Archive for February, 2009

Writing Prayer

Rabbit - balloonA while back, J.A.Konrath published this on his blog.  I’ve always thought of it as a kind of writing prayer, which is best read on those dark days us writers know all too well.  It’s written in his usual brusque style, which always manages to make me smile.

So, little writing minions, repeat after me:


Even if you have other things to do.

Even if it sucks.

Even though it’s hard.

Even though there are no guarantees.

Even if no one else cares.


Even though it’s difficult to be subjective.

Even if you think you got it right the first time.

Even though you hate it.

Even if you’re sure it’s a waste of time.


Even if it’s to a small, non-paying publication.

Even if you feel you’re not ready.

Even if you hate rejection.

Even if you know you’ll never be accepted.


You’re a writer. Act like one.


Rabbit - lookNon-writers often ask where my ideas come from.  As a follow-up I’m sometimes also asked if I ever run out of ideas, or fear that I someday might.  This is possibly the easiest answer ever.


I don’t.  Know why?  Because every time I finish writing a novel, in the next few days / weeks I have at least two completely new ideas for novels.  Most of these ideas develop into fully fledged stories with characters and plots I’m passionate about.  I’m not entirely sure why this happens.  Maybe it’s because, suddenly, a significant amount of room has been freed up in my head which is allowed to be filled with new thoughts and ideas.  Maybe it’s because writing a novel requires a lot of creative energy, yet when the story is done it’s impossible to just turn it off, so the energy flows straight into something else.  Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit manic.  Either way, it means my ideas are growing exponentially, in a way that I’ll never be able to keep up with.  That notion kind of thrills me, but also kind of terrifies me.  It also makes me wish I didn’t need to sleep so many hours a day.

It also reminds me of a wonderful quote, by Gabriel Zaid that goes something like:

Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant.

Exponentially ignorant.  Love it.  I’m fighting that losing battle by reading several books a week.  Why not join me?

Writerly Esteem

Rabbit - runThis is turning into a regular topic for me.  Clearly it’s something that’s on my mind a lot.  But this time, instead of drowning you with my own ramblings, I’m going to subject you to the (at least slightly) more ordered thoughts of others.

J.A.Conrath has written a typically blithe and cheeky post on writers self-esteem over on his blog, called ‘I’m Better than You‘.  He says:

I’m a much better writer than you are.  Sure, I know that taste is subjective. But if we could wave a magic wand and strip away personal taste and bias, leaving only the raw, core elements of what makes writing good, everyone would know the truth: That I’m the greatest writer to ever live.

But don’t be fooled by his humility.  Just make sure you finish reading the post, otherwise you’ll miss the punch line.  His posts have a wonderful way of making you laugh at yourself, while also being grounded and genuine and giving some of the best advice when it comes to surviving this industry.  His was the first blog I started reading as a new writer, and I still check in regularly.

Then Alan Rinzler, a consulting editor and past therapist, blogged about ‘How successful writers keep up their confidence‘.  He comments that:

The most accomplished and productive writers I work with are able to sustain a level of assurance and optimism. And that’s even when they’re  feeling blocked, burned out, and unappreciated.  It’s admirable and a little amazing they’re able to do this, since there’s so much hard work and delayed gratification in writing a book.

He goes on to list a number of excellent tips on keeping up your confidence, including my personal favourite: Embrace irrational exuberance and obsessive compulsions.  I have this one down pat.  Although I am mildly disappointed he did not include my own favourite method of fighting off the blues (chocolate consumption).

So, now that we have enough self-esteem to inflate a small planet, what are we going to do tonight?  The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world.  Cue evil laugh.

(And for Non-Pinky and the Brain fans, just ignore me)

Illustration Friday

Today I set myself a new illustration task: to create an image that could go at the beginning of the first chapter of my mentorship novel.  It’s important to vary things up a bit.  I’ve been doing a lot of sketching lately, so it’s good to then do a more finished piece so I don’t get too bogged down in details or stuck.  Finished pieces also give me more of a sense of achievement at the end of the day.

It can be quite challenging to try to summarise an entire chapter with a single image.  My goal was to convey the core point of action and change for the main character, and to capture the emotion of the situation.  I’m still learning to work in black and white.  I’m enjoying breaking images down and playing with the balance of positive and negative space.  Experimenting with contrast.  It’s a purely digital image, created in Corel Painter and Photoshop using digital ‘ink’ and collage.  A fun exercise anyway, and a good way to build on my portfolio.


Illustration Wednesday

More character experiments today.  Am playing with the profile and accompanying expressions of a lead character from the junior novel I’m developing through the mentorship.  She went through many different stages (and hair styles) in trying to capture a look that best defined her personality, but I think this one finally works.  Am also learning to sketch using my wacom tablet.  Luckily for me I like a loose sketchy line, because I can’t control it enough yet to get a smooth one!  I just dropped some paper behind the sketches to give an impression of her colouring.


I noticed today that I’ve been listening to a lot of musical sound tracks while I draw.  Chess.  Les Miserables.  Wicked (which I saw recently while in London and am a little obsessed with).  I think it’s because the music has a clear narrative thread, which as a writer I particularly enjoy, and as an illustrator it keeps me thinking about characterisation.  How characters change and grow.  Either that or I’m just a bit of musical nerd.  Always have been I’m afraid.  Can’t get enough of them.

Developing a Brand

Rabbit - psychicHow drab does that sound?  Certainly not the most exciting part of the publishing industry, yet one of the most important when aiming for longevity.  The idea is that authors in today’s market needs to develop a ‘brand’ or recognisable identity, in order for readers to know what to expect from their next book.  Agents and publishers tend to encourage authors (at least initially) to write consistently within one genre in order to develop such a following.  Rachelle Gardner, an American literary agent, has been speaking about this concept over on her blog.  She says the following:

This is a marketing issue, first and foremost. If you want to publish books, attract a loyal readership, and have long-term success as an author, then you’ll need to pick a genre, do it well, and keep doing it over and over. Simple as that. All the arguing in the world and all the talent in the world is not going to change this reality.

This sounds easy enough, unless you’re like me (as I know many are).  My reading interests vary widely between humour and quite dark tales, and likewise, so does my writing.  Branding is something I’m going to have to consider very carefully if I get to the publication stage, choosing between fantasy, humour or straight fiction.  However illustration (in Australia) seems to be the opposite.  I’ve been advised that because it’s such a small market, in order to develop a career you need to be a jack-of-all-trades.  In other words – be able to illustrate anything from non-fiction to fiction and have multiple styles to draw from.

Of course, as with any good rule there are always exceptions.  As soon as an author becomes successful or wins a coveted award they can play around more within genres and age ranges, as Michael Bauer does.  Illustrators seem to go the opposite way – when they’re in demand they can develop a strong style that then becomes their brand, such as Pamela Allen.  If I could develop an illustration brand, it would certainly be ink, collage and watercolour.

So, what’s you brand?

Writing Blues

Rabbit - angryI’ve read a few posts about the writing blues of late.  There must be something in the air.  Or the water.  Or maybe it’s all this hot weather (or extreme cold if you’re in the northern hemisphere).  Anyway, it made me realise that the last time I blogged about the ever present writing critic (the little guy* that sits on your shoulder telling you your work isn’t good enough), I didn’t talk much about how I battle him.  In fact, I wasn’t really sure how I did until I consciously thought of doing this post.

I realised I have developed a few methods over the past years in fighting the writing critic (which for me are most relevant when writing the first draft):

  1. Hemmingway: Still my most effective method is throwing Hemmingway’s quote at him (which I did talk about last post).  Hemmingway said that ‘All first drafts are shit’.  So when my writing critic starts having a go at me during a first draft, I use this quote to tame him, ie. I tell him it doesn’t matter if the writing is bad, because it’s just a first draft and can be fixed in the next one.  In the second draft I tell him any problems he’s throwing at me can be fixed in the third, and so on.  I find it shuts him up pretty quickly and allows me to keep writing.
  2. Don’t re-read: When I first start working on a draft, I’m always tempted to go back and read what I wrote the previous day.  Problem with this is that it slows me down long enough for my writing critic to start up.  Re-reading can often awaken my self-doubt and make it harder to start up again.  At most I allow myself to read the last paragraph if I need to reorient myself to the scene.  Once I’m a few thousand words into a draft, the urge to re-read disappears anyway, as I become lost in the flow of the story.
  3. Write fast: This technique I learnt in a workshop with Sarah Armstrong.  Free writing is a technique used by many writers, especially in the first draft, and is basically writing fast enough to override conscious thought and is about just getting the words down on the page.  The great side effect is that you also write too fast for the writing critic to catch-up.  Mine doesn’t have a chance to intrude while I’m free writing.
  4. Daydream: This is something I’ve discovered I cannot do without when aiming to write every day.  And the big benefit – it takes away the fear of the blank screen / page.  Each day, before sitting down to write, I need to have let the story and characters roll around in my head.  This is often while at the gym, cleaning, or in the shower.  Times when your body is engaged, but your mind is left to wander.  It doesn’t always happen automatically – sometimes when really busy I have to make myself consciously think about it, otherwise I just end up thinking about the shopping list or the million other things I need to be doing.  Once you have let the next scene unroll in your head, sitting down to write wont be so frightening and the writing critic is less likely to kick in.  I find the characters have already told me what happens next.
  5. Chocolate: Drown him out with chocolate.  Or peanut butter toast.  Or ice-cream if I’m feeling really naughty.  Mint choc-chip, if you must know.  On second thoughts, this might not really help.  It’s sort of a last resort.  But it sure makes me feel better.

The journey of writing can be tough, but it’s also exciting, exhilarating, liberating and wonderful.  I’m forever learning and I bet in a year’s time I’ll be able to add to this list.  No doubt others have different methods of fighting their critic.  Or a favourite guilty snack.  Care to share?

* By the way, any guys reading this: I’m sorry that I refer to my writing critic as a ‘he’ – mine is a he, but not all of them are!  Nor am I making a comment about men!

The Forgotten Illustrator

I have been drawing a lot lately, for the exact reason Sherryl Clark so eloquently discussed over on her blog.  It’s in a vain attempt to fight a phenomenon that occurs after finishing a large writing project.  For the last few months I have trained myself to be thinking about a certain set of characters, having their scenes roll out in my head and gluing my bum to the chair each and every day to write some more of it down.  Then last week I finally typed the final word and that was it.  Done.  Finished.  Kaput.

But the characters are still there in my head.  They are still running riot and demanding my attention, but I’m finished with them for now.  There’s nothing more I can offer them.  Yet the routine I’d developed has the unfortunate side effect of making me feel guilty when I’m not on my computer and I feel pressured to jump straight into the next writing project.  But as Sherryl discusses, it is healthy to have a break.  I was complaining to Andrew about this phenomena and how I didn’t have anything to ‘do’ to distract myself.  He looked at me and said, “What, have you forgotten you’re an illustrator?”  Well, yes, maybe I had.  Writing can do that to a person.

So here I am, drawing and sketching and painting and forcing those other characters out of my head like a landlord on a rampage.  Today I have just done some sketches and experiments (which are of little interest to anyone outside myself) so I thought I’d post another image I did recently:


This is the climax scene for a picture book I’ve written, and I created it using my favourite combination of media.  I sketched the girl and her toy, then live traced them in Illustrator to get that wonderful bold chunky outline.  I then painted them using watercolour – which I love because it forces me to free up and not always be so controlled (which us Virgos need sometimes).  I scanned this in and combined it all in photoshop, using textured paper for the comic book style rays in the background.  My goal was to capture the heightened emotion of the scene.  Oh, and I love hand made typography (which people like Shaun Tan use to great effect) so I’ve created my own.

Illustration Monday

I have recently been playing with possible illustration styles for the novel I’m currently developing through the mentorship.  I have been through about eight different styles so far, and have finally settled on something that feels most suited to the tone and feel of the story.  I have always loved manga and anime: their stylized illustrations have largely influenced my own developing style, starting back when I was a small child obsessed with ‘The Last Unicorn‘.  Certainly for this project the bold outlines and large expressive eyes and faces are really suited.  Over the years I have also been developing a love for collage – namely the bold textures and contrast you can build up using different materials.  In the image below I’ve used recycled papers, carpet, lace and even foil.  I sketched her in Corel Painter using my wacom tablet and then constructed the finished image using Photoshop.


Although I may initially work in colour, any final images in children’s novels are of course black and white.  The image seems to translate well even without the colour, however I’m still perfecting this.


I may post more as the style develops and as I design other characters.  So far I am just enjoying experimenting and am still very much in the early designing phase.

About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:


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