Month: June 2014
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I’ve been connected into the latest blog hop by the always-awesome George Ivanoff, which means I have some questions to answer as a writer.
So without any more preamble, I’ll jump right in.
* * *
What are you working on at the moment?
I tend to have a couple of short stories in progress at once. At the moment the current projects include an awkward romance that begins in the abandoned Argus Building in Melbourne, and a longer piece that will start with a domestic break-in and go in a completely unexpected direction.
Behind all that I’ve been tinkering with the rough edges of my first complete and marketable manuscript draft. (This is a big deal for me – I’ve usually only pulled off one or the other.)
How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
Aside from the fact that a writer’s voice is always going to be a one-of-a-kind fingerprint, I’m not sure if there’s anything specific I could point towards. I keep my writing as varied as possible – I’m terrified of falling into a rut or looking back over the past x stories to find they all sound the same or talk about the same things. I dip my toe into genre, but never long enough to settle into any one medium – which is both a positive and negative quality.
Why do you write what you write?
I bounce around topics with each new story – I move towards what I’m interested in. For the in-progress pieces above, my points of interest are clear for me; in the Argus-based story it’s an interest in modern ruins and abandoned buildings, and in the latter piece it’s going to be an exploration into identity in the modern age. Everything I write contains my own attempt to learn about or understand something – or maybe just explore it for kicks.
What’s your writing process, and how does it work?
My fetish is whiteboards. I have a big one set up above my computer, and an A4-size board I can carry around the house. I bounce the idea around in my head for a little while and then I attack one of the whiteboards to get the bits and pieces down.
After that I normally write the first draft out in fits and starts – surge through one section, let that simmer and then attack the next section.
That’s the process for each short story, at least. With my attempts at longer stories or novel-length pieces it’s a lot more trial and error – not so much a ‘process’ as an ‘oh-dear-god-I-hope-this-works’.
* * *
So how am I going to follow on from that exercise?
Well, what I follow on to might have something to do with what today is. It’s a special day, if a somewhat sombre one. If you’re reading this post on the day it’s gone live, then you are witness to the final hours of page seventeen’s 2014 window for submissions. General submissions, competitions, the whole caboodle – it ends as of midnight, 30 June.
If you have submitted, thank you for taking part in page seventeen‘s voyage this year. For those still on the sidelines but caught wondering about the time still left before the ship drifts past the horizon … there’s still a chance to submit, isn’t there? There’s still plenty of breath left in that last hurrah, if you decide to go for it. I’d encourage you to, if only because of how empowering the simple act of submitting can be.
But how do you know that the piece you’re considering submitting is going to make the grade?
Well, that’s just it. You don’t know. I don’t know. Not even Google knows – although it’ll try to give you an answer regardless.
What’s important is that, as a writer, you know yourself and your motivations.
There’s a balancing act here. Never considering the sorts of questions I answered above could lead to a directionless pursuit of consistency and growth. Considering them too much is the kind of paralytic naval-gazing that can get you into trouble as a normally-functioning human being. Neither extreme is fun.
But a writer that decides to share their work with others should know a little bit about themselves. If not the finer details of their own writing process, then at least about what excites them. What draws them in. What made them decide that writing is a worthy hobby, pastime or career. It’s always been the case that the better you know yourself, the more you can get out of your work.
You might feel rushed if you decide to make your latest work submission-ready for page seventeen within the few remaining hours. But if you know your own work inside-out, then it’s possible. You’ll know that it’s ready. You’ll know to take pride in it. You’ll know it’s ready for the voyage.
And if not? Well, there are other opportunities – and you might always look out for page seventeen re-opening its submissions in 2015. One voyage ends, but another is always ready to begin.
* * *
Part of the blog hop itinerary is that I connect this to three other blogs as a way of passing it on. But can I deviate from that slightly? Of course I can. Put those handcuffs away, it’s not a crime.
I want to ask every reader of this blog post that is a writer themselves to think about those questions. Do it immediately, so you don’t have too much time to consider the answer. Spend a moment, if you never have before, considering how your writing process works. What motivates you to write about certain subject matter. What sets you apart from other writers – or how you could nudge your style just a little further in a certain direction to give you a striking point of difference.
If you’re a writer and you have a blog, consider this one of those ‘why not?’ moments and have a go at the questions. You might learn something about yourself and your own nature as a writer – and anything that contributes to your own development will immediately flow on to your work.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
P.S. A big thank you once again to all the contributors to this year’s general and competition opportunities from page seventeen. It’s great to see so much of a variety of work from so many enthusiastic authors, poets and photographers. It gives me more hope than ever for the future – and all the other voyages page seventeen has yet to take.
June 26, 2014
Hello, my name is Jamie Barry and my blog is about my hopes and dreams in the business of writing and why those hopes and dreams exist as a part of my life. To be more specific in where my passion lies, it’s screenwriting.
I’ve had a passion for screenwriting since I became old enough to appreciate the craft for what it was and since I became old enough to actually know what it was. This was when I was 11. It was around this age that I wrote a lot of short stories both for school and in my spare time. As I was writing these short stories I was also watching a lot of movies.
So one day at this 11-year-old, child-like mind, I put two and two together and realised I could write a movie! I could be killing two birds with one stone by being in a profession where I get to write stories but also get to turn them into a film. My two favourite things! From then on the thought of writing a script, and the business in general, have always been in my mind.
It took me a while to actually start my first screenplay – mainly due to interruptions in my life: from homework to going out with friends. But when I found myself in a situation where writing a screenplay was actually needed I was quick on the scene.
My friend – who is a part of a digital media class – came to me knowing of my desires and gave me a task. He was assigned to make a short film. For this short film to be completed, a story structure was needed, and – more excitingly – a script was needed.
Of course I accepted the task and the first time I typed FADE IN, I won’t go as far as to say I shivered, had an epiphany or had my heart start beating faster then ever before, but I was excited. The excitement lasted up until the final FADE TO BLACK.
I handed my friend the script and he was very happy with it – almost as happy as I was doing it, if that was possible.
So that is basically where my passion came from and, there is no question in my mind that screenwriting is what I want to do. But where to go from here is the question. What are my endeavours? What are my goals? What’s next? In fact the reason why I’m writing this blog in the first place is due to ‘What’s next?’
Busybird Publishing is what’s next.
I am here for work experience because I know this is a great opportunity to become even more certain of my career aspiration of becoming a writer. Only being here a few hours and, sure enough, the certainty is stronger.
Even though I might not know the complete ins and outs of what the steps are to becoming a successful screenwriter, where to turn and what practices are needed in order to become better I do, however, know where I want to end up: in a café with a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich with a laptop also in front of me with Final Draft open.
After my fantastic sandwich I’ll head home to my fantastic study where I’ll continue on my screenplay. This screenplay that future me is working on may have been assigned to me from a production company or it may have originated from my own imagination. Future me doesn’t mind. I don’t mind.
So that’s that – the origins of my passion, my goals, and the aspirations for my passion.
June 24, 2014
There’s a problem I used to have quite regularly as a writer. I still have it every now and then. Maybe you do as well. I think all writers will encounter this hurdle, especially in their emerging years.
Let’s try a role play to illustrate what my topic today will be.
INT. WRITER’S HEADSPACE
It’s a messy place. Thank God your mother never told you to clean it up, there’s no telling what you’d find under some of this clutter.
In one corner a bright light comes into being. AWESOME WRITER rushes over in excitement, scribbling on a piece of paper.
Wow! This is a great idea! It’s so different from my comfort zone. I can’t wait to make this into something!
In response, from the shadows emerges DEVIL’S ADVOCATE.
Not so fast there. Are you sure about this?
Um, why wouldn’t I be?
Hoo boy. You haven’t thought about this, have you? Have a look at that idea. You’re not cut out for it. You don’t know anything about Argentina. You haven’t read Foucault in years. How do you expect to string all this together?
Well, it’ll be pretty easy to do some research …
Don’t give me that! It’ll be as plain as day you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Oh. Yeah, probably.
Shelve it for a while. It’s for your own good. Come back to it when you’re good and ready.
Now that’s a good idea. I know, I have this other idea about domestic instability. I just finished something similar, but ‘write what you know’, right?
Right. (Laughs maniacally)
I hope your evil maniacal laugh was as good as mine.
But have you had this conversation before? I know I have. Maybe not with Argentina and Foucault rattling around in my headspace, but certainly with other concepts that I’ve put together, before deciding I needed to put the whole thing into hibernation. Why? Because I lacked the knowledge, the experience – and above all, the confidence – to tackle the idea.
If you’re now recognising the pattern, then you know where I’m going with this. Because that idea has now taken on a new identity. You’ve ruled yourself out from being able to work with what might be one of your greatest ideas, because you weren’t able to see yourself as the writer. It was too big for you. It was too intimidating. And now you can barely even look at the original notes for fear of burning your eyes. These are not evolving ideas. These are dormant ideas, and while they don’t develop they are dead weight. And they spend their spare time intimidating you like a mob enforcer gently reminding you that no one likes a snitch.
You might be tempted to sever yourself from the idea utterly to spare yourself the embarrassment. Do not do that. Unless it turns out to be a genuinely unworkable idea, you’re only doing yourself a disservice.
Speaking from experience, at one point I ended up with a folder full of concepts and drafted openings. The problems with many of these pieces wasn’t that I didn’t know what to write – this isn’t a writer’s block issue, and regular readers already know my views on that ogre. The paralysis set in because I didn’t trust myself to write it. The plot points were there, there was an established sense of direction, and I was at least good enough to bridge the remaining gaps – but I froze every time I was confronted with the task at hand.
I’m too green.
I need to develop more as a writer before I can be that ambitious.
I don’t know enough about the background – it’ll be too much research.
I need to work on my dialogue/setting/etc before I can pull this off.
Over and over again. If you’ve been in this quagmire before, then you know how hard it can be to pull yourself out with any real conviction.
Only in the past year, I’ve succeeded in clearing the decks somewhat. I have a long list of ideas that have been sitting around for years. Some of them are finally reaching the page. And it’s because I decided to stop being afraid of the ideas that once seemed too big for me to handle. Maybe they still are too ambitious for my level of development. But I’ll be damned if I don’t put them through some drafting before I accept defeat.
As a result, I’m currently more productive on my fiction than I have been for a long time. All other factors aside, the resolve to journey into the unknown has been a major catalyst towards that improved productivity.
No idea is too big. No prospect is too ambitious. And if you were the one to have this inspiration in the first place, then you’re the one best suited to turn it into a reality; a piece of writing on a page. Maybe one of the best pieces of writing you’ll ever develop. But you’ll never know until you trust yourself.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
June 19, 2014
People who aren’t writers don’t understand the compulsion writers have to write. Writers often don’t understand why non-writers don’t get the compulsion.
There’s points to each perspective.
This week, I thought I’d look at both sides of the page, in an attempt to answer the question …
|To Write||or||Not to Write|
Writing’s not about riches. It’s not about fame. Sure, it’d be great (for most) if those things happened, but it’s not why we write. Most outsiders (non-writers) don’t understand that. They see only the lack of dollar signs, and question why anybody would bother with writing. Where are the rewards? It seems (to them) like such a great waste of time.
But writing isn’t like a hobby, although it might be pigeon-holed as one for those who have to work a regular job, and/or take care of a family, and/or run a household. It’s about reaching deep down into ourselves and producing something that only we can, that is unique to us individually.
Because this is why we write: to share our stories with a greater audience. Whether you’re working on a novel, or memoir, or researching the mating rituals of iguanas, it’s about communicating to a readership only something we can offer – as well as being only something we can offer in the way we offer it.
We do this for a number of reasons. It’s cathartic, to produce something from within ourselves, if not a continuing reinterpretation of self and a method to make sense of the world around us, or (of) a particular time in our lives, or just a particular subject.
If we don’t do this, if we don’t write, we feel bottled up. Energy and creativity simmer until they overflow, and affect our equilibrium within the everyday world. Things don’t seem quite right. Non-writers wouldn’t understand this, equating it with putting any other hobby on hold. Like stamp collecting. Stop collecting stamps for a month or two, and it’s no big issue, is it? (With no disrespect intended to stamp collectors.)
Writing doesn’t work like that. It’s not about what we do. It’s about who we are. And – as begrudgingly as some of us might admit – regardless of whether we ever achieve fame, whether we ever garner riches, whether we ever even are published, it’s who we need to be, now and always.
Because it hurts. You get rejected over and over and over and over, and that’s if you’re lucky. It’s like somebody kicking you in the crotch, waiting until you get up, and then doing it again. Even if you develop a thick skin, you never quite get used to it. In getting rejected, it’s tantamount to somebody telling you, ‘You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough’ over and over.
Writing’s also one of the few industries where it’s not always a case of the harder you work resulting in the luckier you get. You can be the hardest working writer in the world, and it can be all for nothing. Nor is it about talent. It’s particularly galling when you see crap published (and it does get published). Often, what it comes down to is subjectivity – what some editor or publisher likes.
Even if you do get published, what does it mean? It’s gratifying, yeah, but so few writers survive exclusively on their writing. There’s no money in it unless you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling or somebody of that magnitude. For most, it’s a hobby to pursue after attending their real job. The output versus reward scale is grossly disproportionate. You’d be better off investing in lottery tickets bi-weekly.
Then there’s the pain of it all – sitting in a chair staring at a computer screen, what do you think that’s doing for your back? For your neck? For your eyes? What’s it doing for your social life to be isolating yourself, excluding yourself from human contact? You may as well become a leper. At least lepers get to ring a little bell. Writers get to suffer from stuff like anxiety and depression.
And why wouldn’t they? Living constantly in their heads, constantly putting their characters through turmoil, empathising with conflict and heartbreak. What other job asks you to get yourself in a headspace where you need to imagine misery and loss and torment? For what? For some astronomical hope that you might get published?
It’s just not worth it.
So on which page do you fall?
June 16, 2014
Well, The Fault in our Stars stirred up a fresh storm pretty quick. Not over its ‘sick-lit’ content or the quality of the film – full disclosure, I’ve yet to see the movie or read the book – but over the way it reignited the debate over the validity of YA fiction.
It’s an old song now, ever since Harry Potter arrived to turn writing for younger readers into a publishing goldmine and Twilight had its glitter-rich moment in the sun. There are still plenty of accusations afloat that the genre is too dark, needlessly sexualised and reinforces negative stereotypes (a classic example is the anti-feminism of Bella Swan’s character – something I agree with, by the way). But a new argument is gathering momentum. It’s that the actual audience is changing, and more and more adult readers are becoming regular YA aficionados. Or, at the very least, are more out and proud about it.
Ruth Graham’s article for Slate got some attention for its no-holds-barred attack on adults making their reading selections from the YA shelf. It’s been one of the major catalysts for the current storm of content. Just type in ‘YA debate’ as a Google search and see what else is out there – you won’t be short on reading material.
So if I’m going to talk about the YA debate, I suppose I need to clarify where I stand on the issue. Anyone who read ‘Under the Influence’ will likely have guessed that I’ll start off by advocating a wide selection of reading material unhampered by preoccupations with literary merit. I like to think I’m whole-brow – not high, not low, and probably prematurely balding.
But rather than fire my own salvo from one side of the red line, I’m instead wondering why the debate has gotten so heated to begin with. There’s more at play right now than some reactionary indignation to a single anti-YA article.
The anti-YA platform is, in many ways, an extension of the popular/literary schism that has kept the reading and publishing community occupied for decades. Its detractors condemn YA fiction as being shallow, formulaic and unimaginative for its target audience – let alone for the adults that are getting in on the craze. Even The Fault in our Stars, one of the most celebrated YA books of recent years, hasn’t escaped criticism for being clichéd and emotionally manipulative. (Again, I can’t offer any personal perspective there, so argue that one among yourselves.)
The argument is now being extended to claim that by YA fiction bleeding into older age groups, the negative aspects of the genre are going to become even more insidious. Not only will adults reading fiction intended for younger audiences be limiting the breadth of their reading experiences; they might even be hampering their own emotional development and fostering immature – and therefore flawed – reading habits and standards of literary merit. Another related concern is whether the escapist fantasies offered by many examples of YA fiction are emotionally healthy.
I feel the need to reiterate the crux of the debate’s issues because they’re hard to find at the moment. As far as the internet’s currently concerned, Ruth Graham might as well be a single isolated voice, that has gone viral simply because her article was deliberately provocative. The news feeds are saturated with reactionary statements and various defences of YA fiction.
But Graham’s perspective is not a single anomaly. As an example I could travel to the hallowed halls of the ‘high priests’ of literary criticism, maybe finding a quote from The Paris Review that condemns the infantilisation of our literary culture (a phrase, by the way, that was recently used by The New Yorker in condemnation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch– just to give you an idea on how some people just won’t let us have nice things). But we know the opinions of the literary elite already, so instead I went searching for non-institutional opinions. Robert Kroese offers one of the few measured responses to the Slate article that I’ve been able to find as of late. It took quite some digging to find any other recent voices for the anti-YA camp – such as this one.
That last one’s an interesting read. Although its attack on YA literature is undermined as soon as it gains momentum – especially when she admits to never having read The Fault in our Stars after labelling it as schlock – it sums up as a puritan view of the inherent flaws in the YA category and a call for the destruction of YA as a category altogether. An opinion not without merit, based on the idea that ‘YA’ began as nothing more than marketing spin.
So that’s the field report. When it comes to popular opinion, these critics of YA fiction are in a minority, and the cited benefits of YA fiction hardly need to be referenced: that it provides harmless escapism; that it serves as a platform for reluctant readers to begin their transition into more sophisticated literature; that the alleged darkness of popular YA books is merely a reflection of what teenagers are naturally going to read anyway.
Let’s say you’re undecided on the issue – perhaps you’ve never read something categorised as YA, or at least haven’t done so since your younger years. You’re in no-man’s land but you can’t stay on the red line forever, or else you just might become a red smear from the latest clash of ideals. What should you take home from this?
I’m going to be obnoxiously self-referential and pop in an extract from an interview I did for the Australian Literature Review in 2012. Unfortunately the full interview isn’t currently available on the web, but this was part of my response to a question on the popular/literary debate – something that I think bleeds into what we’re discussing here:
In everything I write (or attempt to write), I try for something that is entertaining but mindful. But if anything is more important, it’s the entertainment factor. The greatest stories are engaging in their own right, and have a sense of greater weight without being overtly agenda-driven or obsessed with being ‘literary’ for the sake of it. They clutch at big ideas because it’s exciting and engaging to do so. That’s what I believe, at least, and that’s what I’ve always aimed for.
I should mention that the interview was for my contribution to Possessing Freedom, an anthology of integrated short stories – for young adults. I’m not typically a writer that markets specifically to young adults, so this was an new experience for me that I enjoyed. But I didn’t approach the project thinking ‘I should write something YA’. I aimed to write something exciting and engaging that just happened to have younger protagonists. Entertaining but mindful.
Any piece of fiction in any category is capable of that. Just as any piece of fiction in any category is capable of utterly failing at either entertainment or mindfulness (or both).
And with that, I can’t back away any longer from at least proposing my own clear opinion on the questions raised. So here we go:
Regarding the fate of YA? Leave that one to the marketing executives – that’s where it came from in the first place, after all.
Regarding the literary merit of YA? My answer there is one you’ve heard before – judging a book solely by this one criterion is far from being an adequate statement on its merit.
Regarding the quality of YA? It’s the same as with any other field of writing – there’s good and there’s bad, but 100% of the content is somewhere in between.
Regarding adults reading YA? Anyone solely reading one type of book again and again is limiting themselves. As long as said adults remain willing to experiment and step outside their comfort zones for something they might enjoy, the nature of that comfort zone is a non-issue.
Phew. At this point I’ll stop hogging the mouthpiece. Feel free to share your own thoughts on the debate, whether you agree with me or not.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen