Gearing up for 2017

At ICON 2016 in Johannesburg (organised by GeekXP), I ran into a whole bunch of my good old wargaming friends. What an absolute pleasure after having been stuck with my two rugrats for, what felt like, forever. We roamed the stalls and had our books signed by Raymond E. Feist (who is, by the way, a truly humble man and an absolute pleasure to talk to).

Daniël, who had served with me on the Tuks Wargaming Council in 2005, was bubbling with praise for Brandon Sanderson (author of the Mistborn series), talking about his lectures and the idea of having a writing circle of authors who write roughly the same number of words per day/week/month. I really hadn’t seen him this excited since 2008, when the MEAD Legends LARP started up (my friends decided this kind of thing needed to happen in South Africa’s northern parts too).

That afternoon (it was Friday, 24 June), Daniël, Hendrik and I stood in the convention parking lot and founded our (hitherto unnamed) writing circle. It’s a moment that has been graven onto my memory banks, despite looking like nothing special to the bored car guards standing a few metres away.

Since then, we have met two times *cough cough*…but it has made a massive difference to my writing drive.

It led to a long-time friend of mine sending another writer my way and, after a bit of an unpromising start (where I was dreading having to help an aspiring writer through the discovery that they had much to learn), she has changed my writing (style/planning/drive) drastically. At this stage, I can hardly fall asleep at night because my brain is buzzing with ideas and thoughts on how to edit my one flagging story. It feels like rain has fallen on the drought of my writing mind and all forms of new life is springing up faster than I can keep up with.

I can’t wait for the next post I want to write about my epiphany about “show don’t tell”. *bounces around with energy*

 

And this silence, Natalie?

I am sure you have noticed that I haven’t been blogging. I’ve noticed too. 😦

No, I haven’t quit chasing my dream. It’s just been put on hold by life. No, not the usual drivel about being busy or having to take a job and having no time. Something that will sound even more mundane. I’ve been occupied every moment of the day with my super curious toddler. What about when she sleeps, you ask? Well, I’ve been passing out every moment she does. I’m pregnant again and her new brother/sister (we don’t know yet) is putting me through my paces again. Exhaustion, nausea (mostly just feeling queasy all day and night), abdominal discomfort. Fun! *cough cough*

My plans:

  1. Send my eldest to kindergarten as of next year (then, she’s two).
  2. Use the last three months before the new baby arrives going through the submissions I got for Flight of the Phoenix (anthology of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories by South African authors) and hopefully get the thing ready for publishing. This time Amazon! And, I will do my best to launch a second website – Sies! (it’s Afrikaans and roughly translates to an exclamation meaning both “Yuck!” and “Goodness!”). It’s about the unromantic side of pregnancy. All the yucky squishy things you don’t get told about before you get pregnant.
  3. Raise my second child while writing short stories when I can.
  4. 2017 (holy moly, that’s a long way off!) will see me diving into writing with a vengeance. I already have four books in mind right off the bat.

I am very serious about writing and living my dream. I will not give it up. But I am realistic and my children are a priority to me. So, please hold on.

*thick Terminator accent* “I’ll be baaaack!”

STORM Experiences – Opportunities

During my university days, I became a doer. If I wanted something done, I did it. The result was often less romantic than it had been in my head, but people looked up to me because I didn’t just wait for others to do it or for some magical fairy to make it happen without anyone putting in effort.

With my writing career it was different, though. I was convinced that I had to write a manuscript and submit it to an agent who would help me convince a publisher to put it out there. But, as the years went by, I grew despondent. I couldn’t seem to finish my manuscript. Friends and family didn’t see writing as a viable career option. And all I ever read about getting published was how writers got rejected ridiculous amounts of times.

When Linzé Brandon invited me to participate, I heard: Natalie, I want a story written by you and I want to help you make a lifelong dream come true. I couldn’t believe that it could be that easy. That I could become a doer again. That I could take the reigns like that.

And automatically, with that, I already knew that I had to put in everything to make it happen, to make it mean anything. If I simply submitted a story and waited for the book to arrive, it would have been a cheap meaningless experience. How can I expect people to take me seriously if I don’t put in every effort to make it as awesome as I can possibly manage?

When Linzé started talking about blog posts and a presence on Facebook, I felt like such a fool for never realising that I could totally do all those things. Who says I need somebody else or some company to do it for me? They’d want a whole lot of money to do that anyway.

I have very little time every day to write (babies are a full-time job, yo). Especially because I use the same time to cook food, spend time with hubby and actually relax at all. But, damnit. I want my name on a book. I want my name on the “Legends of fantasy” list. And who will put it there if I don’t make it happen?

So, there you have it. I’m a writer and I will indie publish to get my foot in the Legend Door. I’m not waiting for the world to give me what I’m owed. I’m doing this thing!

STORM Experiences – Learning

When I started out writing for STORM I was rather self assured of my writing skills. I was sure that I could write up something that would blast my fellow contributors away. It took quite a bit to bring me back down to a position of humility.

But, back to today’s story… I asked a fellow writer, Richard, to help met out with a bit of beta reading… And did he beta read. My oh my. He came back with criticism of 8 pages on a short story of just over 9000 words. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

Now, usually when you get feedback on a story, you have to steel yourself. You have to take a deep breath and remind yourself that they are not criticising you, they are criticising your work. (Fat lot of calming down that does. :P)

Richard’s feedback was thorough; it was honest; heck, it was a good read…. But most importantly, it was edifying and positive.  I’m not sure how he did it, but after reading his feedback, I wanted to know more. I wanted to talk to him and find out what he could teach me, what we could figure out together.

If all beta readers could help writers like Richard did, I think more people would make it through the editing/rewriting stage. I really hope that I can provide the same kind of feedback to other writers who ask me to beta read in the future. 

STORM Experiences – Reality Check

So, I had a big reality check this week. I submitted a rough draft of a short story to a friend just to get some feedback before I started the big edit to get it ready for publishing…and, I must say, I did not expect what followed.

The review was honest and heartfelt…and my friend was deeply disappointed.

When I read what she had to say, it felt like she was pushing daggers through my soul and my immediate impulse was to lash back. But, I know that reviews about your own work are usually less scathing than they sound when you read them the first time. So, I sat back, played with my daughter, drank some hot chocolate…moped for two days.

None of it really helped. That is, until the moment came that I realised WHY. Why she had been so disappointed. And why it had hurt so much to read all about it. I had not told her that it was a rough draft and that I intended to refine it quite a bit more. As a matter of fact, somewhere deep inside I had already decided that anybody reading my work has no business but to adore everything that I put into words. So, it had never occurred to me that anyone could not like my rough first draft.

Yeah, I’m a bit egotistical, aren’t I? It’s sadly something that most artists suffer from to some degree. Our talent is to create and that means we lay our souls bare to the eyes of the masses. And that, in turn, means that we have to defend our tenders in some way. My way is apparently ridiculous amounts of hubris.

In the end, looking at the criticism again and reading through that first draft of the short story again, it hit me: My friend was saying things I had been thinking while I was writing. Things I had seen when I went back to look at the story. In fact, there was only one thing that I didn’t agree with in her review…and that was just because I had been unusually cryptic about something in the story. Heck, if I had read that without knowing everything going on in the background, I wouldn’t have been able to connect with the story myself.

I’m actually not sure what I learned. Maybe, it’s to be awfully specific about the stage of the writing to the reviewer. Maybe, it’s to find a balance between humility and confidence. Maybe, it should be that I really need to refine drafts a little more before I send them to friends for reviewing. Maybe, it’s that I should listen to my inner editor a little more carefully when there’s something that is bothering her. All in all, I think I’m better off because of this whole incident. In fact, I’m seeing my friend later today to discuss possible solutions. And I’m excited to see her.

See, I have potential for growth! lol *strains shoulder to pat self on back*

Putting on the pressure

As a writer, I’m constantly grappling with an overwhelming urge to stop embarrassing myself by thinking I’m a real writer. I think a lot of writers do. We face a reality where pretty much every idea for a story that can possibly be written, has been written, rewritten, plagiarised, reworked, revamped, reorganised and renamed at least a few hundred times. How can I possibly come up with something new and fresh? How can I possibly create something more desirable than what is available already?

The funny thing is. Books come and books go. It’s just like music. Some music stays popular for a long time, some doesn’t. Even the really good songs generally have a shelf life when it comes to the market at large. That doesn’t stop Madonna and Miley Cyrus from making tonnes of money every year (even despite what we read and hear about them…heck maybe it’s because of what we read and hear about them).

What it really comes down to is this: If your dream is to write and you don’t ever put words to paper (…or an electronic document…um), you’ll never get to test yourself out there in the world. And what other test is there?

So, what I need is something that gets me to put aside all of my excuses…my doubts…my crippling fear and get going. That’s why I try to do NaNoWriMo every year. That’s why I subject myself to the humiliation of participating in competitions that don’t even cater to my genre. That’s why I’m taking on the My 500 Words challenge.

Without motivation, nothing will happen. If people are checking whether I’m doing what I set out to do, the sheer need not to disappoint anyone will drive me. I’m just that kind of person.

 

Aside: Ha ha ha ha haaaa! 295 words already done for the day. *beatific grin*

Also: A hat tip to Linzé Brandon for sharing Jeff Goins‘s challenge.

When you realise your inner editor is killing everything

I have made many discoveries in the past year and a bit. One has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me and I sometimes wonder whether I’m too brutally honest.

Ever since I picked up my first book, I’ve been hooked on reading. I’ve read a lot and I’ve reread a lot as well. Some of the books on my, now wall-to-wall-ceiling-to-floor, bookshelf have been read 12 times. I obviously love those books and something in them must appeal to me quite a bit.

But, after three years of literary analysis at university and two courses specifically aimed at novel writing, I have become just a little too aware of the flaws in stories and story writing. After recently rereading some of my old-time favourites, I was appalled at the terrible prose and sometimes massive, gaping plot holes. For the past year, all my favourite authors’ work just didn’t meet my apparently vastly elevated standards. You can understand my distress.

On the one side, it certainly did give me hope. If I could see all these mistakes made by people who have written best sellers, then certainly I could avoid at least some of them. It also meant that my chances weren’t that bad after all. On the other side, just who is the best selling writer: The person sitting on piles of money from book sales? Or is it the woman waiting to hear back from the first publishers she’s ever approached?

Then, a personal revelation broke through a couple of days ago: Nobody’s perfect. Everyone will make mistakes. The more you do, the more mistakes you will make. It’s as simple as that. And, you know what, it is in the human nature to appreciate the good things. And, even more importantly, what one person hates, the next person loves.

Now, I approach my favourites with a brand new attitude. I read them and appreciate them for what they are, for however they have touched my life. Not every writer writes charming characters. Not every writer has spell-binding plot lines. Not every writer creates believable situations or settings. But each and every writer has a talent for at least one aspect of story writing that makes his or her readers want more.