That time I made a shortlist and completely neglected to mention it

So, a few weeks ago (a month? something?) I had the totally surprising honor of becoming a finalist in the Australian Shadows Awards, in the category of Best Short Story for my most recently published piece ‘The Dead Way‘. I discovered this rather exciting news in the wee hours of the morning when my littlest woke me. I couldn’t quite believe it really and thought there had to have been some mistake.

I’m still not sure how it happened. I mean, I know it’s a good story – I LOVE that story – but there is so much amazing talent out there and they picked my story to be in the top 5, alongside some other really amazing writers whose work I admire!

It was a little mind blowing, and also felt a bit like a milestone for me. I’ve experienced the pure buzz that is getting nominated for something, and winning an award (SJV Best Collected Work), but that was for something I’d edited – this is the first time I’ve ever made a list for a story of my own.

And that’s pretty awesome.

I didn’t win, but the lovely Debbie Cowens (whose story also appeared in Baby Teeth – which took out the award for Best Edited Publication!) did, and I didn’t feel at all upset by that. It was an honor just to make the short list.

Being a finalist made me a little more confident in my writing, made me feel a little like actually, I must be kind of good at this thing, and that’s more valuable than any award.

Camp Update, and an unexpected rant.

Well, it’s now halfway through the month and for the first time in ages, I am on track. Actually, I’m ahead of schedule!

I know, I’m a little shocked myself ;-)

My editing muscles are well and truly flexed at this point, seeing as that is mostly what I’ve been spending my writing time on this year. I feel like I’ve fallen into a rhythm with it and this makes me happy, but also nervous. I’m making great progress (and, if I wasn’t studying, or editing for others as well, I would be done my own novella by now, and onto the next), but at the same time I’m wary of the ease… I am not sure I trust myself, and there is an underlying sense that I can’t be doing a good enough job.

I think this is tied into the myth that writers must bleed for their art, they must SUFFER in order to create great stories. I don’t really buy into that belief – after all, so much of the first draft at least feels like I’m riding a rollercoaster and I LOVE rollercoasters. It’s like getting a shot of adrenaline or being able to feel every ounce of the worlds wonder, it’s blissful, intoxicating. Better than almost any other high.

But just because I don’t buy into all those myths about what it takes to be a writer – you must drink a lot of coffee and/or alcohol, you must stay up into the wee hours of the morning bleeding words into your preferred writing tool, you must be crazy/have a muse/talk to yourself/get intense bouts of writers block/spend three days finding the right word to describe a situation, you must struggle with your words, and suffer for your art, you have to be a starving artist, and in general, it seems the belief is that the more you struggle (not just with those words, but with life in general) the more emotion, impact and weight will be present in your story – it doesn’t mean that somewhere under the surface I feel like they might be true.

Because maybe I’m just doing it wrong.

Well, I call bullshit.

Yeah, some writers drink coffee and load up on booze or drugs, but that’s not a prerequisite. Not all writers have muses, or mental health problems, and not all writers are night owls who forsake human contact. Not all writers bleed, or struggle, or live entirely inside their head – hell, I am far too rooted in the real world, in my legit every day problems and getting the kids fed, educated, and geared up for a life following their own passions to possibly indulge (yes, I said it) in the myth of being a writer. While there are some truths in those myths, they are not the foundation, core, or bottom line of being a writer. Yes, sometimes it’s a struggle, but there is always that joy in words, in making things better, in crafting a world and putting it on the page to share with others. I don’t have time to wail about the challenges, or indulge in writers block or adopt a struggling artist persona.

I have time to write.

I put words on a page. I make those words better, and in the near future I will publish those words. And that makes me a writer, not any of the other stuff.

And I’m not going to buy into those myths on any level. Not anymore. I’m doing just fine.

This wasn’t going to be a blog post about writer myths or struggling for your art, it was just going to be a quick update to say – hey, look! I’m actually doing stuff and it’s going really well! As is the case with blog posts though, these things seem to morph.

By all means, enjoy the things you enjoy, struggle with the things you struggle with, but I would kind of like it if people quit buying into this writer mythology, it’s not glamorous to be depressed or to abuse our bodies by consuming too much alcohol/coffee/drugs/depriving it of much needed sleep. It’s not aiding our creation. Wouldn’t it be better if we could be happy, thriving, and loving our work? I know that’s the ideal I’m going to be working towards from now on.

*For the record, I know lots of wonderful writers who don’t buy into the ‘writer’ myth. They are awesome people, and write awesome stories, and they don’t need to have dramatic lives or desperate struggles in order to do so. These people are far more productive than many ‘struggling writer’s because they use their energy to actually do the thing we’re all meant to love so much. Write.

I keep saying I’m not going to, but…

2014-Participant-Twitter-Header-2Yup. I did it again. Despite flopping big time at the April CampNano, and NaNoWriMo last year, I’ve gone and signed up for the July round of camping.

I know, I know…

But this time it’s different, I swear. This time they have personalized cabins!!! A large part of my dropping out in April was due to the fact that my cabin was pretty quiet and I wasn’t getting any kind of ‘fun’ vibe going on. They’ve finally implemented a system where you can hand pick your cabin mates, and let me tell you – it’s going to be a joy writing alongside these peeps. I’m really looking forward to it.

Of course, back in April I also didn’t have anything that I desperately wanted to work on, which was problematic. This July, however, I have a plan! I’ve got a Christmas themed novella that needs revising, and I am going to take this month to knock it into shape – I’m super excited because I’m planning on releasing this in time for Christmas this year! Fun! Yay!

Now, there is every chance that once again I will fail – but right now, anything that helps me move forward is an opportunity I’m going to take. At least with camp you can adjust your goals, and there is a lot less pressure than November. Anyway, it’s July, and I have writing to do! Might as well try and ‘win’ something else while I’m at it ;-)

It’s all in the words you use

I am a writer.

I wrote in primary school – stories five times as long as those of my peers. I wrote in high school – every afternoon I’d get off the bus, grab some food and boot up the old computer, black screen, green type, and I would disappear. I remember printing one book off and giving it to my art teacher to read. I recall her face as I handed her the pages – you know, the one that says they will read this, but only because they want to be supportive, not because they think it will be any good. I recall her face as she handed them back – surprised that actually, it was much better than she had imagined. There was a complete story, potential.

I’ve always had a story in me, and when my cousins and I would get together to play games over the school holidays it would most often be me who picked names, ages, who filled out the back stories for the personas we’d take on. They were sprawling games, taking place all day, across my grandparents farm where we’d immerse ourselves so deeply into the story that the natural landscape was invisible, merely a backdrop to our invented lives.

My friends and family all know I’m a writer. They know it’s a part of me that isn’t going away. I’ve seen the looks on their faces too when they’ve read things, not expecting them to be good, and then being surprised. Some of them don’t like the content of my stories, but they can’t deny that they get engaged, that I can draw them into my other worlds.

So, I am a writer. This is a well known fact. It’s set in stone. It is not going to change.

But recently, I’ve changed what I am saying. Recently, I’ve begun to say not just “I’m a writer”, but, “I’m going to publish a novel later this year”, and I have been amazed by how much that changes things.

I’m not just someone who writes, someone who occasionally publishes a short story anymore (short stories don’t seem to count with a lot of people, they read NOVELS, not shorts). But I’m someone with a whole book, and people want to read it…

This has been, really bizarre, and interesting. They WANT to read this book! Most people might not even know what it’s about, but they still want a look at it. I’ve had people ask me if they’ll be able to get it in paperback or will I just be doing digital, when it will be out, and whether I can sign a copy, whether I need another reader, if I want them to review it when it’s released.

This small change in the words I use to describe what I am doing has changed everything. It’s like it signifies a transition from the act of writing (which essentially, one does by oneself so is not such a visible thing) to the act of publishing. It’s that opening of the door to finally reveal what I’ve been working on for years, and it’s scary and exciting and wonderful.

I really hope I don’t disappoint, but the fact that people are curious is really encouraging – I can’t wait to share my worlds with you all!

Barriers of my own making

Way back when I was making the plan for this novel revision, I had a lot of ideas. I was going to tweak this and change that. I was going to add scenes and delete others. It was a grand plan, and I couldn’t wait to dive into it. There were some speed wobbles initially, where I went a little overboard with changes – thankfully my beta readers reined me in a little. I jumped into the rest of the revisions with great gusto, and for the most part, things went smoothly. Life got in the way a few times, but the bulk of the work, 95% of it, was done in great time.

And then there was that scene.

It wasn’t a difficult scene, or at least, it shouldn’t have been a difficult scene. It was straight forward. I knew what I wanted to happen. I had reasons for wanting to add it into the novel, but then every time I sat down and tried to write, I just couldn’t make it happen. I tried. I tried really, really hard.

Assignments became due, life got complicated, there wasn’t a lot of sleep, and there were a million other things I blamed it on. And then it finally hit me that maybe it wasn’t ‘life’ getting in the way, maybe it was ME. I went back to my beta readers and asked if they thought I needed the scene, and the answer was no, they didn’t think so. I’d invented this scene, decided it desperately needed to be added, and then proceeded to bash my head against the barrier I’d thrown in my path.

Gosh writers can be so silly can’t they?? lol

Today I finished the revision. I ditched the scene and it took just a couple hours of dedicated time to get to the end of the novel. I’m in HEAVEN right now, it feels so incredibly satisfying to make it to the end again. I’ve been reminded just how much I love to write, and that the act of writing makes me happier, helps me be a better mother, a better person.

I’ve got to try not to forget that again. Try not to throw any more barriers in my way. I was so convinced that the scene needed adding that I forgot to check in with myself and the story.

Lesson learned. It’s all very well to have a plan, it’s great to push your story around, poke it with a stick, add and subtract, but if you hit a roadblock check in – does this add something vital to the story? What elements does it enhance? If you can’t find a satisfactory answer then it’s time to rethink.

Onwards!!! I can’t wait to get some more feedback and see what else needs changing in the novel, and I’m very much looking forward to the point at which I can share it with the world.

Re-forming the habit is hard!

jasdIt’s been a good month or so since I last wrote anything of value. At least, it feels like that long – feels like longer though logically I know it’s not. I’ve had many periods in my life where writing was an unshakable habit. Where I wrote no matter what else was going on. Newborns, sleepless nights, pain, misery, sickness. Academics gets in the way of my creativity like nothing else can though, so it’s an uphill battle right now.

I find it impossible to write creatively while I write academically, but now that the latest batch of assignments are out of the way I’m trying to get back to work on my novel. It’s a struggle, really. But I know I’ve done this before, and I’ll do it again after the next lot of assignments, and the last lot after that. I just wish that re-forming the writing habit got easier with time.

It does not.

So, here I am, reminding myself that I can do this. I can sit down tomorrow morning, find a space of time where the kids are busy with something else and write until I hit 500 words. Because while it’s not tonnes, I know it’s entirely achievable. And I know it will get me a long way towards finishing the scene I am working on right now. And that if I do the same the next day, I’ll probably finish the scene – and that those two little bits of progress will get me MUCH closer to my goal. I will only have two scenes to revise and then I’ll be done. And that is pretty epic.

I can do it. And if I can do it, then you can do it too. Break those goals down and take the first little step.