Month: May 2018
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You sit down to write, your hands hovering over your keyboard. The day’s events tumble around in your head – issues and responsibilities that demand attention. A small voice tries to push its way through. You close your eyes to try hear it, to try grab it, and ride it through the maelstrom.
There it is: the line.
You open your eyes and begin to type. The narrative grows louder, silencing the fracas. Words race across the screen. The page fills. If you had to stop to question where this was coming from, if you tried to slow it down so you could watch the process in action, it would surely unravel and splatter into a mess from which all your conscious chatter would resound.
But now it’s just you and the writing, you and the writing, you and the writing, until the process becomes meditative. Nothing else exists now. The people around you grow disembodied. The world around you dissipates. The demands of your life are no more. You are a solitary focus that has but one purpose: because YOU, and ONLY YOU, can deliver this message – be it a story, a poem, nonfiction, or whatever it is you’re working on.
Seven-point-six billion people occupy this world, but you are unique. You could search the world and you would never find your double – even identical twins think differently. There was nobody like you before you were born, and there’ll never be anybody like you after you’re gone. YOU are YOU, and in everything you do you do it your own way. Even in jobs that require conformity, even in tasks that are routine, you bring your own influence to bear – you may not realise it, but you do, and that’s what makes you special.
Writing is your chance to be distinct. More than a chance, it is YOUR calling. You can be that single beautiful voice heard in the clamour. You can be the siren who lures in readers – not to their doom, but to their enrichment. It is your chance to impart that something only YOU can. It is your chance to touch somebody else, and give them something that they will forever carry with them, and which they may pass on to future generations. It is your chance to be immortal.
So what is paramount is that you are true to yourself. Forget that story you love so much, that you wish you wrote. Forget that author who you love. Carry these things with you. Learn from them. Let them become A PART OF you. But do not ever let them override you. Do not ever aspire to emulate them, or to regurgitate them. These are the voices of others. They are there to be heard in their purest, original form, rather than be recyclced.
Go deep, deep, deep down, down below consciousness, through the filters of your life, past those inhibitions that sometimes have you worrying what others will think about you because of what you’ve written, go into that VOICE that is YOURS, and embrace it, harness it, and bellow it unchecked into your writing.
Write what only YOU can write.
May 17, 2018
We’re tiny here at Busybird! Just five us, all working varying schedules.
Co-owners, husband and wife team Kev Howlett and Blaise van Hecke, might be called ‘over-timers’, instead of ‘full-timers’. They often work from Sunday to Saturday, and sometimes evenings. They’re constantly over-servicing to give our clients the best experience possible, be that self-publishing a book, running a workshop, hosting a function, or any of a number of things that Busybird do.
Les Zigomanis – who’s full-time, and is our chief editor and publications manager – had been our one employee, but now there’s also two part-timers: Megan Low, a very talented designer who brings a wealth of skill, imagination, and flair to every layout and cover she designs; and Shell Brave, our marketing coordinator, who’s warm, friendly, and always engaging.
There’s Oscar, too – Kev and Blaise’s Labrador. He’s a seeing-eye-dog puppy they fostered for fifteen months, who then went off for training, but unfortunately failed. Kev and Blaise happily welcomed him back into the fold, where he’s adopted the Busybird Studio – and everybody it contains – as his own. Oscar is renowned for charging the door, barking deeply while furiously wagging his tagging when couriers step in, and then running away from Eric, the six-month-old ginger tabby from next door who sometimes comes over.
They’re all the people (and animals) who you know at Busybird, and who are often thanked at events such as launches. They are the faces of Busybird, and the identities you interact with if you come to our studio, or come to any of our functions, such as Open Mic Night. They are the constants in the Busybird world.
But there’s also a host of people who you might not know exist at Busybird.
There’s a raft of editors we employ to perform any editing. Most of them are personally trained here at Busybird. Those who aren’t are still required to learn ‘the Busybird way’ through periodic workshops we run. That ‘way’ – outside of editing requirements – is to become a mentor for authors. That means being supportive, nurturing, and encouraging. We want our authors to have a positive experience. That doesn’t mean telling them whatever we think they need to hear, but being constructive, nurturing, and accessible, so that they enjoy the process and learn from it, and about publishing as a whole.
Then there’s our interns. We have a different intern for every day of the week. They come for one month’s probation just so they can see if this is something they want to pursue and whether it’s a good fit for them (although no intern has ever left within that month). And then it’s a further five months (so six months, overall).
In that time we issue them practical duties, overseeing their every move, and educating them where required. But it’s through practice that one improves. Duties include tasks such as editing, proofreading, writing, design, research, and administration. It can feel overwhelming at times, but we’re always there, looking over them. Recently, one former intern commented that she learned more in her six months at Busybird, than she did studying at a tertiary institution.
While this blog provides an insight into how Busybird operates, it’s also intended as a thank you to those unseen people who help Busybird to run as it does!
They are Busybird’s unsung heroes.
Thank you for everything you do!
May 3, 2018
A trap authors often fall into is treating their characters and their situations as if they are born on page 1 (or whatever page they’re introduced). Prior to that, they have no history whatsoever. They’ve never experienced anything. They’ve never encountered anything.
The problem is these characters and situations lack depth and verisimilitude. They are contrivances existing for the sake of propelling the story where it needs to go. But motivationally they’re weak, and under examination they unravel. A reader who’s not discerning might be happy, but most readers need a little more substance.
Consider this scenario: as a child, our protagonist grew up in a beautiful house overlooking the beach, the setting sun often a gorgeous backdrop. When the protagonist was 14, the family moved. Now middle-aged, the protagonist comes back to this house as a visitor. If you want to take this example further, write a scene about how they would feel.
Try this exercise again, but let’s include some history: when the protagonist was 14, their 8-year-old sibling one morning left the house, crossed the road, and drowned in the ocean. Heartbroken, the family moved, but they were never – and could never be – the same. The parents plodded along in a cold and empty marriage, then finally separated. The protagonist often blamed themselves for not watching their sibling, and the parents weren’t supportive. Now, middle-aged, the protagonist comes back to the house as a visitor.
How has that history shaped the present? How has it contextualised the protagonist’s response? How do your two pieces differ?
It’s important to consider why your characters are the people you need them to be to tell your story. Some writers wouldn’t give that much work. Their characters would emerge from the same inspiration that provided the spark for the story, but characters deserve more than that. It doesn’t have to be some lengthy dossier, but writers should have a general idea about their characters outside of who they are in the moment. Thrashing out some details is helpful, e.g. the names of their parents, what their parents did for a living, what they did for work, if it was a happy marriage, if there’s siblings, where they lived, etc. This gives us a better picture of our characters and, again, it will help shape the choices they make throughout the story.
The same applies to situations. Inspiration might’ve provided the following premise: our protagonist has been an embittered but functioning alcoholic for the last year; they work as an air traffic controller, have gambling debts, their dog runs away, and in the third chapter they’re hit by a car, which breaks their leg and puts them in hospital. All this might come to us as absolute: it just is. And the story might be about our protagonist’s journey to some form of balance.
But serious thought should be given to the logic of the character and the situation. What drove them to alcoholism? Why do they gamble? Do they have other addictions? What sort of dog do they own? Why did they buy it? Etc. (Using the above scenario, the drinking might be a result of a guilt due to their sibling’s death – already, a causal relationship between the past and the present is being established.)
And situationally …?
Imagine in chapter one we have a scene where the protagonist’s superior smells alcohol on their breath. This creates tension, right? But we’ve established that our protagonist has been a functioning alcoholic for the last year – surely something like that would’ve already happened? We can’t treat the character and the situation as if they were born on page one, and these sorts of things would’ve never happened previously when all the evidence overwhelmingly suggests it should’ve. If it hasn’t, then we need either justify why that hasn’t happened, e.g. the protagonist has always been careful, but now their drinking has worsened and they’re struggling to continue disguising their problem, or they’ve gotten a stricter and more observant boss.
Think about books you’ve read, or TV shows or movies you’ve watched, where this has happened – a character encounters a situation or a situation exists which, upon examination, seems to have been born on page 1. If you look, you’ll surprise yourself with what you do find.
Give thought to the foundations your story, its occupants, and their circumstances are built on.
You might start writing on page 1, but your story has actually begun well before that.