Posts Tagged 'writing critic'

Editing Roller-Coaster

I’m a logical sort of gal. I don’t like accepting anything ‘just because’. I like to get to the bottom of things – the real reason, the cause, the fault. Why? So I can fix it. I’m like this with writing ups and downs. I’m currently wrangling with the 3rd and final-ish draft of a mid-grade adventure novel and day to day my mood varies widely.

Some days I’m up. I’m positively joyful, loving editing, believing in the story, adoring the characters, daydreaming about this being the next Harry Potter (ok, so I’m never THAT up). I feel like a writer. I feel good at what I do. I feel worthy and productive and like I could do this for the rest of my life.

Other days I’m down. And the downs get pretty deep. I wonder why I’m writing this story when the plot is banal, the characters cliched and the writing woefully unsalvageable. I wonder how on earth I got through two previous drafts without abandoning ship. I daydream about other professions – so when I’m found to be the fraud of a ‘writer’ I am I can make a silent exit. I consider changing my name and skipping town.

The Sherlock in me wants to know the cause of these ups and downs. ‘It’s just a writer thing’ is never enough. So I go through all the possible whys for getting down. It was a chapter that needed more work, so it challenged me more. I got a rejection that day. I had lots of other stressful things on my mind which were the real cause. I needed a day off. I’ve had another story circling my mind, so I couldn’t get into the voice of this one. I had too many e-mails demanding my attention. I had someone asking to see the ms and was feeling the pressure.

So many possible reasons. And you know the conclusion I’ve come to? It’s just a writer thing. Ha (see the humour? Me neither). There’s something about working in creative industries that lead to more self-doubt and ups and downs than other jobs. It’s just the way it is. And although there really are lots of reasons for this, I don’t think there’s a way to fix it. Even in ideal conditions I still get down days. So what can you do?

  1. Accept it: day to day ups and downs are mostly out of your control
  2. Embrace it: gotta love yourself, foibles and all
  3. Give yourself a break: don’t sweat it too much. If it’s a particularly heinous day, take some time off
  4. Bake: scones and cookies will cure what ails you

Sorry. I think that was self therapy more than blogging. If you managed to stick with me to the end then feel free to add your own solutions for dealing with the downs. By the way, is anyone quite as amused by the WordPress snow as I am? Ah, Christmassy happiness.

A Quote for all Seasons

I love quotes. I’m a long time collector, gathering together others’ words and storing them away for times of need. There is something inherently comforting about a quote that perfectly captures what you need to hear at a certain point in life. I found this more than ever with writing. Some quotes spur me on when I need encouragement. Some comfort me when I’m feeling precious. Others make me laugh when I’m getting too serious (a fault of mine). So I thought I’d share some with you, just in case there are other word collectors out there…

A quote to quiet the inner writing critic:

All first drafts are shit ~ Ernest Hemmingway

A quote for chasing an elusive muse:

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club ~ Jack London

Quotes for when I’m sick of editing:

A book is never finished, simply abandoned ~ Rebecca Huntley

A writer is someone to whom writing is more difficult than it is to other people ~ Thomas Mann

Quotes for when I’d rather be on holiday than writing:

Because I’d always wanted to be a writer, I decided that when I left school I needed to go out into the world and collect experiences, so that when I had enough I could write about them ~ Prue Mason

Writing is long periods of thinking and short periods of writing ~ Ernest Hemingway

Quotes for those who think children’s books are easy to write:

Writing a picture book is like writing War & Peace in Haiku ~ Mem Fox

Art is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way ~ Einstein

The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the same as the difference between lighting and a lightning bug ~ Mark Twain

Quotes that capture why I write for children:

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.  Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play ~ Tagore

I believe that the only lastingly important form of writing is writing for children. It is writing that is carried in the reader’s heart for a lifetime; it is writing that speaks to the future ~ Sonya Hartnett

To be a successful children’s writer you will need to get in touch with your inner child, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that inner children are all sweetness and light. They can be argumentative, unreasonable, uncontrollable and highly irritating. You will need to embrace these qualities of your child as well … invoke the forces of anarchy, chaos, silliness, danger and magic ~ Andy Griffiths

Quotes for when I need a laugh:

Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read ~ Groucho Marx

I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by ~ Douglas Adams

Writers are very private people who run around naked in public ~ Katherine Patterson

I’d love to hear other people’s favourites. There is always room for more words…

Pressure

sewThe business of writing is an interesting road. It brings surprising twists and turns as you journey along it. I remember early on (we’re talking years ago) I thought that after finding an agent and getting that first contract, all the stress would go. I learnt quickly that the truth is that each stage brings different stressors. I thought that with all I’d learnt so far and all I’d seen others go through that I was reasonably prepared. What I didn’t expect was the pressure.

Since signing with my agent, and even more so since getting my first book contract, I’ve been feeling this incredible pressure. Pressure to live up to people’s expectations. Pressure to keep producing work (and to better myself each time). Pressure to use the time I have to be really productive (because everyone keeps telling me I’ll have no time soon). Pressure to follow the path that people want/expect me to follow (picture books Vs novels). Pressure to be successful (whatever that is). Pressure now knowing that I’m no longer writing just for myself. Pressure that is sometimes completely unnamable but follows me around the house.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot – it’s impossible NOT to think about it because it’s keeping me up at night! – but the ultimate truth is that the pressure is coming from me. My agent is wonderful to work with, and completely happy to work at my pace. My editor is delightful and is currently away, so we’re not even working on edits yet. But me – I suppose I’ve always had high expectations of myself. I think many writers do – how else do we continue to write through rejections? We’re constantly told that this industry is so tough to break into, so now with my first book looming my brain is saying ‘this is your chance’ and ‘don’t stuff it up’ and ‘if you don’t keep working hard it will slip away from you’.

I can laugh at myself, though. I’m only a few months in and I already sound like a drama queen. Where I’m at is exactly where I’ve always wanted to be. I feel incredibly lucky and will never complain (kick me if I do). But I’m still learning. I feel pink and new. There are no rules for writing as a career, so I’m just trying to find what works for me.

The feeling of pressure most concerned me because I was having trouble writing. But today I’m back on the keyboard, fingers clacking over letters and words appearing on the screen. My Writing Critic’s voice is strong, but I’m fighting him better today. One word at a time. One foot in front of the other. Shrugging the pressure from my shoulders and trying to get back to just enjoying where this road takes me.

I wonder if others have had unexpected reactions to the different steps in seeking publication?

Planning or Pantsing

Rabbit - runI’m updating my website: a slow and laborious process, but I’m getting there. Looking at the ‘writing’ section makes me realise that my writing methods have changed. It’s nice to have those moments in life – a yard stick where you can look back and realise how far you’ve come. I wrote that section 18 months ago, and a few novels on, I’m amazed at just how differently I do things.

I used to be a pantser. I didn’t plot or plan my stories – I used freewriting to muddle my way through a first draft, flying by the seat of my pants. I enjoyed this immensely – the thrill of the chase, the adrenalin at the discovery of a new plot point. I always felt that planning would take this away from me. But in the end it left a mudpit of a manuscript I had to attempt to save in the second draft: characters that were still figuring out who they were, worlds only partly explored, tangled story arcs.

I used to just think this was the way I did things (that it was my ‘style’ of writing), but now I can see that fear was driving it. I was terrified at the thought of planning. What if the ideas didn’t come? What if I sat down to plan and couldn’t think of anything? My inner writing critic (that awful voice that tells you your writing is no good) was strong back then, and could only be silenced when I wrote fast enough to leave it behind. If I stopped to plan, it could paralyse me in an instant. So I was running fast to keep ahead of my fear.

So much has changed. I now trust myself enough that I no longer need to run. After writing so many stories, I know that the ideas will come if I give them time. I trust that I can solve the plot problems that will arise and that the characters will talk to me if I give them space. The biggest epiphany happened about a week ago: I’m now so good at silencing my inner writing critic that he rarely bothers to show up. With my fear now contained to a minimum, I’m free to plan. I love letting the ideas move around my mind for months, asking questions, identifying the plot holes to fill and studying the story arcs. I love prodding the characters to learn their vulnerabilities and determining how the story can best reveal these. I love the intricacies of putting the puzzle together, all before putting pen to paper. I suppose I now understand the demands of ‘story’ more intimately.

Early on in my ASA mentorship, Kate said something that made me think about all this. She commented that you can still experience the thrill of discovery during the first draft when you have planned it. Planning doesn’t take that away, it just makes the process less messy. But I’m still hesitant to describe myself as a planner just yet. I’ve worked out how tricksy this writing process is – just when I think I have myself pinned, I start a fresh project that demands a completely new approach.

So you never know. In a few years time I may be back here saying: “Move over planning, I’m back in the pants”.

Waiting

Rabbit - sitCan anyone honestly say they enjoy waiting? I don’t think humans are born with natural fountains of patience. Trouble is, this industry is full of opportunities to test a writer’s patience: waiting for a response to a submission, for replies from agents/editors, for contracts or rejections, for feedback or good news or pigs to start flying.  All this waiting leaves writers with plenty of time to wallow in their own self-doubt and insecurities. Or maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, instead of trying in vain to grow a patience organ, I think instead writers need to become masters of distraction.  Here are my top 6 forms of distraction:

  1. Get out of the house: coffee, a movie, and catching up with friends are all sure fire ways to keep my head from imploding
  2. Watch an old favourite: pull out a DVD that’s sure to make you laugh and cry, nothing too serious, but with a focus on escapism. My current top picks are Pride and Prejudice (BBC version), Mulan (Disney), 10 Things I Hate About You, and Empire Records … please don’t judge me
  3. Baking: my fiance knows that if he comes home to fresh scones, I’ve had a bad day. Baking makes me happy
  4. Gym: adrenalin is good. Running is my drug. Working out also helps to combat the negative side effects of distraction tip number 3…
  5. Taking my pup for a walk: fresh air combined with my puppy’s never ending well of joy in the small things always makes me smile. Also my dog park is full of lovely people who love to talk about dogs and don’t know about my writing, which equals distractions aplenty
  6. Blogging: a great way to feel connected, understood and heard. This is clearly my choice of distraction for the day!

These methods can only be used to overcome short term waiting periods (by which I mean a day or two). If short term waiting turns into long term waiting, then the above methods constitute procrastination. Unfortunately most waiting in this industry is long term, which can only really be battled by jumping into the next writing or illustrating project. No one has said it better than Stephen King: bum in seat, and write the damn book.

But I do allow myself a day or two of distraction. So, now that I’ve finished blogging I’m off to cook some scones. Anyone else have any good tips to share?

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:

Write.

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.

Revise.

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.

Submit.

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.

Repeat.

You’re a writer. Act like one.

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!

Writing Disability

Rabbit - lookIt would seem that when they were handing out self-esteem, I got a dud-dose.  Either that or I’ve got a gland somewhere that’s not working the way it should.  Or I’m just that sort of person.  Anyway, never one to give up, I’ve embraced the fact and had to work on ways to manage such an affliction.

So, I might be talking it up a little, but writing and publishing and the whole shebang is a tough business.  They say you need a dose of talent, a liberal serve of extra-hard-work, and a lot of luck to break into it.  I think you also need to be able to believe in yourself more than anyone else ever will, and to learn how to enjoy the journey rather than the destination.  This has been the hardest thing for me, as for a while there I was completely focussed on where I wanted to be, and not enjoying the things I was achieving along the way.  I can become so goal focussed that as soon as I achieve one thing, I move on to the next goal without enjoying the moment long enough.  A magazine accepts a story, so will they ever accept another of mine?  Finished that first draft, but the story itself is a long way from polished.  This writing disability of mine means I’ve had to learn to consciously pull myself up – or practise what I like to call smack-myself-in-the-head psychology.  Remind myself to sit back and enjoy the journey.  Look out the window.  Smell the flowers and all that jazz.

My writer’s group is brilliant at celebrating every step, from finishing a first draft and receiving a positive rejection letter, to magazine acceptances and book deals.  So, today I’m celebrating all things, great and small.  I’ve nearly finished the first draft of a new novel, the first adventure novel I’ve ever written (and in a quirky voice that I have so enjoyed).  What about you?  I know all of you have something worth celebrating – I’ll provide the champagne if you provide the story.

Beating the Writing Critic (with a club)

Rabbit - angryAll writers have one.  That little guy that sits on our shoulder telling us we’re no good, that every word we put on that page is terrible and not even worth the effort, that no one else is going to read it – let alone enjoy it – so why bother?  Even highly experienced and successful writers such as Isobelle Carmody and Marcus Zusak speak of self-doubt when writing.  So how to fight it?

The first writing workshop I attended at Qld Writer’s Centre many year ago was called ‘The First Novel’, run by Sarah Armstrong, and she talked about fighting the writing critic and getting through that first draft.  I think that’s where the writing critic tends to lurk the most – in first drafts, when we’re most vulnerable.

The single most effective technique I have for fighting my own writing critic is effectively telling him to bugger off.  Well, I suppose it’s slightly more complicated that that.  I think the most common thing our writing critics throw at us is ‘you can’t write’.  These are powerful words, and enough to make many people stop writing altogether.  But I’ve learnt to use a Hemmingway quote to throw back at my writing critic: ‘All first drafts are shit’.  First drafts are supposed to be a rabble of ideas, inconsistent characters, plots that don’t quite flow yet, clichéd metaphors and even worse.  First drafts are a place to get to know your characters and experiment with plot points.  First drafts are simply about getting the ideas down on paper.  It’s the later drafts that are used to go back and fix these things.

So whenever my writing critic tells me my writing is bad, I just tell him that it’s supposed to be that way.  After all, as Hemmingway effectively said, the role of a first draft is to be shit.  And who’s going to argue with Hemmingway?


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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