Archive for May, 2012

An Ode to First Drafts

So I’m writing a new novel at the moment. My first young adult novel. It’s a wily beast of a thing. And this is kinda what my days look like (or my ode to first drafts)…

Writing with my pup curled on my lap

On the good days…

  • This is all I ever want to do. Write. With tea. In my pyjamas. With my dog. Always
  • Nothing is more joyous than frolicking through worlds I’ve made up
  • How can I get out of this social thing? My characters are more interesting than my friends
  • Outside a cyclone brews / tsunamis hit / aliens attack / squirrels take over government … but I’m still writing
  • Dinner? What do you mean ‘have I cooked dinner’? I have on my hands an angsty teen with supernatural powers and a world to save
  • Weeeeeeeee!

Writing at my fav local Italian cafe

On the bad days…

  • I’m so busy. I have to clean the dishes / fold the laundry / wash the dog / grout the something or other / find other things to procrastinate with
  • My desk is too messy to write. I need ‘space’
  • Look at the weather! It’s too rainy to write. Instead I’ll curl up with a book and feel melancholy
  • Look at the weather! It’s too sunny to write. Instead I’ll go frolic in the park and feed ducks
  • I know I came to this cafe to write but I ran into a friend / really interesting stranger / the guy from that TV show, who I must talk to
  • I have all this paperwork to do. Important paperwork. Like tax. And bills. And online quizzes about which literary genius I’m most like

Every day… 

………Good day or bad

………….Excuses or not

………………If the world is still revolving then I’m still writing

It’s the only way to get a first draft done

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Anatomy of an Edit

When I first started writing I loathed editing. I much preferred the freedom and playfulness of a first draft. Editing felt like hard work. And it can be. But I think what this actually reflected was my lack of confidence as a writer. When editing you have to be able to make tough choices – cut characters, significantly alter the story structure, change settings, murder your darlings etc. And how do you make these choices? By knowing your craft. Understanding characterisation, world building, story arc and sentence structure all direct how you shape your story. And while these things can be learned, they are only really absorbed with time.

As I’ve become a more experienced storyteller, I’ve come to really love editing. When I first read a manuscript after letting it sit for a good month or so, I can suddenly see all its flaws (and an occasional strength too). I get a flood of ideas about how to make it a stronger story. Instead of getting the old rush of dread I now tend to get excited – all the possibilities! And I think this comes from the confidence of feeling like I know what I’m doing (mostly).

A few days ago I edited an old short story of mine, which I last looked at about 18 months ago. It was far from a first draft, but even so I made some major changes. In case it’s helpful, I thought I’d break down some of the editing choices I made:

I tend to do a basic edit on paper, make some notes, then do the bigger restructuring on the computer

  • Change of tense: The story is a humorous mix of thriller and action. Originally it was written in first person past tense, but it struck me quite clearly that it needed to be in present tense. Even though it’s in first person, the past tense removed the reader from the action. Present tense made it feel much more immediate – it sat you more firmly in the protagonist’s shoes and better built the tension towards the climax.
  • Sentence order: The first sentence is vital. It’s a lead in to the story, the character, the setting and the voice. It was clear that my first two sentences needed to be switched. The same was true for several other paragraphs. The first and last sentence of every paragraph needs to lead the reader in and out of an idea, and with distance I could better see what each paragraph was about and how to do this. I also restructured many a sentence, shifting the stronger words to the beginnings and ends.
  • Beef up the action: My characters have a bad habit of just standing around talking, instead of DOING things. The first three paragraphs of my story set it up well and were a great intro to the voice of my character, but there was absolutely no action. In each one I had to have my protagonist doing things that revealed his character, instead of just relying on voice. The old adage – show don’t tell.
  • Character motivation: It wasn’t always clear why my character was making the choices he was. To make readers better empathise with his drive and his choices towards the climax of the story, I had to thread in some subtle tells about his character earlier.
  • World building: The story is set in the future. On a spaceship. But it was written by a girl (hi) sitting in her suburban home in her PJs. On rereading it a number of words and phrases jumped out as inconsistent within the world of the story. For instance: I had mentioned an astro park, so was setting up an earth that no longer had real parks but instead made fake ones for people to wander through. But then later I compared a man’s arms to tree trunks, which was my suburban voice intruding. It doesn’t fit in this story as trees are not a regular part of their world. My protagonist is a pseudo mechanic in a world of machines, so he’d more likely compare the man’s arms to thick pistons.
  • Bring on the funny: The voice of the story is quite wry and sarcastic. A number of times I dropped out of the voice and had to work to keep it consistent. I also added a few bits of funny to keep up the pace and offset the creepier moments.

There were likely lots of other decisions I made along the way that I’m not even aware of. It took a few hours to finess all the changes, but I’m really happy with how the story has come together.

So I’ve embraced my inner editor. It’s no longer a chore, but a challenge I look forward to. In fact, I so love editing I have started editing others’ work. I’m now doing picture book and early chapter book manuscript assessments through the QWC. And loving it.

Now after waxing lyrical all about my editing crush, I must get back to working on my novel. My latest WIP. My first draft. Hmm … anyone sense a whiff of procrastination?

Visual Diary #7

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog with the latest scribblings from my visual diary. My creative work is more focussed on novel writing at the moment (more on that soon), as well as another project that you will see below. Even so, images are always forming in my mind and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can grab a sliver of time to trap them on the page…

A little voodoo doll who has been following me around for a while, and whose story I hope to make into a graphic novel one day:

The way I felt when amongst the crowds of the Woodford Folk Festival this year:

Not exactly a visual diary page, but another creative project I’ve been working on. The latest stop motion trial I have done for my Brave Squish Rabbit book trailer:

For now I’m packing my creative tools (visual diary, iPad, notes) into a suitcase and heading off to Darwin for this year’s WordStorm. I’ll be doing a number of school visits, as well as a reading in the kids’ program and doing a full day workshop (for adults) all about making picture books. You can check out the program here – if you’re in the area I hope to see you there! Wish me luck avoiding the crocs…

The Measure of Your Dreams

How do you measure success? It’s not an easy thing to do. Plus it looks different for everyone. Yet when you’re working really hard at something, like writing and illustrating, it’s really important to know what you’re striving for. Would big book deals and flashy literary parties really make you happy? Would fancy-pants awards and fame make you feel valid? I can’t really say I’d say no to any of this, but it’s important to define what success really means to you.

I was reminded of this recently at a Pogues concert in Sydney, when swaying away to their awesome Celtic punk ballads. While that may sound like the tangent of the century, I wont make you try to follow my mind and will make the link for you: one of their songs, ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’, has the lyric the measure of my dreams

It took me back a few years, to a time when I’d been throwing everything I had into writing and illustrating, yet didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Or at least that’s how it felt. I was incredibly unhappy. This beautiful creative thing that used to make me feel so free was falling flat. I was even starting to begrudge it a little. Embarrassingly enough, it took stumbling across one of those naff kind of sayings (you know the ones that circle facebook) to wake me up. It was typed up on a little cue card and stuck to a friend’s cork board:

It’s not about the destination, but the journey

At the time I’d never seen this saying and for some reason, at that particular moment, it cut through something in me. I realised I had my focus all wrong. I was so focussed on things mostly out of my control – namely getting published – and it was making me miserable. I suddenly realised that if I didn’t enjoy the actual writing (the journey), then nothing that happened from there was going to make me happy. So then I had to redefine what success would actually look like for me. I had to really think about what I was aiming for and what might make me happy.

I came up with the following, which are kind of goals and (for me) a more healthy focus:

  1. Work on the projects I’m called to: I don’t ever want to focus too much on what I think the ‘market’ might want from me. Instead I hope to make the art that calls to me, so I keep enjoying my writing and illustrating and make more honest art (I hope)
  2. Be respected by my peers: I realised I don’t actually need to have my name recognised by the general public, or even book lovers. But having my work respected by other writers / illustrators (especially in my field) does mean something to me
  3. Get to work with those who enjoy me / my work: be they other artists or publishing professionals
  4. Be able to do this as some sort of career: not necessarily live off it (as nice as that would be), but have it as my main focus

These are all things I have more control over, and they’re still true for me today. I’ve had each of them happen for me in different ways, some small and others more obvious. And after shifting my focus I started to find joy in my art once more.

If you’re honest with yourself, what would success look like for you?


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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