Month: August 2014
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A popular field of writing is self-help. So many people apparently have the solution for what ails us, and whilst many might scoff at the credentials of whoever the latest guru might be, everybody deserves their chance to get their message out there.
Our experiences, the choices we make in our lives, and the way our lives evolve from those choices, make us unique. No matter how alike we might be when compared to somebody, we are not alike. Even identical twins aren’t alike. Thus we all have something unique to say.
It may just be that our lives have equipped us to speak with authority about self-empowerment. For example, somebody who’s suffered from depression all their life, and then built a successful and happy life, may be perfectly qualified to write a self-help book about depression. An abused spouse who leaves their partner and rebuilds their life personally and professionally may be perfectly qualified to talk about surviving spousal abuse. A life coach who’s turned their life into a success and done the same for plenty of others could write a book about getting your life on track. There’s a genuine likelihood that anybody can draw on their life to produce a self-help book.
But the question is should we?
The market is saturated with people hoping to be the next Tony Robbins or Louise Hay. Read many of these books and what you’ll discover is nothing you couldn’t have worked out for yourself, given the time and inclination. So if this is a field you want to enter, where you want to make a name for yourself, you need to stand out.
How does one accomplish that, though?
Arguably the most important thing that an author needs to do is be original. Originality isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for fiction. If you think about bestsellers, they’re usually focused on a relationship (romantic or just a friendship), an action template, or a genre. The setting or some other aspect (or aspects) of the book might be original in themselves, but you can usually classify the type of story they’re going to be.
Look at The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. A young girl, Liesel, lives with foster parents during World War II. The family harbour a young Jewish man, and the girl discovers a love of reading at a time the Nazis are burning books. The story itself is narrated by Death, who touches upon the girl’s life early by claiming her brother’s life. Lots of great ideas there which haven’t necessarily been mixed before but, effectively, this is a coming of age story. You’ll find fiction, in general, is classifiable. The Book Thief sat on the New York Times Bestseller List for 230 weeks.
Self-help books, though, are either original or derivative. Now if a self-help book is going to be derivative, then readers might as well go to the source they’re deriving. Why bother with a copy? It might provide a different slant on the same message, but that’s all it’s going to be – a slant. It’s important if you’re aiming to deliver a message, it’s a message only you can deliver.
And whilst you might use other gurus as validation, your arguments, ideas, and exercises do need to be wholly your own. There’s little point writing something like, ‘Tony Robbins has a great exercise which I like to use, and it goes like this …’ Excuse me? Whilst you might be well-intentioned in why you’re citing this passage, you’re unlikely to get permission from Tony Robbins (or whoever the quoted author might be) to use their material. In this case, you’re impinging on their intellectual property. Most importantly, if I want to read an exercise that Tony Robbins is proposing, I’ll go read a Tony Robbins’ book or watch one of his DVDs. I’ve picked up your book because I want to know what you have to tell me.
This might seem to curtail you in your writing, but if all you have to offer is a composition of other peoples’ material, then either you don’t have anything original to say, or the only way you can articulate your ideas is through being derivative. You need to challenge yourself. Don’t articulate what you have to say as others have said it. Find what you have to say and discover how you want to say it. Consider avenues that are new and original and, most importantly, you. This doesn’t mean rephrasing those passages, but producing your own material.
Before you begin, sit down and map out what you want to say, produce exercises you want to use (and that are uniquely yours), outline the structure of how you’re going to deliver your message, and think about how all this is going to sit in your book. This isn’t something you can put together slapdash. You need to seriously think about it, delve within yourself, and if you find you’re being derivative, delve further.
There’s no formula on how to write any type of book. If somebody tells you there is, they’re trying to sell you something. There’s no ideal length to a book. You may be given guidelines that you can adhere to, a template you can wield into something manageable for you, but ultimately you have to find what’s right for what you want to say, and then work towards it.
If this is a field you’re planning on entering, don’t aim to become just one of the pack. You may have one shot at getting whatever message you have out there, so make sure it’s your message and your message alone.
Tony Robbins, Louise Hay, and all those self-help gurus didn’t get to where they are by peddling somebody else’s messages. They are who they are because they dared to be themselves, to find in themselves the message that was uniquely their own, and deliver that message to world.
If you do want to follow in their footsteps, make sure you do the same.
August 26, 2014
writer / ˈrʌɪtə / n. [1.] A person who has written something or who writes in a particular way: the writer of the letter. [1.1] A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or occupation: Dickens was a prolific writer.
Yup, I’ve finally done it. I’ve started a piece of writing with a dictionary definition. But I’ll request that you don’t let fly your rotten fruit in my direction for just a second, even if I perhaps deserve it.
Being a writer, and identifying oneself as a writer, is the result of an individual journey. Some writers carry the self-knowledge with them for as long as they can remember, like an indispensible piece of baggage. Other writers may have the realisation hit them like an epiphany.
Being a writer is great, in its own way. It’s fun, it’s engaging and it quickly teaches you how to avoid wasting food in your fridge due to that whole no-money-in-writing shtick. But it’s also an occupation that can feel a little murky around the edges – and ill-defined as a career, line of work or even a hobby. You’ll never hear of an accountant or lawyer having the same internal conversation – the hours and duties of most lines of work are, more often than not, strongly defined. Unless you’re a content writer for a company you’re not going to have the same sense of existential security all the time. Some writers might become offended if their writing is referred to as a hobby or pastime, even though it might be an activity wrapped around their primary job. Sometimes ‘being a writer’ – the duties and responsibilities, the requirements, the ‘job description’ – becomes an area of investigation in itself.
The typecast view of writers being introspective worriers wouldn’t be such a stringent stereotype if there wasn’t at least a grain of truth in it. And the identity crisis of ‘being a writer’ is a common zone for many writers – especially if there’s been a long dry season of writing little or no content.
The problem is that the nature of the conversations that spring up around this topic, both publicly and internally, is often … well, what might the right word be …
overkill / ˈəʊvəkɪl / n. Excessive use, treatment, or action: animators now face a dilemma of technology overkill.
Perhaps because the occupation of ‘writing’ can be a loosely-defined one, it’s far too easy to start worrying unduly about what ‘makes’ a writer. The more one pours into ‘being a writer’, the more this question can completely derail the whole thing.
The obvious answer to the question is that a writer writes. Most writers know this. And yet the nagging feeling doesn’t always go away. Many who seek to start off as a writer – in the professional, industrious sense – can often feel lost and disoriented by the prospects of putting together a short story, poem or novel. Can I be a writer without a diploma in Professional Writing and Editing? How many words per day/week/month need to be written? Am I a writer if I’ve never been published? Why do I write?
The result is a lot of white noise on becoming a writer. Being a writer. Fulfilling the criteria and checking off the list of what once needs to be in order to be a writer. Everyone has something to add and it’s not always helpful. I mean, this one article alone lists 201 tips on becoming a writer. Over two hundred tips. One of them recommends marijuana to foster creativity. That sounds like a great idea.
sarcasm / ˈsɑːkaz(ə)m / n. The use of irony to mock or convey contempt: she didn’t like the note of sarcasm in his voice.
If we were to accept that some writers may need more of a comforter than ‘writers write’, then where is the line drawn? Well, probably with another w question. Why be a writer. To publish a certain story; to indulge oneself in active escapism; to just let something out. The reason defines the way you approach the profession.
If you can’t answer why you want to be a writer, then maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that means it’s a standard function, a natural outlet for you – and being a writer is just an extension of your creative state of mind. That’s awesome. Keep doing it.
And everyone else – if you’re worrying unduly about ‘being a writer’ then you’re focusing on the wrong things. It may seem important to define the parameters of being a writer, especially if approaching the gig professionally. But you’ll already have some sense of why, even if not consciously. It’s an intimate and private motivator that keeps you on track. That’s what matters.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
All dictionary definitions are from www.oxforddictionaries.com.
August 21, 2014
In a story, we can’t cover every single thing that happens. We just don’t have the time, the space, or the reader’s indulgence. If a character is making a coffee, we don’t detail every single action to make that coffee. E.g.
- Bob filled the kettle, put it back on its base, and switched it on. He went to the cupboard, opened the cupboard door, and pulled out his favourite cup. He took out the coffee, unscrewed the lid, opened a drawer, grabbed a fork by accident, put the fork back, rifled through the cutlery until he found a teaspoon, dipped it into the jar of coffee, found the teaspoon too heaped, sifted some of it clear, then unloaded it into the cup.
We’re not even halfway through the coffee-making at this point. It might be how you genuinely make a coffee, but it’s not exactly interesting reading. Usually, we’ll summarise something like this, or maybe even leave it at, ‘Bob made himself a cup of coffee.’ If we include more details than that, it’s generally not for authenticity (in this case), but because we want to draw specific attention to those details, e.g. Bob might heap three sugars into his coffee, implying he’s a sweet tooth.
There’s a lot unwritten in storytelling – stuff the reader doesn’t need to know, or which is prohibitive to detail for the narrative’s development. We can sum up actions succinctly, or summarise large spans of time in a page or two. In Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending (winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize), the first half of the book is dedicated to the protagonist’s life through his secondary schooling. Then, in a couple of pages, we follow his marriage, the birth of his kids, his separation, and his life into retirement – forty years whiz by just like that. Consequently, the second half of the book picks up the protagonist’s life from that point.
Summarising large passages of time is a skill in itself, particularly to handle so much information so simply without digressing into exposition. Lots of writers struggle with this aspect of writing – how do you deal with what happens between events? Often, writers set-up the story at a new point, and briefly digress to explain there has been a jump in time. E.g.
- It had been two weeks since Bob’s argument with Gloria.
And, just like that, we’ve jumped forward.
Some writers don’t even bother resetting, but trust in the reader to get up to speed once they resume reading. Stephen King’s Pet Semetary is split into two halves, the second beginning after a tragic event which we never see happen. But through the new setting, the new scenario, you reorient yourself, and whatever dislocation you experience as a reader actually works dramatically, because it’s what the protagonist would be feeling – dislocation, shock, and perhaps even a blur since the actual event took place. Here, the jump is also a narrative device.
As a writer, you need to work out what happens off the page, whether your story works with it occurring off the page, and whether you’ve successfully been able to resume the story. Some writers struggle with this. There are times a scene begins with characters in improbable situations which might be dramatic or exciting or compelling, but wholly contrived. You always need to consider how your characters get to where they are.
For example, we could write a scene where our protagonist rides an elephant from the zoo, but how did he get on that elephant? How did he break the elephant free of its enclosure? How did he break into the zoo? It’s not enough to assume that your reader will take your unspoken word that all this just happened off the page. You need to create and sustain an infallible logic that this could occur (as governed by the laws you have created for the story in your world).
This is a rule screenwriters often flaunt for dramatic effect. How often do you see in a movie a conversation that spans several locations? Characters might be talking whilst driving. Then we cut to their apartment, and they’re continuing this conversation. Visually, it works – it’s a cut that’s instantaneous. Logistically? So they were talking in their car, paused the conversation, parked the car, walked up to their apartment, went into their apartment and sat down, and then resumed their conversation at the exact point they left it off – it just doesn’t happen. On-screen, it can work. In a book? Uh uh.
Some stuff that occurs off the page seems much too important to leave off the page, but writers jump it because they’re more interested in getting to another point of their story, something that offers more excitement for them. There are plenty of stories we read for our various anthologies, where an author has skipped something pivotal and which deserved exploration (in prose), but they’ve deemed unimportant. Sometimes, the best scenes aren’t the ones that are the most explosive, but the journey of how they became explosive.
When you’re writing, think about the things that occur in your story which are not being written about, whether they deserve words, whether they’re being left out for dramatic effect and, if that’s the case, whether you’re doing your story justice when you’re resuming the narrative.
August 19, 2014
All shortlisted short stories and poems will be included in Issue 11 of page seventeen, currently scheduled for release in Melbourne around mid-October. The winners and runners-up of these respective shortlists will be announced on the day. Of the shortlisted images for the cover comp, only one will be utilised as the final cover image for Issue 11, also to be revealed at the launch.
A big thank you to Emilie Collyer, Ashley Capes and Kev Howlett for their roles as judges for 2014. And, of course, thank you to everyone who contributed to our competitions. We’ve never received so many submissions for a single issue across both general and competition submissions. It made the selections an unexpectedly tight race.
So without further adieu, ordered by the contributor’s surname:
- Geraldine Borella – Achilles and the Maple Leaf
- Joshua Coldwell – Swan Song
- Ben Grech – Pikes Ridge
- Anne Hotta – The Taste of Cedars
- Lois Murphy – Mosquito Bites
- Maggie Veness – Cicada
- Jude Aquilina – Love Suffers
- Nadine Cranenburgh – Dustbuster Farewell
- Kevin Gillam – The Hush
- Leanne Jaeger – Meat Puppets
- Rachael Mead – What the Fire Didn’t Touch
- Loran Steinberg – Moodswings
- Shane Carey – Brightest Light, Darkest Shadows
- Shane Carey – Social Common-Tree
- Shane Carey – Timber, Stone and Cattle Dog
- Claire Kastelan – Consideration
- Danielle Tam – Bat-Girl
So now, we approach the end of the marathon that began in April. The launch date for Issue 11 is to be confirmed – expect a mid-October date but details will come to light in coming weeks.
Let us know if you’re excited about the approach of Issue 11 – I know I am!
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
August 14, 2014
I’ve always been a writer. It’s just part of who I am. For the last few years, however, I’ve been so focused on training for a career in the publishing industry and searching for an entry-level job that I neglected my writing altogether. At the start of this year I realised that I was starting to suffer for it.
Without my creative outlet I was feeling restless and depressed. Needing to get back to writing, I went looking for new inspiration and found it when I attended my first Open Mic Night at Busybird. I just came to watch but was so impressed with the supportive atmosphere that I came away determined to get up and read some time soon.
I had a rough idea for a story but I basically had to start from scratch. I set myself to task and the first couple of weeks were great; I felt fresh and inspired and the story came along well. Then I hit the all too familiar wall. The point where I wanted to rip everything up and start again. I had succumbed to defeat at this point so many times before that I was sure that this story was also destined to join the unfinished pile of stories under my bed.
Yet another Open Mic Night went by and I still wasn’t finished. The doubt had well and truly set in. I was too out of practice. No one would get it anyway. The more I told myself, It’s not right yet, I’ll read next time, the more I knew that I wouldn’t. I gave myself an ultimatum: next time or never. At the eleventh hour I had a breakthrough and finished the story in no time at all. I was ecstatic but I still had to get up and read it.
I was quite nervous at first because I’d never read my work in front of an audience before, but I knew that everyone wanted me to succeed. Blaise called me up and I started reading, my hands shaking just a little. Soon I was so caught up in the story that I forgot my nerves altogether. I had a captive audience and it felt wonderful. Why hadn’t I done this sooner?
– Assistant Editor.