Why do we connect to certain stories?
The simple answer is because they reflect our own lives.
JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is about a disenfranchised teenager trying to find his place in the world. It speaks to teenagers who are angry, rebellious, and displaced. Here is a novel that champions them. This is why The Catcher in the Rye became a classic when it was first published in 1951, and why it’s remained popular to this day: the world might change, technology can evolve, but teenagers will always go through certain phases in life. As adults, we’ll remember this dissonance in ourselves. The Catcher in the Rye speaks directly to this.
Think about your favourite book. Is the relationship between you and the book that synonymous?
The likely answer is an emphatic no.
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is about two teenage cancer-sufferers who find strength in one another. Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train is about an alcoholic woman on a train who looks out the window and sees a crime. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is about a duplicitous husband and a scheming, psychotic wife who will go to any lengths to save her marriage. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is about a serial killer. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter is about a child wizard fated to oppose the evil Voldermort. Ian Fleming’s James Bond features a spy who is licensed to kill constantly saving the world from criminal masterminds.
How many of those characters and circumstances reflect our lives?
If we were to only connect to books whose characters and/or events reflected our own lives, our reading CV would be thin. Basic criteria – such as the protagonist’s gender and age – would immediately exclude us. From there, other dissimilarities would amass.
Often, we connect to characters because their journey speaks to our own journey in life. Not one of us wields magic or is fated to fight an evil wizard, but Harry Potter’s struggle can reflect our own struggles to get somewhere against overwhelming odds, and the challenges we need to conquer. We might not be teenagers battling cancer (as occurs in The Fault in Our Stars), but we may connect with that fight to find connection and truth in a fragile environment growing increasingly delicate.
As we move through life, we’re taking our own journey. Those journeys face their own difficulties. We might endure jobs we don’t like, we might suffer tumultuous relationships, we might brave health challenges, etc. – we’re constantly trying to improve our lot.
This is the beauty of books. Often, the facts are garnish to what’s going on in the story. It’s about the journey – the struggles characters face to better their circumstances.
This is something we all share, and why we can connect with stories that may have nothing to do with our lives.
They take us somewhere that we want to go within our own lives.
Think about your favourite books.
And then ask yourself why you connect to them.
September 26, 2019
Once you finish writing your manuscript, what do you do next?
- Submit it somewhere
- Give it to friends to read
If you answered number 1 or 2, you’re wrong.
A first draft shouldn’t go anywhere. You might think it’s brilliant. It’s probably not. A first draft is a spill: ideas, prose, phrasing, idiosyncrasies, crap, and much, much more, all come tumbling out. Flawless final drafts don’t exist, so how do you think a first draft fares?
A publisher or journal is going to spot the bad stuff immediately. If you think they’ll look past it to the good stuff, well, nope. Even as they’re reading, they’re considering the amount of work it’ll require to bring something up to a publishable standard. Issues will also provide an insight into the author’s capability to fix content. Once these crosses start mounting up, readers will ditch your submission and jump to the next one on the pile.
Getting feedback from friends and alpha readers is great. Getting a manuscript assessment – by an editor trained to spot issues, and explain how to address them – is even better. But don’t hand over your writing if you know there are issues. It’s redundant if readers are just identifying issues you already knew existed. They should be asked for feedback after you can no longer get anything more out of your work yourself.
This means you have to revise.
Work on your writing until you can’t get anything more out of it.
Now some authors might complain they don’t have the capability for revision, but writing and editing use the same part of the brain, but just in different ways.
Here’s a few tips to help you:
- Be ruthless. You’re not there to embrace, laud, or fall in love with your writing. You’re there to identify weaknesses and address them.
- Be clear on the intent of your revision. Assign different motivations to each revision. One might focus on structure. Another might look at copy (e.g. grammar, punctuation, spelling). Another might examine flow. Etc. Obviously, you can address every facet peripherally on each pass, but there should always be one central, driving focus.
If you’re grimacing or scoffing at the thought of multiple revisions, welcome to the world of writing. Sometimes, you might perform multiple revisions on just one facet (e.g. the structure) before you look at the way the story is flowing.
- This isn’t a race. Too many people are in a hurry to get their writing out into the world. Enthusiasm is laudable, but never let it usurp patience. You have one chance to make a first impression. Would you rather do it with a hastily revised manuscript, or something you’ve taken time over?
- Nor is this a test of endurance. You don’t have to revise big chunks in a single sitting. If you try to, your mind will inevitably wander and you’ll miss stuff. Break it up. Keep it manageable. If you know you have a point where you tire, stop and refresh, or come back to it the next day.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Or your work. Revision will always drum up doubts on your ability. That’s fine. Writing is an endeavour where we will frequently question ourselves. Just understand that this is a continuing journey towards improvement.
Writing is hard work. Writing well requires constant revision. Like writing, revision is a muscle that needs to be developed.
As it develops, it will work in conjunction with the writing muscle.
Every writer has the ability to be their own editor. Every writer is, in fact, a closet editor.
If you’re interested in learning more about editing and revision, on Monday, 30th September, 10.00am – 4.00pm, I’ll be running a workshop, After the first draft: the mechanics of revision, for Writers Victoria.
Book now to learn about techniques you can apply to revision, and learn what to look out for.
September 12, 2019
Mental health is back in the public discussion following the tragic death of AFL legend Danny ‘Spud’ Frawley.
It’s a shame that we only start talking about mental health again after something happens.
Growing up in the 1980s, mental health was stigmatised. Nobody talked about issues. Males were told to, ‘Man up’, and to brave through it. I was often advised, ‘Don’t worry’, and asked, ‘What do you have to worry about?’
For some, the cause of mental health issues can be obvious, e.g. a traumatic event, or a difficult upbringing. But, for others, the cause may not be clear. Clinicians can theorise about chemical imbalances, environment, and hereditary markers, but nobody genuinely knows the why behind it sometimes.
It’s not a sign of weakness. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, etc., have debilitated powerful people and towering intellectuals. These conditions don’t discriminate. They don’t care. And people who think they would overcome such a condition easily, or that it wouldn’t affect them at all, just because they’re too strong, too smart, or too wilful, just don’t know better. You might as well try that logic on a physical malaise, like a broken leg. See if that sort of attitude works there.
Many writers suffer mental health issues. I guess this is for various reasons:
- writers are extremely empathetic. How else do you write from the point of view of an elderly man one moment, a middle-aged woman the next, and a child the next? Most people only understand empathy from their own experiences, and from their own point-of-view. Writers are constantly dipping into the heads of all sorts of people, which expands (and deepens) their empathy.
- writers are often thinking about terrible stuff. We have to. Books about couples living an idyllic life, or the spy who takes a two-week vacation and sits on a Caribbean beach, don’t sell. A book about a love triangle threatening to tear a couple apart, or the spy who saves the world from annihilation, does. The brain’s not that bright also. You can put yourself in a bad or sad or angry mood just by drawing on a relatable memory. How does the brain react to thinking about all this fodder? It produces the same physiological response that it would if you were actually going through these things.
- writing is an isolating experience. As humans, we like to connect. We belong to packs. Most people go to a workplace where they interact with others. That’s not the case with writing. With writing, it’s just you and whatever you’re writing for long stretches. People become a hindrance.
There are other contributors. But these three intertwine, complement, and exacerbate one another. The result? Writers become highly sensitive, incredibly vulnerable, and feel deeply. That’s great for writing. It’s not always so great for everyday life – especially when confronting issues that should be dealt with or dismissed, rather than ruminated upon (and/or catastrophised).
Nowadays, people can talk about mental health issues without fear of being stigmatised. Unfortunately, this has provided some with an excuse for their actions. I’m sure most people can think of a celebrity or two who have cited mental health as a reason for some sort of bad behaviour. This is annoying, because it undermines those who are genuinely suffering, and generates cynicism from people who don’t legitimately understand mental health.
In 2009, I had terrible stomach pains. Months of tests couldn’t identify the problem. My anxiety exploded and I couldn’t stop imaging all the fatal things that could be wrong and were going undiagnosed. I complained to my GP I was worried the pain would get so bad that I’d end up in EMERGENCY, only for them to diagnose I’d had a panic attack. I said I didn’t want to waste their time with something that wasn’t real. My GP told me that a panic attack was real. That’s the sort of attitude you want to encounter. (As an aside, my stomach issues were later diagnosed as being a result of Fructose Intolerance.)
Nobody should invalidate what you’re going through. Mental health problems are real. Just realise that, ultimately, everything is manageable. Mental health issues can make you feel as if the world is shit, as if you’re worthless, as if there’s nowhere to go, but not one of those things is true. There are always alternatives.
Talk to somebody – family, friends, or clinicians. Reach out.
Answers are available.
August 29, 2019
[untitled] is almost ten years old. Just on a conceptual level, it’s been around since late-2008. It wouldn’t be until early 2009 that we discussed the form it would take, and what we’d name it. And then on 10 September 2009, the first issue of [untitled] found its way into the world.
Back then, we were oblivious to what we were getting into. We wanted to personalise every rejection to authors, but then the workload grew overwhelming. (Apologies to the author who commended us for personalised rejections, only to receive a form rejection later on.) We wanted to release two issues a year … but, well, same problem.
Running an anthology is a lot of work. Often, you’ll see anthologies who do two or three issues, and then disappear. Enthusiasm fuels those early issues. When that runs out, you’re left with the realities. There’s lots and lots of reading, liaising with authors, editing, proofreading, layout, cover design, more proofreading, organising the printing, and the launch at the end of it all. Anthologies don’t make money either. They run at a loss. They’re passion projects.
In part, we used [untitled] as a training ground for interns to get practical experience in reading (and appraisal), editing, and dealing with authors. We’d always oversee what was happening, but interns were given that responsibility. This was a much better way to learn than listening to theory in class.
Our process was simple: two readers would read a story and recommend whether it should go to a content meeting. If it did, then everybody on the editing team read it and discussed its merits, and whether it would be accepted or rejected. These discussion were another fantastic forum for interns to learn the precepts of good storytelling.
And that’s what it was about: good storytelling. We didn’t care about genre. We accepted contemporary fiction, satire, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, experimental … well, it just had to be a good story – the sort where you want to read just one more page, only to stay up late and read the whole thing.
Along the way, we’ve published the likes of Ryan O’Neill (winner of the 2017 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Their Brilliant Careers), A.S. Patrić (winner of the 2016 Miles Franklin for Black Rock, White City), acclaimed playwright Emilie Collyer, best-selling YA author George Ivanoff, best-selling poet and performance artist Koraly Dimitriadis, acclaimed short story author Laura Elvery, revered mentor and author Laurie Steed – well, this list can go on.
Did we discover these authors? Well, no, but we’d like to think we played a part in their development and journey as writers. That’s the beauty of the anthology – it offers an apprenticeship that contributes to the author’s evolution, while giving them exposure, and no doubt offering motivation and encouragement. And that was our main reason for starting [untitled]: to promote new and emerging authors.
After a two-year hiatus, [untitled] is back with issue eight, launching just two weeks shy of its tenth birthday.
Come join us for a night of merriment, celebration, and accomplishment.
2/118 Para Road
August 15, 2019
We have a new website! It’s been a long time coming, but here it is!
One of the reasons we felt we needed a change is because we’ve just got so much going on. Between publishing our own books (under our imprint of Pinion Press); helping authors to get their own stories out there through self-publishing; individual services such as manuscript assessments, editing, proofreading, etc.; workshops; retreats; Open Mic Night; blogging; and so much more, our old website had begun to buckle under the strain of trying to accommodate, promote, and deal with it all.
Every time something new came up, we either had to work out where it fit, or rejig the whole website to give it a home. For example, our blog went from its own page, to sitting under Author Resources. The reason? Because we wanted to give away Freebies, such as pdfs to Map Out Your Book and Test Your Book Concept (with more to come). This blog itself tries to be a resource in educating writers. There’s also the subscription to our newsletter. So instead of those things being individualised, they were grouped together.
Our new website has been designed to incorporate everything we offer, from books to services to events. There is omnipresent immediate access to all the important stuff. And it’s aesthetically prettier than the old website. With our old website, we were winging it ourselves, doing the best we could. With the new website, we’ve retained professional web developers.
However, this new website isn’t entirely finished. A lot the copy was transferred across from the original website, and some punctuation characters came out weird, appearing as Ð, Õ, among other things. Some images came across fine. Others became blurry. These are all little teething problems that we’re aware of, and will work to correct in coming weeks.
But, because of this, we’re extending the deadline of our Eggcellent Manuscript Assessment Competition. Unfortunately, when we were transitioning from one the old website to the new, the competition page was lost, so writers couldn’t find the competition details and the entry form. We now have a new page up, along with a new entry form, and the new deadline of 15th September.
Seeing you’re here, have a look around. Let us know what you think.
We’ll be officially recognising the website as launched at Open Mic Night this Wednesday, 21st August, beginning (as always) at 7.00pm.
We hope to see you all there!