Releasing Stories

LaunchMyPaperBoat_artak-petrosyan

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?

 

My Epic Poetic Odyssey – January

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Last year I set off on a quest, my #EpicPoeticOdyssey, with a goal of memorising a poem a month. The idea was simply to expose myself to more poetry, to awaken my soul to the art form, to exercise my brain, and to enrich my writing. I continue my quest this year.

January’s Poem

January is a month of fresh starts. It’s deep winter to some, heavy summer to others. To me, January is about Australia, with 26 January being Australia Day, so with that in mind, my poem for January is by beloved Australian poet Henry Lawson.

Oh gosh, this poem stirs me. It’s about the effect of words on the hearts of humans. It speaks of the power of poetry to connect, and also of the poet’s desire and effort to forge the connection. How I love it!

Will Yer Write It Down For Me?

mike-wilson-263700In the parlour of the shanty where the lives have all gone wrong,
When a singer or reciter gives a story or a song,
Where the poet’s heart is speaking to their hearts in every line,
Till the hardest curse and blubber at the thoughts of Auld Lang Syne;
Then a boozer lurches forward with an oath for all disguise,
Prayers and curses in his soul, and tears and liquor in his eyes,
Grasps the singer or reciter with a death-grip by the hand:
‘That’s the truth, bloke! Sling it at ’em! Oh! Gorbli’me, that was grand!
‘Don’t mind me; I’ve got ’em. You know! What’s yer name, bloke! Don’t yer see?
‘Who’s the bloke what wrote the po’try? Will yer write it down fer me?’
And the backblocks’ bard goes through it, ever seeking as he goes
For the line of least resistance to the hearts of men he knows;
And he tracks their hearts in mateship, and he tracks them out alone,
Seeking for the power to sway them, till he finds it in his own,
Feels what they feel, loves what they love, learns to hate what they condemn,
Takes his pen in tears and triumph, and he writes it down for them.

–Henry Lawson

Oh yes, that’s it exactly, the writer’s heart distilled in verse. The ‘backblocks’ bards’ seek the power to sway. Here’s to finding ‘the line of least resistance’ this year…

 

Image Credits

Photo by Matthew LeJune on Unsplash

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

New Year, New Focus

AThGet Something Down

As you launch into 2018, I wish you plenty of energy, time and resources to pursue your dreams to the utmost. May 2018 be for you a year of breakthroughs and satisfaction, of positive challenge and solid growth.

The new year is a wonderful opportunity for doubling down or an exciting time of reinvention. For me, 2018 is both!

The Next Chapter Begins

I start this year as a rookie free agent. I’ve retired from my career as a school counsellor, so it’s truly a new chapter of my life. With no salary or built-in support system, I have to imagine and create my own way to income, fulfilment and community.

I spent today, the first day of the new year, brainstorming possibilities. I uncapped my pristine .38 gel pens and created a colourful opportunity mindmap. I went wild and dreamed up all kinds of sources of income. Then, I shifted gears (and changed to my spiffy new Japanese dual highlighters) and picked out the themes and priorities.

Creactivity?

Finding the theme was easy with two focus points jumping off the page: Greater Creativity and Regular Activity. My previous job with its heavy emotional load affected my energy levels and took a toll on my health, but now I find myself in a blessed place where I can build energy, improve my fitness and develop creatively.

My mindmapping exercise led me to another conclusion: in order to generate an income, I have to have goods to sell. The more stock, the better the trade. Because of the demands on my time in the past, I have few finished, market-ready projects but oodles of inklings and half-formed ideas.

So Priority Number One for 2018 is to generate products. I must convert my notebooks full of ideas into tangible goods – namely manuscripts, stories, articles, and content.

Getting Things Down

I set my intention with Julia Cameron’s quote (above): “Art isn’t about thinking things up; it’s about getting things down.” My task for the early part of the year is cut out for me:

  • Outline and draft new manuscripts
  • Complete and submit current manuscripts
  • Research, write and pitch magazine articles
  • Pursue alternative writing-related income streams

Over to You

Do you have any tips to share about setting off on the full-time freelance path? Please leave a comment to inspire me!

You’ll Never Guess What Happened in November

November 2017 might now be history, but a lot happened, the least of which was acquiring new blogging and marketing techniques, including how to write click-baity blog titles, like “You’ll Never Guess What Happened in November”.

But to clear the air, let me start with what I DIDN’T do in November.

I didn’t memorise November’s poem for #MyEpicPoeticOdyssey. ‘The Author to Her Book’ was both longer than the previous months’ poems and written in Seventeenth Century English. I chose that poem in honour of NaNoWriMo, November’s international novel-writing event.

I didn’t do NaNoWriMo: I did NaNoReWriMo instead. I wrote (unwrote and rewrote) way more than 50,000 words, but I can’t prove it, so I didn’t bother verifying on 30 November. No NaNo badge for me. Bummer.

More importantly though, I didn’t finish my rewrite of The Temple of Lost Time as I’d hoped. I got tangled in a plot snag towards the end so I still have another 20% to go. Wish me luck!

I also didn’t blog here because I was (or rather wasn’t) doing all of the above. (I did blog here though.)

So if I wasn’t blogging here or verifying or finishing or memorising, what did I do?

I retired. Retired!

I know, right?!

After much soul-searching and hand-wringing, I closed the chapter on a 12-year career at a wonderful school. For most of that time, I was a school counsellor, a job that was both rewarding and challenging.

The school allowed me to establish a healthy balance by taking on all kinds of creative asides that utilised my writing skills.

  • I created a comprehensive life skills curriculum for six grades. It addressed the standard social-emotional wellbeing and resilience, but for the higher grades I incorporated real-world skills, things the kids will need when they graduate, like money smarts, relationship wisdom, media savvy, personal safety, and knowledge to battle stigma against mental illness. I wove in skills for clear, logical thinking so students could recognise and refute fallacies and fake news.
  • When the college took on 1:1 learning with iPads, I spearheaded a digital wellbeing education program for secondary students and their parents. To do it, I first had to overcome my own technophobia and ignorance by developing tech skills and embracing the digital life. It was life changing, and I am so glad I did it. I built and started e-Quipped, a digital parenting website and its accompanying Facebook page.
  • I wrote magazine and webzine articles featuring the school’s forward thinking in digital education.
  • I ran a personal development program for fifth and seventh grade girls. It was a huge joy and honour to stomp on society’s negative preconceptions and fears about women’s bodies and instead present them as God-created things of wonder and mystery, beauty and strength.
  • I was an invited author guest in the Junior School’s Book Week festivities and senior English classes when the students were working on short stories. I also got to mentor budding authors in the Challenge-Based Learning program and through my initiative, Inklings, a co-curricular writing group. I cherished all of these writerly opportunities.

In the final 18 months of my employment, I reduced my counselling hours to fill a void in the Marketing & Communications office while the college recruited a new M&C manager. After about 15 weeks, they finally found Agnese, a whiz-woman and all-round wonderful person. The things Ags taught me will be so valuable in my freelance career:

  • Branding – from font to front office
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
  • copywriting – “Think benefits, not features.”
  • managing social media
  • slick email campaigns
  • creating grabby headlines
  • salvaging poor photographs with Photoshop
  • the value of good photography
  • where to find fantastic high-res stock images
  • how to modify images so they look classy (one font only (…maybe two))

When she hired Leonie, graphic designer extraordinaire, to rebrand, I learned about colours, fonts, paper quality and choosing the right style of photograph. Watching a pro work with Photoshop and other Adobe tools is like watching a magic show. I also got to work with teaching colleagues Roz, a talented photographer, and Ming, creator of award-winning videos. I rubbed shoulders with talent and greatness on a daily basis.

I got to work on all kinds of publications: monthly newsletters, email campaigns, website content, heaps of brochures, media releases, a prospectus, and two beautiful yearbooks—my pride and joy. In the midst of writing gazillions of words for the college, I co-created and published two books!

I’m so grateful to be entering my new writing career well equipped. I can thank my school (Leighton, June, Fiona and Paul) and Agnese for giving me both experience and confidence.

Chapter Next

I am thrilled to take on the role of coordinator of the Sunshine Coast sub-branch of SCBWI-Queensland (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I’m looking forward to serving and collaborating with the kidlit creators in my region. I’ve already met so many talented and vibrant creatives!

December’s work is finishing my rewrite of The Temple of Lost Time with my ASA (Australian Society of Authors) mentor Catherine Bateson. I’ll write about that wonderful experience in January. Again, I’ve learned so much.

Once I put ToLT to bed, I’ll open my notebook of ideas and start to play. I have been stockpiling stories and business ideas for such a time as this. It’s my time to create.

Let’s ride!

Over to You

Do you have any advice for me as I transition to full-time writing? Please leave me a message in the comments!

 

Image Credits

Photo by michele spinnato on Unsplash, modified by Ali

Photo by FORREST CAVALE on Unsplash

The Cult of Daffodils

 

I want to share my new garden and flower blog with my loyal followers and readers here at Spilling Ink. Oh My Garden! is full of lovely floral/botanical content. There are even book reviews, like the reblogged post below that follows up on my October poem.

I’d be so encouraged if you’d follow Oh My Garden! (It’s lonely over there!)
– Ali

Oh My Garden!

It’s no wonder daffodils have enjoyed a cult-like following throughout history. They are a complete sensory package: Their vibrant colour is visually stimulating. Their scent, in my mind, is the essence of spring, freshness and hope epitomised. Even their texture is highly agreeable. At the thought of them, I can conjure up the sense of the stems, cool and springy, in my hand.

Daffodils have inspired artists and poets alike. Wordsworth’s poem, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ is possibly the most famous example. On my literature blog Spilling Ink, I spent the month of October (spring in Australia) memorising those lovely verses. That exercise ignited an intense bout of xanthophilia, a fondness of all things yellow. It also led me down the garden path, thinking about daffodils and wanting to know more.

Flower Fanaticism?

Daffodils are lovely, but do they inspire obsession? Yes, absolutely, and if you doubt me, read

View original post 632 more words

A Poem About Writing

 

It’s November and #MyEpicPoeticOdyssey continues as I memorise a poem about writing to celebrate NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, the event that sends the world into a foaming frenzy of literary creation and masterpiece making. Rather than launching a new novel project, I’m doing #NaNoReWriMo, during which I slay mutant plot bunnies and bushwhack my way to a sleek new version.

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When I started my poetic quest a few months ago, it was all about making time for poetry in my life while also laying claim to a few choice poetical side effects, namely the mental exercise of memorisation and the writerly benefit of studying the economy of poetry.

Memorisation has been hugely enjoyable, but even more fun has been the monthly search for a new poem: digging through piles of poetry, reading and savouring until one calls my name. “Pick me! Pick me!”

The Author to Her Book

AnnebradstreetThe poem about writing I’ve chosen for November is ‘The Author to Her Book’, by Anne Bradstreet. I’d never heard of this lady before, but it turns out she has quite a pedigree! She was the first poet published in the New World. Not America’s first woman poet —its first poet (period).

And if that’s not cool enough, it turns out Puritan Anne moonlighted as a badass feminist. The collection that was America’s first published poetry, The Tenth Muse  Lately Sprung Up in America, contains a stinging prologue to her critics. Check out her sarcasm as she poo-poos the notion of ‘proper women’s work’:

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue

Who says my hand a needle better fits.

A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong;

For such despite they cast on female wits,

If what I do prove well, it wont advance-

They’ll say it was stolen, or else it was by chance.

Go Anne! It must have been tough back in the day for smart women. And our Anne was smart, equipped to write about history, politics, theology and medicine. She had a library of over 9,000 books that were eventually lost in a house fire, one tragedy among many in her life.

800px-The_Tenth_Muse_by_Anne_BradstreetThough sickly (suffering smallpox and tuberculosis), she was the mother of eight children and appears to have enjoyed a happy marriage until her death at age 60.

So this NaNo November as I wrestle through my umpteenth rewrite of my current manuscript, I’m going to memorise Anne’s poem. It  captures the writer’s angst I know all too well,  of work that doesn’t measure up to the impossible inner standard. She composed this poem after her first collection was supposedly “snatcht”, spirited away and published by a (male) friend.

THE AUTHOR TO HER BOOK

THOU ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain, 

Who after birth did’st by my side remain, 

Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true 

Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view, 

Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge, 

Where errors were not lessened (all may judg). 

At thy return my blushing was not small, 

My rambling brat (in print) should mother call, 

I cast thee by as one unfit for light, 

Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight; 

Yet being mine own, at length affection would 

Thy blemishes amend, of so I could: 

I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw, 

And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw. 

I stretcht thy joynts to make thee even feet, 

Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet; 

In better dress to trim thee was my mind, 

But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’th’ house I find. 

In this array, ‘mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam, 

In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come; 

And take thy way where yet thou art not known, 

If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none: 

And for thy Mother, she alas is poor, 

Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door. 

 

This will be a challenging poem to memorise with its Seventeenth Century English. Wish me luck!

To all the #WriMo-ers and especially to my fellow #ReWriMo-ers, may the Muse be with you! See you at the finish line!

 

 

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Image of Anne and her Title Page,  both Public Domain