A Picture’s Worth

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What is a picture worth today?

“A picture’s worth ten thousand words.”

The phrase is attributed to advertising executive Fred Barnard of Printers’ Ink, who first used it in 1927. Almost a century later, a picture’s value is higher than ever.

Everybody knows that images make things pop. Tweets with visual content get more retweets; Facebook posts get more shares. Some bloggers add an image every 75 – 100 words to keep people scrolling.

Marketing research emphatically proves visual content pushes sales, increases click rates, and attracts attention way more than text alone.

  • Readers process visuals quicker than blocks of text. On average, users read only 20% of words, but add images and Presto! More engagement.
  • Eye-tracking experts claim that readers spend longer on sites that present information graphically. In fact, infographics can increase web traffic by 12%.
  • Images aid memory. One source found that adding an image to an audio clip increases the listener’s memory rate from 10% to 65%.
  • Social media marketers weighted images as their most important form of content. It makes good business sense when research shows landing pages that include videos have a higher conversion rate than ones without.

Or… Here is the same set of stats in an infographic I created.

Spilling Ink Sample Infographic from Canva Template (1)

Where did your eye go? Which did you unpack, the text above or the infographic?

So, if text alone doesn’t cut it, what’s the humble wordsmith to do?

Build a Web-Toolbox!

Not too long ago in a blog post here, I claimed that infographics were the domain of talented graphic designers. That was back in 2015, when when I was just discovering the wonderful world of graphic design. With powerful tools like the Adobe Creative Suite at their disposal, designers can create wonders and true works of art.

But the Adobe Creative Suite is a set of advanced tools that require pretty heavy-duty training and an artistic eye for best results. The Creative Suite is available as software or can be accessed by subscription online via Creative Cloud, but either way it’s super costly.

Write what interests you & you'll never run out of ideas (2)Good News for the Un-Artsy

There are lots of affordable options writers can use to create fabulous visuals—including infographics. Making graphics takes a bit of time, especially when you’re learning, but it can be fun.

I rarely write an article, story, tweet or post without thinking about how I can enhance it with visual content. Here’s one of the first graphics I made using a template from Canva.

 

Creating Gob-smacking Visuals

“Empowering the world to design.” That’s the logo of one of my favourite webtools, Canva. In addition to being a serious design tool, Canva is a playground for discovering and building designing skills. That’s attractive to me, a designer wannabe. I know my limitations, but they don’t keep me from  having fun—and indulging in creative procrastination.

I had a ball designing my own schmicko business cards and matching  invoices for my freelance work. I regularly use Canva to make images for Facebook pages and Twitter. I even had a crack at creating a logo for my new creative business venture with my writing buddy Kellie Byrnes. More on that another day, but until then, here’s a teaser. This is a placeholder I made for our Facebook page header while the business is under construction.

sm copy of Landing Soon

My Very Own Infographics

I’ve created a few infographics from scratch with not-too-bad results, but I’ve had better luck using Canva’s templates as a starting place. The results are more pleasing because layout is the tricky bit for the untrained designer. The “What’s a Picture Worth Today?” infographic above started as a Canva template. It took me less than an hour to customise it. I’m the first to admit a pro would do a far better job, but not every graphic deserves the finesse (and cost) of a professional designer.*

Favourite Canva Features

Canva comes with some features I really appreciate. It offers a free version for humble writers like me. Upgrade to the premium membership and you get a 30-day free trial period before you pay US$12.95/month or $9.95/month if you pay an annual fee. The paid version offers some important tools, like resizing and team sharing. Check here for Canva’s current pricing.

So far, for my basic needs, the free account has done the trick, although I often drool over the luscious images and icons I can’t access.

Here’s what I love about Canva:

  • It provides an ENORMOUS bank of elements to draw from – shapes, icons, images, and pictures. There are heaps of freebies like the ones I chose for the infographic above. Some have a small price tag (US$1), which you buy with credits. And there are really slick ones available exclusively for premium members.
  • There’s a nice variety of fonts.
  • The dashboard provides a tool to adjust kerning and leading (spacing between letters and lines). Big ♥!
  • Canva provides pre-sized templates for various social media platforms.

A few useful features are missing from (free) Canva:

  • Canva doesn’t provide (as far as I can tell) an eye-dropper tool for colour matching. This tool lets you “pick up” a colour from somewhere in the image, which is very handy. Colour matching is limited to the standard palettes or dependent on figuring out a particular colour’s code some other fiddly way.
  • Flipping elements is possible, but there’s no user-friendly button. Sometimes I don’t have the time to watch a how-to video.
  • Canva doesn’t group its fonts into categories, a feature that would make font pairing a little easier.

Canva’s How To

This video shows the basics of how to use Canva. For more instructional videos, check out the Canva Youtube Channel.

Ali’s Top Tips for Visual Content Creation

I source images from Unsplash, a wonderful bank of free, high resolution photos. Unsplash photos look fantastic, and some are suitable for adding text. Here’s a Facebook Page image I whipped up by adding text to an Unsplash photo.

Mondays are ruff withoutthe Roundtable

[N.B., TSW! (Time Suck Warning): I could easily piddle away half a day on Unsplash, scrolling through the gorgeous photography!]

Best of all, Unsplash images come with the following license:

All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.

I’m happy to credit their photographers, which I usually do at the end of my posts. One good turn deserves another, especially for fellow creatives!

Over to You

What are your favourite webtools for creating graphics? I’d love to see your handiwork, so pop a link in the comments.


* Outsourcing Graphic Design

Fiverr is an example of a company that will quickly create graphic design images for you, but don’t forget to think local and support your nearby creatives and graphic designers!

Image Credit:

Header: Photo by Brigitta Schneiter on Unsplash

Pug: Photo by Toshi on Unsplash

A Room of One’s Own

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Ever since Virginia Woolf put it out there, a Room of One’s Own has topped most female creatives’ wish list. It’s where one can find solitude, and solitude begets industry. Out of nothing comes something, and that something is art.

At least that’s what’s supposed to happen. If art isn’t happening, perhaps it’s because one of the essential components of a Room of One’s Own is missing.

Own Room Essentials

Wall-jason-briscoeDoors

Creatives need doors. Doors can be shut against the clamour, the persistent insistence of life. A door is an invitation and a rebuff, a beginning and an end. Woolf advocated for doors with locks, to secure one’s seclusion with a satisfying click.

Walls

Creatives need their own walls. A Wailing Wall for lamentation, a Whatever Wall for darts or doodles or bigger-than-life mood boards. And while walls are important, corners are absolutely essential. Corners are for prayer or percolation or procrastination. One corner, ‘the corner’, is always preferred. It’s the spot for the battered but cosy armchair, the one that feels like a hug from Gran.

Wishes for the List

  • A cosy armchair.
  • Abundant nooks and plentiful crannies. Or, at bare minimum, a stack of shelves.
  • Creatives require a generously proportioned, smooth work surface for the sole purpose of losing beneath a drifting pile of stuff.
  • Creatives need boxes. (For stuff.  See above. And below.)
  • They need pens—quality ones, mind. Pencils, lead and coloured; pastels, paints, markers; sticky tape, masking tape, washi tape; a ruler and an endless supply of notebooks in various sizes.

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  • A typing machine of any description on which to furiously pound.

 

  • An uncosy chair (to use when not praying/percolating/procrastinating). (Also useful for discouraging visitors who don’t get the concept of a Room of One’s OWN.)

 

  • window-gaelle-marcelTo hold the typing machine and a light, the room of one’s own must have a desk (with a drawer (to store the nail clippers)).

 

  • A window (or two).
  • A ceiling to ponder.
  • A cobweb to scowl at.
  • A creaky floor to pace.

 

  • And last, by the door, a pair of fuzzy slippers, because who can possibly create with cold feet—even in a room of one’s own?

A Tribute

Of course, for time immemorial, women have made or inspired art of all forms without the benefit of a room of their own. I salute all the women who’ve created amidst the persistent insistence of life—whining toddlers, piddling puppies, general busyness and unacknowledged sacrifice. May you find joy and satisfaction in your art and one day close the door of a room of your own.

Image Credits

Studio: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Wall: Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Typer: Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

Window: Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

 

Cabinets of Curiosity

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My grandfather called me Snoopy. It was my fondness for rummaging through cobwebby corners of his house that earned me the moniker. No closet went unexplored, no drawer unrifled, no crawl space unprobed.

wunderkammer_ali-stegert_imageby_Kevin_NobleThe attic at Poppy’s house beckoned, otherworldly—icebox cold in winter and oven hot in summer with dust that rimed surfaces like post-apocalyptic frost. One day, nosing into an ivory garment bag, I came face to face with my mother’s wedding gown. Below it, a compact green train case conferred a pair of viciously pointy stilettos in pink silk—both excellent finds that kept me amused (and well dressed) for days. Another exploration unearthed the mother lode, a box labelled, ‘For Alison’ in my late grandmother’s scrawl. Nestled in layers of crumpled newspaper were an old-fangled sugar bowl, milk jug, and trifle bowl. Snooping, I learned, paid off.

wunderkammer_ali-stegert_imageby_timothy_rhyneIn search of more treasures, labelled or otherwise, I ventured due south. Poppy’s basement brimmed with mysteries and monsters, such as the deadly Electric Wringer. “Stand back Snoopy, or she’ll slurp you up, squish you flat as a pancake, and spit you out the back,” Poppy yelled over noise, prodding the mangle with a pole, as if daring it to strike. I stood clear, watching the grinding, sloshing violence of washing day from a safe distance.

It was from that secure vantage point that I discovered the basement’s cave of wonders. Poppy had converted the dark space under the stairs into a display case to hold souvenirs and curios from his globetrotting adventures. Tucked in its shadowy nooks were decades worth of accumulated stuff, dense with memories and oozing my grandfather’s legendary sense of humour. In my seven-year-old mind, I’d hit pay dirt. My mother, ever the modern minimalist, muttered about dust-collecting junk.

Naturally, I wanted to keep everything in Poppy’s fusty cabinet, especially the kitschy ceramic Three Wise Monkeys (macaques) from Japan. To this day, when I come across, ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ my mind beelines to Poppy’s basement. There were ashtrays from cruise ships, beer steins from Bavaria, and Venetian glass beads. Multi-limbed Buddhas from the Orient subleased space to a shocking array of pissing boy figurines and other toilet-themed curios. From Istanbul or Cairo or Timbuktu, a brass oil lamp, dull with tarnish, hinted at a resident genie. But the best curio by far was a tiny corked bottle that held a wisp of yellowed cotton and a tiny nugget, a flake really, of Klondike gold. I begged Poppy shamelessly for that little bottle (no fool was I, even at age seven), but alas, no. It was special—a souvenir from his father-son Alaskan escapade with my Uncle Connie.

wunderkammer_ali-stegert_imageby_joao_tzanno

Cabinets of Curiosity

Looking back with adult eyes, I recognise the display shelf for what it really was: my Poppy’s wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities, a rather antiquated hobby. These visual encyclopaedias started as cabinets, but over the centuries they grew into immense collections that stuffed entire chambers full of oddities–dinosaur bones, rare butterflies, saints’ fingers, alchemists’ tools, stuffed animals, mummies, and more.

Wunderkammern (chambers of wonder in German) are first cousins to both the modern museum and the modern sideshow. In the 17th, 18th and early 19th century, European nobles vied to outdo one another with impressive, comprehensive wunderkammern. The collections intermingled science with superstition, as the world grappled with emergent empiricism.

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Part one-upmanship for the über-rich, part scholarly enquiry, the collecting and displaying hobby led to important scientific and cultural advancements. Ole Worm, the Danish scholar and collector who created the Wormianum Museum (1655, shown above), debunked the unicorn tusk trade, showing the tusks (worth a king’s ransom) belonged to male narwhals not mythical creatures. He also disproved the weird but widely held notion that lemmings spontaneously generated and fell from the sky in stormy weather.

Peter the Great’s Kunstkamera, which was heavy on anatomical specimens and pickled foetuses, was intended to shift common people’s superstitions about genetic abnormalities, from devil-spawned monsters or divine punishment to mere accidents of nature.

The Outworking of Imprinted Memories

With the wunderkammer of my childhood imprinted on my psyche, it’s little wonder these eclectic collections continue to fascinate and make regular appearances in my writing. For unknown reasons, my villains tend to be collectors—greedy, predatory amassers of curios, artefacts, and specimens for their wunderkammern. Here are two examples.

In my MG | Gaslamp | Fantasy |Adventure The Temple of Lost Time, Lord Godfrey serves as both Royal Antiquary and Head Henchman. As the king’s advisor on Olden Magic, he leads the quest to find the legendary Temple of Lost Time. Godfrey believes the temple’s magical elixirs will reverse the dying king’s illness. Following fragments of ancient maps, Godfrey sets sail armed with his fully portable Cabinet of Magical Curios. Little does he know, stowed away in the ship’s hold is his nemesis, eleven-year-old Toby, who’s running for his life in search of his missing father…

Temple of Lost Time 5_1

In my WIP middle grade | gaslamp |spy school |adventure, The Rarest of Them All, the villain is Baroness Agatha Throttlebairn, a natural scientist, ethnographer and adventuress. Barred by gender from serious academic pursuits, she is relegated to study the fluffier outposts of science that fringe myth and magic. For decades, she scours the globe, mercilessly hunting, and meticulously categorising, preserving, and displaying fey creatures from around the world in her massive, macabre collection, but still none of her male would-be colleagues at the Royal Academy takes her work seriously. Unfortunately for them, a horrific accident on a wildfey safari in Africa has rendered her bewitched … and vindictive. Who can stop this magic-addled menace from unleashing her vast collection of undead fey on the world? This is a job for the Remarkable Girls! Her Majesty’s Secret Society of Remarkable Girls is a clandestine academy for the training of gifted girls from around the Empire in the fine arts of espionage, hand-to-hand combat, and general bad-assery.

It seems I can’t get away from wunderkammern in my writing and in real life:

Curiosity Cabinets for the 21st Century

One of my favourite forms of procrastination is snooping through Pinterest, which is basically a limitless, digital wunderkammer. Pinterest lets me have All The Curios without the dust and storage issues! Yay! I don’t use Pinterest as much as I used to because it’s full of annoying ads nowadays, but the promise of personalised curation remains: Create classifications (boards), hunt for ‘specimens’ (images and content), arrange, display, and share.

The Real McCoy – Melbourne’s Wunderkammer

ODLPd33kQP6rsiRJgSIFwQSo, back in May 2018, I was in Melbourne for KidLitVic, a conference for writers and illustrators of children’s literature. As my writing buddy Kellie Byrnes and I were walking down Lonsdale Street one night, we passed a street level window that made me stop and back up. The window revealed a human skeleton reclining, feet casually crossed, in an antique dentist’s chair. I’d stumbled upon a real cabinet of curiosity! Wunderkammer is delightful and quirky—and it’s situated in a basement, just like my Poppy’s!

Of course I had to go in for a serious bit of snooping through its fabulous displays. (The cabinetry alone is beautiful.) Wunderkammer showcases a variety of curios and natural wonders, including medical & surgical tools, minerals & fossils, insects & butterflies, taxidermy, globes & maps, and ephemera. Items are for sale, and business is delightfully brisk. Many thanks to the fine folks at Wunderkammer, who kindly allowed me to snoop to my heart’s content and take photos. I highly recommend a visit next time you’re in Melbourne: 439 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.

Image Credits:

Interesting Links:

Artist Rosamund Purcell’s recreation of Museum Wormianum is a permanent installation at the Natural History Museum in Denmark. The display includes 40 of the artefacts from Worm’s original Wunderkammer.

Cabinets of Curiosity became quite trendy about five years ago.

Spare a Thought for the Spare Heir

Prince_Harry_and_Meghan_Markle

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding on 19 May 2018 is hot news, so here’s my little contribution to the #royalty craze, a tribute to the spare heir.

It must be a tough gig being the little brother of the heir (of the heir apparent). Prince Harry, bless him, seems unlikely to reign. Heck, who knows if his father, the heir apparent, will make it to the throne.

History is speckled with spare heirs winding their way to the throne. Tempestuous Henry VIII, a spare himself, fathered three children, all of whom had a turn holding the sceptre in the hot seat. More recently, Elizabeth II, a daughter of a spare, could have pursued a life of quiet obscurity if love and duty hadn’t collided so violently in the life of her uncle Edward VIII, the abdicator.

Fascintating Spare Heirs

Late in 2014, I encountered the intriguing concept of spare heir. After pondering the potential for sibling jealousy, the impact on family dynamics, and the effect on one’s sense of identity and purpose, I followed it deep into the rabbit hole of  research and emerged with some cool background conflict for a story.

I wondered if there were ever any twin heirs and spares? Imagine missing out on a kingdom and a crown (or, conversely, relative freedom from duty)  by a matter of minutes! A quick shake of Queen Victoria’s family tree and out fell a golden apple, AKA the propelling nugget of goodness—a historical fact that leads to a series of compelling what-ifs that beg to become a story!

I found heir apparent twins. Almost…

William_IVVictoria wasn’t the daughter of her predecessor. She was the niece of William IV, who’d failed to produce a (legitimate) heir. William and his mistress, actress Dorothea Jordan, produced a herd of children surnamed FitzClarence. But William and Queen Adelaide had a string of bad luck in the progeny department. Their two daughters, Elizabeth and Charlotte, both tragically died shortly after birth. Adelaide’s final pregnancy ended in a devastating stillbirth of twin boys, who, as far as I can tell, were not named.

If those boys had lived, one would have become king, and the other a spare—but a spare by only moments. Meanwhile,  Princess Alexandrina (Victoria) would have remained an obscure princess—a round-raced, royal hanger-on, probably sequestered to a drab apartment at Kensington or worse. No pretty young queen, possibly no marriage to Prince Albert, and no dour, widowed monarch. How would the 19th century have fared without her formidable imprint? How would the 20th century differed?

See what I mean about a series of compelling questions?

History’s Loss, My Gain

I gave those unsung twin boys life and names, and I dug into their family history for a bit of intrigue. I didn’t have to go deep; the boys’ grandfather would have been King George III. Remember him? His illness rendered him unfit to rule and was the reason for the Regency period. He was considered mad (which I must point out is one weakness among many other good and noble qualities he possessed, like being a faithful family man and an ardent promoter of scientific enquiry. He was a fascinating and misunderstood character.)

Augustus (my name), the firstborn twin in my story THE TEMPLE OF LOST TIME, inherits not only the throne but also his grandfather’s illness. Though fairly young, he’s slowly dying and losing his mind. King Augustus’s desperation to extend his reign makes him volatile, cruel, and vulnerable to exploitation. His dangerous obsession with olden magic puts both his life and empire at risk. This is the world of my story: London, 1853, during the dark and unstable Augustan Age. Great Britain teeters as time ticks away.

Meanwhile, King Augustus’s twin, the spare heir Prince James, is healthy, capable, and wildly popular with the masses, a fact that torments the paranoid, enfeebled king.

#RoyalsBehavingBadly

King Augustus not only inherits a genetic illness, he also adopts his philandering father’s habit of pursuing beautiful actresses. His prime target is the lovely Lucy Le Breton, a popular actress and singer at the Theatre Royal. She does everything she can to avoid the despicable king.

Eleven-year-old Toby, Lucy’s son, is the hero of the story. More than anything, Toby yearns to know his father. What he doesn’t know is the clock is ticking, and there’s no time to lose…

So, a bit of wondering about spare heirs plus a few years of writing and rewriting and rerewriting has resulted in a story, THE TEMPLE OF LOST TIME, a middle grade historical fantasy adventure, which is currently in submission. It is the first of three books. Wish me luck as I try to find a good home for it.

Temple of Lost Time 5_1

To the Real Spare Heir!

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have a rich and colourful royal history behind them and a life full of possibility ahead of them. Here’s wishing them happiness and long life together. May the real spare heir be spared the wild adventures of my imagination! To the royal couple! Cheers!

Image Credits

Prince Harry & Meghan Markle

By Mark Jones CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

William IV, Public Domain

Noah’s Nose Knows

Noah's Nose Knows

Noah’s nose knew something was wrong. He smelled a siege. Nervously, Noah followed the odour to the fridge. He peered inside. Organic leafy lettuces crowded the veggie bin; lumpy helmets of broccoli lined the shelves; spears of asparagus stood menacingly in a glass.

Inside the chiller drawer lay a suspicious package: tofurkey. Tof-what?

In the bottle next to the milk, a murky substance bubbled sinisterly. Its name sounded like a sneeze. Kom-BU-cha! Ew.

Noah pulled out a bottle of liquid the colour of pond sludge. Vegetable juice? Blech! No way! That was wrong—as wrong as carrot cake’.

“Mu-u-m! Help! The vegetables are taking over the fridge!”

Mum breezed into the kitchen. Don’t be silly, Noah. It’s a new year, and we’re on a health kick!”

Noah put back the gross green juice.’ He stared at his mother. Oh no! Yoga pants AND a crop-top. This was serious!

“But I’m hungry! What am I supposed to eat? Everything in there is green!” His tummy snarled. I’ll die!”

“Noah. You’re overreacting.”

“Mu-u-um!” He clutched his belly. All I want is some nice morning tea! Is that too much to ask?” He raced to the pantry and scanned the shelves. In place of his snacks were creepy packets:

Lentil crackers
Protein Balls
Millet NumNums

Quinoa Surprise

“AHHH!” Noah screamed. Where are the Iced Vo-Vos and my volcano-flavoured corn chips? I want my neon squeeze cheese!”

“Noah, please,” Mum said. I made your favourite muffins. Go sit down while I warm one up.”

Noah skulked to the table, clutching his ravenous belly and imagining a sweet muffin, warm from the microwave, oozing with melted choc-chips and slathered with butter. Mmmmm.

As the plate was laid in front of him, he closed his eyes contentedly and let his nose do its work…

He gasped. His eyes popped open. “Something’s in there! My nose knows!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mum said sliding a Fitbit on her wrist. It’s just a muffin. Here. Have some millllk.” The corner of her mouth twitched.

Noah narrowed his eyes. Why’d you say it like that?” He squinted at the cup.

“Like what?” she said, snapping a sweatband across her forehead at a jaunty angle.

Noah’s nose sniffed and sniffed again. Wild-eyed, he pointed at the muffin. You sneaked zucchini in there. And turmeric! My nose knows! I bet you slipped in some of that QuiNOAH just to be cute.”

“It’s Keen-WAH.”

“Whatever.” He slumped in his chair and glowered at the icky muffin’. His tummy panged with hunger.

“I’m going next door to do yoga-kickboxing with Prue.” She kicked her leg sideways. YA-maste! Enjoy your snack.”

The screen door banged shut, and Noah frowned. My nose was right. It’s an all-out assault,” he muttered. He picked a crumb off the suss muffin and put it on his tongue.

A flash of green at ten-o-clock. Cauliflower paratroopers armed with asparagus spears stormed the table.

AHHHH!

Photo Credit:
Boy on River Cruise by Bernard Yeo, CC BY-2.0
Modified by Ali

Releasing Stories

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How do you know when your story is finished? One thing is certain: a story is most definitely NOT finished on 1 December right after the NaNoWriMo hoopla.

This question has plagued me ever since I started writing seriously. And I think that word—seriously—is the thing. In fact, IMHO, the difference between a hobby-writer and a serious writer is the latter is willing to rewrite. And rewrite and rewrite until the writing is right.

But when it is it right? How far does a writer have to go? How many rewrites does it take? When (how!) do you stop? My most recent project has had at least twenty beginnings. Not just ideas or sketches—full-on beginnings, some with minor changes, most with drastic reimagining. I probably wrote more than 100,000 words of beginnings and many middles and ends too.

When Is It Time To Stop?

Is there a way to know when it’s time to release the story to the world? It’s a relief to find it’s a common quandary. One Google search (‘How do you know when your story is finished?’) threw up 14,000,000 results (in .61 seconds).

Some of the common answers included:

  • Trust your gut.
  • Stop when you can’t stand to look at it another time.
  • When it stops waking you up in the middle of the night, it’s done.
  • Time to quit when your ‘improvements’ have a negative impact.
  • There’s a fine line between attaining your best and not pissing off your editor.
  • And so on.

My Answer:

Stop when all the ghost-kinks have been exorcised. For me, ghost-kinks are writing problems I don’t want to see. On some level I know they are there, but it’s as if I have blinkers on. I skirt around them instead of tackling them. I ignore them hoping they’ll evaporate. They bother me, but I pretend they don’t.

Usually, sadly, someone else has to point at them.

Someone Else: “Um Ali, omg, there’s a massive ghost-kink hanging out here. Geez, it’s enormous! Maybe you should, like, do something about it?”

Me: Oh, yeah. Right. I was just … excuse me … [Shoves ghost-kink back into closet and slams door]. It’s all good. Nothing to look at in here.

Someone Else: But what about that ghost? It’s pretty scary… Seriously? You can’t hear that banging or smell that funky smell? Far out…

Me: What? There’s a ghost-kink? Let me see! [Peeks in closet] OMG! Would you look at the SIZE of that ghost-kink! BRB…

And having thus ‘discovered’ my ghost-kink(s), I take it (them) on. I stop kidding myself and start culling some stuff—even good stuff. We’re talking full-scale Darlingocide. A busyness detox.

Despite the utter violence of the toil, the results feel great. Like the way people must feel after a sauna +ice hole swim combo or a seven-day silent retreat or liver cleanse. But it’s the work, the writing, that feels better. Not your body. At the end of it, your body feels crap—cricked and sore and ancient.

Never mind the stiff neck, you know your MS is finally right. And that’s exciting.

That’s when I release my story.

Setting My Paper Boat Afloat

After a year of working on one manuscript exclusively, The Temple of Lost Time, I have finally achieved a sense of ‘rightness’ about the MS. It’s book one of a trilogy, so getting the foundation right is essential.

I was the lucky winner of a 2017 Australian Society of Authors Emerging Writers Mentorship, and I chose author-poet-editor-teacher Catherine Bateson to mentor me and make me face my ghost-kinks. It was an incredible learning and growing experience. Catherine patiently helped me improve my storytelling, honing in on the skilful use of third-person limited POV and strengthening story logic. She was so generous with her time and expertise.

This week, I let go of the project. I released a stronger, funner MS. Part of me feels like it’s a tiny paper boat bobbing in a great big sea, but I am optimistic that it will find its way in the world.

How about you?

How do you know when your MS is ready to be released to the marketplace/world?