Creative Recovery or How to Reboot your Writing Mojo

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Bjelke Blues has been going great guns and I’m thrilled about that. We even scored a review in The Weekend Australian!

Bjelke Blues review, Fitzgerald, Weekend Aust 9-11-19 (lo res)

Review of Bjelke Blues, Weekend Australian 9/10 November 2019

Thanks to everyone who’s been buying copies. It’s been a huge year’s work, collecting and editing the work of 44 other people, then promoting and marketing the book as well. On top of it all, I caught the dreaded lurgy which drained the very last of my own creative energy.

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But I had a screenplay to write. Due at the end of the month. I sat down at the computer and searched my brain, my heart, but I had nothing left to give. I was done! An empty well without a drop of inspiration. I’d pumped myself dry.

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Most creative people experience patches like this. Some call it writers block. Others, burn out or exhaustion. I run retreats helping other people to find their creative selves, but in the meantime I’d lost my own.

How was I going to find it again?

Luckily I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Hope they’ll work for you too.

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  1. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – regular readers of my site will know that this is the book that started me writing. It’s still the first place I turn when I need to reboot my writing mojo. Working my way through the exercises slowly but surely ideas started to flow again. My favourite affirmation this time around is “Through the use of a few simple tools my creativity will flourish.”

 

  1. Take the pressure off. When I start thinking about my writing tasks as hard work then I know I’m in trouble. Writing is fun! I love it because I get to muck around in my imagination, make stuff up and play. So get that “life is a serious business” frown off your face and lighten up!
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Put on your happy face!

  1. Get into nature. Take your journal and a pen and just sit with your back against a tree or look out to the sea or listen to the birds a while, then write down everything you see, feel, hear, smell, taste. Free write for no other reason than to record that one moment in time.
The Reader Crowned with Flowers, or Virgil's Muse, 1845 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

The Reader Crowned with Flowers, or Virgil’s Muse, 1845 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

  1. Buy yourself a treat. It’s best of course if it’s something to do with your writing/art form like a new book on writing, a novel you’ve always wanted to read, a new set of colouring pencils or a recorder, but any treat will work just as well. I bought myself a mattress topper. I love it so much I think I’ll marry it!
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    I love my mattress topper!

     

  2. Do something you don’t usually do. Paint a picture, climb a mountain, go for a swim. I played the piano. I had lessons for years as a child but these days I rarely play. The other day I sat down and learnt a new piece. It made me feel very happy.
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Happiness

  1. Give yourself some proper time off to do NOTHING. Yes, I mean nothing. For some of us that’s really hard to do. Luckily for me, I was babysitting my brother’s kids in Dubbo and my internet wasn’t working so time off was forced upon me. I read. A lot. Talked to the kids. Went for walks. And guess what? Ideas for my screenplay started to flow in like magic.
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Like magic!

  1. Give yourself permission to write absolute crap (or do a shitty painting- whatever). Then sit down and get stuck in.

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If you’ve completely pumped yourself dry it will take a bit of time to fill your well to a point where you’re ready to produce again. Be gentle with yourself. Gentle is my new favourite word – the world right now needs a whole lot of gentleness.

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My secret writer’s block buster is meditation! Those or you who’ve attended my workshops will know how helpful some brain clearing and positive visualisation can be for rebooting your creative mojo. At my latest retreat my friend Maria recorded my guided meditation for busting through the inner critic and building creative confidence. Try the guided meditation and see how it can free up your writing. Let me know how you go.

I got my screenplay done and it wasn’t even crap. Once I started writing it was great fun to do.

Good luck with your own reboot. What are your favourite tricks, techniques to help unblock? I’d love to hear about them.

Happy writing – or just lying around dreaming 🙂

Lots of love

Edwina  xx

SUSPENSE = HOPE + FEAR

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As far back as Aristotle and the very first plays, story tellers have known that the secret to keeping your audience on the edge of their seats, or readers turning pages, is to keep them in a state of tension.

As story tellers it’s our job to manipulate our audience’s emotions. To keep them moving between hope and fear, relief and anxiety, joy and despair.

Writers can learn from sports, yes, even football! The best games have suspense in buckets – that’s why watching footy on a Friday night is so appealing to most people. Audiences and readers want in story what they avoid at all cost in life – conflict, anxiety, opposition and tension.

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However, the battle for the win is even more gratifying when the game is close. Games won by one point in the final minute keep us on the edge, enduring and enjoying a tension that is almost uncomfortable, right up until the end. So much better than a game where right from the first ten minutes we know it’s a walk over.

It’s the same with story. If a protagonist too easily achieves their goals, then where’s the drama? Where’s the fun of all those uncomfortable emotions?

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The opposition to a character’s goals have to be almost insurmountable. The protagonist needs to do her very best, make plans and execute them, but then fail or be thwarted until that very last minute – maybe even just as the final bell is ringing. Maybe all her attempts will only make things worse. Maybe self-sabotage will undermine her at a key point, when finally everything seemed to be flowing her way. little girl reading

As writers we want the reader to call out “No!” then turn the page to see what happens next, hoping against hope that she’ll somehow dig herself out of the hole she’s created.

It’s that movement between hope and fear that writers need to keep in mind as they shape their stories. If not in the first draft, then definitely in the second.

Check each scene. Is there some sort of conflict? What is the outcome of this conflict? Are we led to believe the character can achieve her goal, which seems or paramount importance to her whether it’s life-threatening or not? Or are we terrified that she’ll never get what she wants?

Does it seem like she’ll finally find her missing child? Or does it appear obvious that all she’ll ever find is bones?

Will that boil in the middle of her forehead heal before the big date? Or will boils spread all over her face and make her a leper?

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Every scene, if not every page, should play its part in this dance between hope and fear, keeping readers anxiously turning pages, even in the bath.

Examine stories you love. How has the writer choreographed this dance? Look for conflict. In the very best novels and screenplays, conflict will be evident in almost every page, in every interaction between characters. Even a character’s inner dialogue can involve conflict, the fight between desire and better judgement.

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 Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan is a harrowing and deeply moving film that is a wonderful example of how conflict can be used to intensify every scene. In a scene already filled with drama, when a young mother is being put into an ambulance the trolley doesn’t work properly, making an already unbearable moment excruciating.

Conflict can come from others, ourselves, the environment, government or police, even furniture. Throw it in wherever you can and watch your story bloom. Manage the readers’ emotions, keep them swinging between hope and fear and you’re on your way to writing something no reader can put down.

Keep them up at night, make them laugh and make them cry. Have fun doing it.

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How do you ramp up conflict in your stories? How do you move readers between hope and fear? I’d love to hear your ideas!

If you found these tips useful you can sign up to my newsletter for regular hints and tips and opportunities HERE

And if you’d like a whole weekend of writing exercises and advice then check out my next retreat HERE – but hurry only two places still available!

Lots of love,

Edwina xx

 

 

 

 

 

PROCRASTINATION, PERFECTIONISM AND A HARSH INNER CRITIC: The Enemies of Writing and How to Defeat Them!

Woman scrubbingDo you put off writing until after the whole house is cleaned, including sorting out those kitchen cupboards and scrubbing the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush? Do you start writing but then never get very far past the first paragraph because you can’t get it quite right and that first sentence is so sucky? Do you feel too inadequate to even start writing, even though you’ve secretly wanted to all your life? Or do you finally write something, but then tear it to shreds and bin it before it’s even had a chance to breathe?

Don’t worry, you’re certainly not alone. Every writer faces these demons – the holy trinity of FEAR. That’s really what these deadly (well to your writing anyway) sins boil down to – plain old boring fear.

 Procrastination

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Procrastination is a protective device. If you put something off long enough, you’ll never have to write it, or you’ll have being rushed as an excuse for when you decide that it’s utter crap and that you’re as talentless as you thought. If that sounds like you, then your procrastination is really harsh inner critic lurking in the background just waiting for you to finish the housework and probably complaining about how you’re doing it too – look there’s a spot you missed!

But hang on a minute, what if it’s not crap? What if actually for a first draft it’s pretty damned good? What if writing it was the most fun you’ve had in ages? Certainly a whole lot more fun than cleaning the bathroom.

Perfectionism

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Perfectionism won’t ever let you finish anything. Because if it’s not perfect, and how actually can anything be, then it’s not any good at all. That first sentence demands to be rewritten a hundred times, so you never get any further into your story. Even if you do get all the way through, perfectionism won’t ever let you submit it anywhere because it’s never quite right. Never quite good enough.

Guess what? Perfectionism is just another protection device – protecting you from the criticism of others while you beat yourself up with your own, much harsher, criticism. It’s another face of that horrid inner critic trying to stop you making a fool of yourself.

Well thanks, but no thanks. Because nothing is ever really perfect. Ask any writer, any artist. There’s always something you can fix or change, even with published work. At some point though, you just have to let it go. Step back and send it out into the world.

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“Feel the fear and do it anyway,” as Susan Jeffers famously said in her book of the same name.

Fear used to serve us well. When we lived in caves, fear told us to stay away from that cave where the beast lived and not to eat that berry that made Aunty so sick. But these days most of our fears have become internalised and turn into anxiety. It’s not really our friend any more.

 

Fear has many faces. Most horribly it is the face of our harsh inner critic.

 

Your Inner Critic and how to tame it.

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Like fire, inner critics are wonderful servants but terrible masters. To write successfully, critics must be tamed and trained and forced to play nicely with our delicate creator selves in order to make our writing the best it can be. The craft of writing demands a domesticated critic to edit our messy first drafts, but that’s later. First, we have to get that messy first draft written.

Inner critics can be fatal to writing. First drafts need freedom – when we create we’re playing and mucking around, making stuff up. We don’t need a nasty critic hanging over our shoulder whispering abuse. I like to send mine from the room!

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Mary Philbin, Lon Chaney, 1925

It helps to know the face of your enemy.

rabid_squirrel_postcard-r5105695b7151488c9754e7b5013d2197_vgbaq_8byvr_307One writer described her critic as rabid squirrels in camouflage gear. Another described his as a giant, grumpy, old geezer. It could be a mean older sister, or a stern father who thinks doing anything creative is a waste of time. Mine looks like my third-grade teacher. A nun in a habit. With a ruler. She always liked to pull me down a peg or two.

Here’s a writing exercise to help identify and defeat your critic.

 

WRITE: Your Inner Critic

Set your timer for ten minutes and write about your inner critic.

Was it your mum who was always finding fault, or was it that awful teacher in high school who tore your short story to pieces in front of the class?smoking nuns

Whether your critic is based on a real person or is a monster from nightmares, a dragon with gnashing teeth dripping with blood, get it down on paper. If there is a specific incident you remember, or a particularly bad attack from your critic, then write that down too. Get into the meaty details. Take more time if you need to. If you’d like to, draw a picture. What you do with this picture is up to you. You can burn it, or shred it, or put a big red cross through it, but perhaps if it’s your mum maybe just stick a bit of plaster over her mouth!

Once you have this clear picture in mind you can begin to train your critic. You can train them to leave the room. Trick the squirrels with some peanuts and tempt them into another room while you get a first draft done. Tell the old fart you’ll let him have his turn in a while, after you’ve written your five hundred words for the day. Take the ruler out of the nun’s hand and send her to confession for the few hours you have available for writing. If they know they’ll be allowed back later, they will, most likely, go happily. If they start skulking back, however, then gently remind them that this time is yours, they’ll be welcome in a while.

In my workshops, retreats and even at the creative writing classes I teach at university, I always start with a guided relaxation to help participants send that critic from the room. I’ve found the results to be outstanding.

Try it for yourself!

RELAX: Meditation for removing your inner critic

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Sit and breathe deeply, bringing your attention inwards, then slowly relax your whole body. Once you’re relaxed, visualise your critic and imagine sending them from the room. I like to send them to the nearest body of water and drop them in there. Don’t worry they always find their way back in time for the next draft!

I’m working on a recording of the guided meditation I use in workshops. If you’d like to be kept in the loop and be one of the first to use it then click HERE.

Once you’ve sent your critic away, then I like to set a timer. 10 minutes, half an hour. It helps give me that sense of urgency procrastinators thrive on (procrastinator – who me?). Then WRITE! Write like a fury. Write like you’ve only got 10 minutes until the world ends and you’ve just got to get your story down. Spelling and punctuation don’t matter. Just go where your brain flow takes you. Follow tangents, explore weird things that pop up. Let the story show you where it wants to go.

Nothing matters in that first draft except being in the flow and trusting your own creativity. Remember – Writing is fun! Creating is playing. Take all the pressure off and enjoy yourself mucking around with words and making up stories.

 Let go and let the words flow!

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Let me know how you go. Did these techniques work for you? What other tricks do you know forgetting those first drafts done? Are you a procrastinator or a perfectionist – or both. What does your inner critic look like?

If you’d like to experience just how freeing doing a guided relaxation and meditation can be for liberating your creativity and getting you writing, then please contact me HERE for information about my upcoming RETREATS.

Or sign on HERE to get regular updates and hints and tips for your writing.

GOOD LUCK taming those critics.

Happy writing!

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Lots of love,

Edwina xx

What is a writer’s “VOICE” and how to find yours

 

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When I first started writing I kept hearing this mysterious term, “voice”, mainly in the many rejections I received. Publishers would inevitably say something along the lines of, my “voice wasn’t developed.” It drove me mad. What did they mean? It was me writing, not anyone else. It took me a while to figure out that voice in creative writing terms just means a writer’s own particular style.

Put simply, which is how I like things, it means unadulterated plain old you on the page. Not you trying to be smarter or funnier or fancier than you are. Just you – the way you would talk to your best friend, the way you’d write a letter to someone who’s known you all your life. In my work with new writers I often come across people who think they have to use a whole lot of big words and mountains of adjectives and metaphors to sound “Writerly”. Which brings me to my first point.

Forget about being Writerly!

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Fancy may work for some people who are born that way, or lived a hundred years ago, but these days it’s best just to write as you would speak. Of course you can throw in the occasional unique metaphor and fabulous big word, but most of the time keep it simple.

YOU are enough just the way you are.

Yes, that’s you. Your life and all you’ve lived and who you’ve become because of it is totally unique in the whole world. No one else can write your stories because only you can tell them in your own special way echoing all those experiences. If you grew up swinging around on a hills hoist washing line being sprayed with a hose, the story you tell about childhood is going to be very different to the person who slammed face first into a tree in a tobogganing accident. Claim who you are and let that shine through. The specific details of your life can reveal universal truths.

Once you’ve claimed your voice, everyone who reads your stories will say, “Oh that’s so and so, I’d know her voice anywhere.” Editors will accept your work for publication and say, “Great unique voice”. YES! That’s what we’re aiming for.

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But how to do it?

Read on.

TOOLS for developing your unique voice

1. Free writing

Write whatever comes into your head, stream of consciousness style. No stopping, don’t let your pen leave the page. Set a time for five minutes and just go for it, no editing, no fiddling with grammar, no checking spelling. If you don’t know a word then just put a question mark beside it. Even if you’re only writing “I don’t’ know what to write, this is silly, that’s fine. You can complain as much as you like, just keep writing. Find a writing prompt, set a timer, and go for your life. Write as fast and as much as you can in those five minutes. You’ll be surprised what you can do. Get used to writing rubbish 😊 Once you’re used to that, then you’re free to go! You will need to edit what comes out later, but just think of all the words you’ll have to play with.

2. Keep a journal

Use the free-writing technique to write a journal. Every day write at least an A4 page by hand, letting words flow off the top of your head onto the page. The more you write, the more natural your voice becomes. If you are too busy to do this every day, every second day will do. Writing, like anything else, is all about practice. The more you practice the better you get. The more you get used to writing completely naturally without thinking about sounding flash or clever, the more your natural voice will emerge.
3. Look at emails, letters or texts you send friends – are they different to the way you’ve being trying to write stories/ poems etc? Do you sound like you? If you feel uncomfortable writing in any form it may not. But I’m guessing if you’ve picked this book up then you’re a writing kind of a person and those messages to your friends and family are lighter and more natural than the artificial voice you may have been trying to put on for your writing. Next time you write a story pretend you’re writing to a friend instead of some imaginary publisher.

3. Look at emails, letters or texts you send friends

Are they different to the way you’ve being trying to write stories/ poems etc? Do you sound like you? If you feel uncomfortable writing in any form it may not. But I’m guessing if you’re reading this up then you’re a writing kind of a person and those messages to your friends and family are lighter and more natural than the artificial voice you may have been trying to put on for your writing. Next time you write a story pretend you’re writing to a friend instead of some imaginary publisher.

4. WRITE!

Write every day, whenever you can. Scribble down what you see while you’re on the bus. Who is that strange woman in the purple hat and too much pink lipstick? What’s her story? Play with your imagination. Write down your dreams and give them another chapter. Fill notebooks with lots of messy writing about anything that takes your fancy. Write until it comes naturally.

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Have you found your voice yet? How do you know? I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to leave a comment.

If you’d like to receive more writing hints and tips, drop me a line here.

And if you’d like a whole weekend of writing and yoga to get those creative juices flowing then see HERE for my next retreat.

Until next time – HAPPY WRITING!

Lots of love

Edwina xx

SUBMIT! SUBMIT! SUBMIT! The 10 Point Plan to Publishing Success.

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Whether you’re a writing newbie or an old hand like me there’s one rule that stays true – in order to get published you need to submit. Scary, but true.

You want someone to read them, right?

When I first started writing in earnest back in 2002, I wrote short stories while my young children were having their naps. I joined the QLD Writers Centre and formed a writers’ group with a few women I’d met in workshops. After they’d given me advice and positive feedback, I felt brave enough to send some stories out to competitions.

crying babyIt took guts. I know how scary it is to even have anyone else read your work, but then submitting to competitions or publishers can feel like you’re sending a newborn off to face the world alone, without even a blankey. I was filled with anxiety but also a trembling hope.

I was thrilled when I won the Avid Reader short story prize and was published in a free local newspaper. When I went to collect my $50 book voucher from Avid Reader bookstore, I felt as if I’d made the New York Times best seller list and was beaming ear to ear when Krissy Kneen helped me pick out a book. I chose Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott which is still one of my favourite books on the writing life.

It gave me the courage to send out more stories, and the following year I came runner up in the Josephine Ulrick Prize and had two more stories published! I was beside myself. This writing gig wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be.

Then I started work on a novel and my publications list dried up. I was still writing but I’d forgotten I was supposed to submit stories as well. It felt like my beginner’s luck had dried up. I was yet to learn that the trick is to keep submitting anyway. Persistence is the key. Write, write, write. Submit, submit, submit!

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Which brings me to THE 10 POINT PLAN!

My writing buddy Fiona Robertson first told me about the 10 Point Plan a few years ago, when I’d let my submissions dribble to just about nothing as I focused on full length works. She’d heard about it from someone at her writers’ group, who’d heard about it from someone else, and so on. If anyone knows who actually thought of it, please let me know because I’d like to give them the credit and thank them.

It goes like this.

Aim to have at least 10 points out in submissions at any time and you will inevitably get published. It may not happen straight away but keep on writing, redrafting and sending those stories out and I promise you that sooner or later IT WILL HAPPEN!

1 Point per story or essay/article/pitch.

3 Points per full length work or grant application

However, I’d still aim for 10 points worth of short pieces out at the same time, because they’re easier and those small wins feel really great.

If you’re starting out, it will take time to amass the number of pieces you need to have them to submit, but it’s a great motivator to do so. If you’re writing something longer, like a full-length memoir or a novel, think about whether there are sections you can excerpt and edit to create fully self-contained pieces.

A lot of journals and competitions these days ask you to either subscribe to their publication or pay a hefty entry fee. If you’re flash with cash go right ahead – it’s great to support small presses and literary journals. However, there are still places you can submit stories at a low cost or even for free. These are my favourites. Some journals will allow simultaneous submissions – this means submitting your story to other journals at the same time, but always check each publications requirements.
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Keep an eye out in the Opportunities sections of your local writers’ centre and join online writing communities that share publishing opportunities and competitions. I belong to several and select the best of these to share with my writing friends.

If you’d like to be kept in the loop, join my writing gang HERE.

The 10 point plan keeps me on my game and makes sure I’m submitting stories, redrafting and resubmitting and best of all creating new content to send out – that’s the fun part. I write down everything I submit in a special hardcover book I keep at my desk and record when I sent it, and also when I should expect to hear back.

When I get a rejection, I cross it out – sometimes if I’m very disappointed, with lots of thick black scribble. Rejections aren’t personal, they’re stepping stones to success, I remind myself.

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And sometimes I get a big fat glorious YES! When that happens, I highlight my entry in pink, draw stars all around it and dance like a happy fool.

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Those emails you get accepting your work for publication are worth framing – well at least worth printing out and sticking to your wall for a while. Even the good rejections that come with a personal comment about how close you got, with advice on redrafting and asking for other stories feel like wins. And they are.

So hop to it and start submitting today. Think of it as a lottery. The more entries you have the better the odds.

I’ve just hit my 10 points for this year. How many points do you have out?

If you’d like to be kept in the loop about competitions and journals to submit to plus also get writing hints and tips, join up HERE to become a part of my writing community. I’ll do my best to help you succeed in your dreams to get published.

GOOD LUCK with all those submissions!

Lots of love
Edwina xx

“HELP!!!!” she screamed loudly. Do’s and Don’t’s for Writing Good Dialogue

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Dialogue is the most immediate mode of expression in writing prose. Used correctly it brings your writing to life, be it fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction or even personal essays. It’s importance in screenplays is vital. Done well, dialogue can move the plot forward, build multi-dimensional characters and add layers of complexity you didn’t even know were there.

However, it can be notoriously tricky, and some new writers find it so difficult to manage that they avoid it completely to the detriment of their writing. So here are some of my best tips for writing effective dialogue.

DOKeep it short and sweet – or not so sweet. While there is sometimes a place for a poetic monologue the best advice I’ve ever been given is LESS IS ALWAYS MORE. Cut the beginnings and endings of your dialogue sentences. Cut excess sentences altogether. How can you say it with less? How can you almost say it, so the reader has to fill in the blanks themselves?

DON’TUse dialogue to explain or describe what went on in a previous scene. If a reader has read that scene, they’ll get it. If the dialogue isn’t adding a radical new viewpoint, or revealing information we didn’t already know, then never ever look back!

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DOMake sure the reader knows which character is speaking. The easiest way to do this is with proper punctuation and speech tags.

Each first line from each speaker is indented and the dialogue itself is enclosed in quotation marks. For example:
1.         “How do I punctuate dialogue?” Julie asked.
2.        “That’s simple,” said Edwina. “Find a good book that uses classical punctuation and follow their lead. The main rule is to put your punctuation marks inside the quote marks and to indent the first line but not the others.”

You don’t need to use classical punctuation, but it makes dialogue much easier to read. Some modern authors eschew it and use italics or other forms of punctuation, but I often then find it hard to tell who’s speaking and get frustrated. Suit yourself, just make sure it is clear who is speaking.

DON’TGo all fancy pants with your speech tags. “Said” is almost always best. It becomes invisible to the reader. Words like murmured, stammered, shouted, protested, and argued have their place, occasionally, but are best avoided. “Lied” is an exception. Keep it simple superstar!

DOGround your reader. This is good to keep in mind throughout your whole story, but especially in long stretches of dialogue when your characters can become talking heads floating in space. Even if they are floating in space, most especially then perhaps, slide in a few words describing setting or actions, that place the conversation in a context.

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DON’TPut everything in. If your characters are out for dinner, for example, we don’t have to read their whole conversation about what they’ll order, and their interactions with the wait staff, unless this contributes to character development or plot somehow. If it’s boring in real life, it’s extra boring on the page. Writer friends of mine have learnt this the hard way by transcribing recorded conversations. Your job as a writer is to trim out the boring bits and leave us with the juicy titbits!

DODifferentiate the speech patterns or habits of each character. After a while your readers should be able to tell each character apart from the way they speak. If your characters are all from similar cultural backgrounds this can be trickier, but if you listen in on conversations around you (put in your earphones, but don’t have your music on, and eavesdrop to get an idea of how people differ) you’ll see how we all have our own individual tics.

eavesdropping

DON’T Use capitals to indicate shouting, that’s what an exclamation mark is for.

DOUse character actions beside their dialogue to not only indicate who is speaking but to add to the tone or develop an undercurrent of meaning. For example:
1.          “What time is it?” Joan lifted her head from the pillow.
And      “What time is it?” Joan threw the saucepan full of cold soup at Brian’s head.

DON’TUse adverbs unless absolutely necessary. If you’ve done everything else right you just don’t need them.

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Here are the links to a couple of stories that use dialogue exceptionally well for you to get an idea of just how effective it can be.

Denis Johnson, “Steady Hands at Seattle General” – it doesn’t use classical punctuation, but it’s genius at creating an entire story almost solely in speech.

“Reunion” by John Cheever. It hasn’t indented the first line of each speaker but again, the dialogue demonstrates character in a way nothing else can.

Try writing your own story almost all in dialogue. Make it a hospital story like Denis Johnson’s or a reunion like Cheever’s.

Let me know how you go.

If you’d like more hints and tips on writing see my post here

or CONTACT  me HERE to get regular (but not too regular!) writing advice and news.

And if you’d enjoy a whole weekend full of learning about writing then come along to my next retreat, More information HERE.

I’d love to have you along.

Lots of love,
Edwina xx

SENTENCE BY SENTENCE – WORD BY WORD: 5 Useful Tips for Cleaning up your Prose

Over the past 17 years or so of writing, editing, studying the craft of writing, and teaching writing in the community and in universities, I’ve learnt a few easy tricks to help get your sentences working hard.

My favourite quote on the craft of writing is from George Orwell – “Good prose is as transparent as glass.”

clear window

For me this means, keep it simple superstar! Don’t get carried away with trying to sound “Writerly”, clever, witty, mad or however you think a writer should sound. The writing shouldn’t detract from the story itself. If a reader is stopping to ponder the meaning of your sentences, then they’ve lost touch with your story and that’s never good.

Let your story shine by keeping your writing as clean and clear as a pane of glass. Every sentence, every word has to serve a purpose. It must either drive the story forward, illustrate character, establish setting or add to the story in some meaningful way.

Whether you’re writing flash fiction, short stories, novels or screenplays the same rule applies. Which leads me to my first tip –

1. Does that sentence need to be there at all?

After you’ve written a fast and furious first draft and fallen out of love with it a little, go back and check. Is every scene really necessary or did you just get carried away and veer off course? Do you really need a full paragraph describing that lake or will one good sentence combining the best of that paragraph work much better? The same applies for every word. Go through your work with a fine-tooth comb – think nit comb!

fine tooth comb

In longer works you need to apply this to large chunks as well – Does that chapter need to be there? Does that scene?

Be brutal – save cut bits in another file so you won’t be heartbroken. I do this all the time but have rarely gone back in and rescued one of my darlings. But they’re still there – just in case 😊

2. Trim adjectives and adverbs

Yes, you’ve heard it before and for good reason. Writing styles have changed since those 19th century novels you love to read. Readers these days have a multitude of fast-paced alternatives to a book and most won’t wade through pages of description of a room Henry James’ style. In my university classes I still have many students decorating every noun with a string of adjectives because that’s what they’ve been taught to do all the way through school. ARGH! Get rid of them.

Think of adjectives and adverbs as salt and pepper – a little adds flavour but too much and you’ll ruin your dish.

Metaphors and similes are like chillies – hot peppers. Yes they’re great, but use too many at your peril.

chillies

3. Use specific nouns and strong verbs

Instead of all those adjectives, use nouns that do their job instead. Be specific.

For instance, instead of “colourful noisy birds made loud noises in the tall riverside gum trees”, write “Rainbow lorikeets screeched in the branches of a flooded gum.”

The same goes for verbs. Instead of “She walked slowly”, you could use strolled or ambled or limped or staggered. See how much meaning can be packed into one good verb? English has lots of them – put them to work!

4. Get rid of “There is”

Although we use these words (and “It is” and “There are” etc) often in speech, they create unnecessary clutter in our writing. When we were in high school padding out words for assignments they were useful, but now we know better.

For example; “There is an old car sitting in the driveway of the old house,” can easily be improved by cutting the “There is” and using a strong verb and specific noun (and an adjective) “A beat-up old Holden ute lay rusting in the driveway.”

old holden

5. Get rid of “I can,” and “S/he can”.

It’s still perfectly okay to write,  she can ride a bike. I’m talking about when you are detracting from the reader’s experience of the visceral in your writing by always filtering it through your characters’ perceptions.

“I could feel the rain falling on my face” – changes to “The rain fell like tears on my face.”
“She could feel the sun burning into the back of her neck” – becomes “The sun burnt into the back of her neck turning it hot pink.”

rainy

Of course, these are only hints and tips and all rules are meant to be broken. So if you really need two adjectives for the rhythm of your sentence go right ahead and use them. Just please, pretty please never write “She whispered very quietly” or I may have to scream!

I hope these ideas are helpful. What hints and tips are your favourites? I love to learn about writing and learn most from other writers, so do share your ideas in the comments below.

Write like furies!

furies

Lots of love,

Edwina x