop because they want to know what isn’t working, but everyone likes to know they’re doing something right as well.

Focus on solutions, be precise, concise and always keep in mind what the writer’s intention is, not what you think it should be. Your job is to help your fellow writer make their writing better, not insist that they reinvent it to your taste.

Getting notes

Try not to jump in and defend yourself if you’re receiving feedback you don’t agree with. It can be overwhelming listening to multiple opinions about a piece you’ve sweated over, and not every note is going to resonate with you. Hold your tongue, accept what’s said and process it later. You might still disagree with a note — and that’s okay.

Don’t pre-empt others responses to your work by telling them it’s ‘very rough’, or ‘isn’t very good’ before they’ve even started reading it. Again in the words of Sian Prior: silence your inner critic. ‘There is no value in lowering the reader’s expectations by self-criticising.’

Don’t know any writers?

Put a sign up at your local library, get in touch with your local Writers’ Centre (there’s one in every state of Australia), ask around your uni classes, workplace etc, or just go online. There is a growing number of workshopping groups on the interwebz — which is also super handy if you have any big restrictions on your time or ability to travel.

Now: get writing!

Jo