Graphics by Ali
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:
“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.”
“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.
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.
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:
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.
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 do you know when your MS is ready to be released to the marketplace/world?
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 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!
In 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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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:
Do you have any tips to share about setting off on the full-time freelance path? Please leave a comment to inspire me!
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
Do you have any advice for me as I transition to full-time writing? Please leave me a message in the comments!