Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The view from my office

Last time I wrote a post about where I write, I was still living in the Fibro. I had a cosy little office, looking out over the back deck and the neighbour's fence. Now that I'm living in the Old Girl, this is the view from my office.

Do I feel lucky?

Yes, I do.

My desk is still a tip, with 1000-or-so items in the To Be Filed folder, but I can look out the french doors on a warm Autumn day and forget about it all.

Do I daydream?

Yes, I do.

Where do you write?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Starting Out #10: How to make the time to write

One question I am asked more often than any other, more than 'do I need an agent?', more than 'should I self-publish?', more than 'where do you get your ideas?', is 'how do you find the time to write?'. Regular visitors to the Fibro will know that I don't believe anyone 'finds' time to write a novel - you have to make time. But I also know that that can be easier said than done - and I am often heard to lament the fact that Ernest Hemingway probably didn't have to take his kids to swimming lessons.

Today's Starting Out post is written by Ros Baxter, author of Sister Pact (Harper Collins, 2012, coauthored with her sister Ali Ahearn) and Fish Out of Water (Escape, 1 April 2013), business consultant to government and private sector, teacher of professional writing skills, wife to Blair and mother to four "small but very opinionated children". (Phew. Are you tired yet?) If anyone is qualified to share some secrets on how to make time to write novels, it's Ros!

Keeping the muse in the groove when writing to a schedule

I once read that Capote would write lying casually on a couch (probably a chaise lounge), with a glass of sherry in one hand and a pencil in another. TS Elliot had a hideaway above Chatto & Windus, a publishing house on St Martin’s Lane. Edgar Allen Poe could only write in black; Mark Twain in white.

Me? I have no such luxury. I write at swimming lessons, while making dinner and sometimes on the loo. I write in aprons, dressing gowns and (just sometimes) smeared in other people’s dinner. I always write when the baby sleeps and the kids are at school. But sometimes he wakes up at the critical moment, and then he bounces on my knee sucking an arrowroot biscuit while I write, recalling teenage dreams of a narrow apartment in Paris, a classic old typewriter, and a skinny boy with a beret calling me cherie. Sometimes I miss him, that Parisian fantasy boy, but most of the time I’m grateful for my sunburned Australian husband who teaches me how to use Twitter and helps the kids with their homework.

I’m not unusual. Most of the writers I know multi-task to a punishing degree. They have lives – families, mortgages, responsibilities, often other jobs as well. So how do they do it?

As my sister, the greatest multi-tasker of them all, would say: It ain’t rocket surgery. My mother, The Adage Queen, had a good one, too: You want something done? Give it to a busy person. But none of that is terribly practical, so I thought I’d share a few tips, distilled from experience and the shared wisdom of other generous writers I am lucky to call friends.

1. Become a voyeur. Not all the writing happens when you’re plugged in. Watch for the raw material. The rough shard that becomes the polished diamond. The stolen glance between the cashiers at Big W; the way the principal’s throat bobs when she gets nervous at the P&C meetings; the cynical way that operator says “hold please”. It’s all fair game. Call it being a busybody. Call it plagiarism. I call it research.

2. Staple a notebook to your arse. You won’t remember that raw material if you don’t jot it down (or maybe you will, but I definitely won’t).

3. Set goals. Get to know how fast (or slow) you write and sketch a trajectory for your project. It lends momentum to what is essentially an exercise in self-motivation.

4. Make time to write every day. The muse is a jealous mistress. She needs your time, or she’s apt to feel neglected. And don’t give me that stuff about quality time, we’re not on Dr Phil here. She just wants you in place, ready to channel her. She’s egocentric like that. So find a space; make a regular date with your laptop, desktop, or sherry, chaise lounge and pencil; turn off the phone; and write. The more often you do, the quicker you’ll pick up the thread each time.

5. Set yourself a daily word count. Start easy, then build up. All words are better than no words, and editing can cure a thousand follies. Write. Just write. It helps you feel more like a writer, and less like someone who wishes they were.

6. Not feeling creative? Don’t curse the muse and settle in to watch Oprah. Work on the business instead. Update your social media, edit something, research the mating habits of fish (oops, sorry, there’s my inner mermaid creeping in). Preferably do something mind-numbing. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll locate the muse.

7. Finally, be grateful. This one’s a work-in-progress for me. Zen was never my strong suit and it’s easy to feel put-upon when the slings and arrows of the day make you hanker for the luxury of Capote’s lounge. That’s when I try to remember that no- one’s making me do this. And that when I can work really hard on points 4 and 5, it’s easier to remember why I am doing it. Because writing is, as Ken Robinson would say, my element. The thing that makes the time fly. The place that feels right. 

Ros Baxter writes fresh, funny fiction (you can tell by reading this post, right?). You'll find her on Facebook and Twitter, or you can email her here.

If you liked this Starting Out post, you might also enjoy: Which excuses are holding you back?, You've signed a publishing contract, now what?, and How to build an author platform.

Are you fitting your writing in around family, work and all the ... stuff? How do you make it work?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Win a print copy of Alice's Wonderland by Allison Dobell

My shy friend Allison Dobell is very excited this week. Print copies of her steamy romance Alice's Wonderland went on sale exclusively in Target in the US on Tuesday and she was last seen doing a little happy dance in a corner.

To celebrate, she's giving away a copy of the book on her website. All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment about your favourite character - either one you've written or one you've read.


To get you started, she shares the back story of the creation of Tanja Thompson, one of her favourite characters in Alice's Wonderland. That's one of her quotes right there in the image

Given that the book is a Target Exclusive and print copies of the book are not available in Australia, nor at Amazon (though you can buy the ebook here), this is a rare and exclusive offering. And, so far, you have a very good chance of winning!

Entries close Sunday March 31, and winners will be announced at the same day.

What are you waiting for? Enter here.

If you wrote a hot, steamy romance, what would you call it?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meet me at DPCON13?


I'm packing my bags and heading for the Big Smoke tomorrow, all ready to hang out with a roomful of bloggers at the Digital Parents Conference 2013 (DPCON13). I'm speaking alongside some of my favourite people - hello Kerri Sackville and Valerie Khoo - on a program featuring some fabulous and very talented members of the Aussie Blogosphere.

Hooray for me!

In the meantime, please let me introduce you to SMaC Talk, a podcast featuring me, Kerri and Val talking about social media, writing, magazines and the general goings on of the social web. In the first episode, I talk about the little something I buy myself whenever I sell a book. Kerri and Val were surprised - let me know if you are, too!

You'll find all the details plus the podcast notes for our first two episodes and links here at - would love to hear what you think!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Starting Out #9: How to start an online magazine

It's easy enough to start a blog these days and, given Blogging.Org's statistic that in 2012 there were 31 million bloggers in the United States alone, we can safely assume that lots of people are on to that fact. Not as many, however, go out on a limb to create an online magazine.

I met Jane Copeland at the Problogger conference last year and have watched the development of her online magazine, Coping With Jane, with great interest. In this week's Starting Out post, she shares the journey of her blogazine from idea to reality

Dreams don't have deadlines
In January 2012, I read an article by Jacinta Tynan in Sunday Life magazine about the self-imposed deadlines that most of have on our dreams. That brilliant column galvanised me to write a Letter to the Editor - but, more importantly, it goaded me to look at my own life. 

Al asked me to write about why I started a blogazine, and I thought this might be a good place to begin, because it all started with me being at the proverbial fork in the road.

Although I had a good job, I felt I had diverted away from what I actually wanted to be doing. However, even though I had been feeling unfulfilled for some time, it's likely I wouldn't have done anything had it not been for several life events that occurred around this time.

I had a huge mindshift as a result of becoming a first time mother, and also being diagnosed with an illness. Then, while I was on maternity leave, a precious window of time opened up for me. I had to do something now or my desire to lead a more meaningful life would be a dream forever. It was time.

Why a blogazine?
I started with only a loose idea of what the site was and where it might lead. What I did know was what I wanted to talk about.

Sociology and pop culture have always interested me, as have women's issues. The more time I spent online, the more I saw that it was a place where women's issues were being discussed without any barriers. I knew I wanted to play a part in giving women access to other women's real experience.

News of the site spread quickly, thanks to amazing contributors who write for the site. What's behind this happening is that people have believed in the why.

For example, I often get asked how I got big names like Tara Moss and Jacinta Tynan to be involved. Well, I knew the concept for the site was beautifully aligned with what mattered to them. So I reached out to them knowing this, and thankfully they both loved the idea.

This has been the case with everyone who has been involved with the site in one way or another, and I think the same goes for anything in life. People will be incredibly generous and will feel inspired by what you do, if they believe in your story and what you stand for.

Social media
Social media, in particular Twitter, also played an integral part in the site gaining traction. I taught myself how to write headlines and to tweet links that were designed to gain attention (and encourage others to link to the site). To do this I looked for people who did this well, and applied a similar formula.

Like any start-up, things were crazy at the beginning. I worked harder than I ever have in my life. I guess this has been my biggest challenge overall - I didn't realise the magnitude of what I had set out to do. To run an online magazine requires a team, and I am one person.

It would have been impossible to do it all myself initially, so I was very grateful that Kelly Exeter came on board as contributing editor in the early days. And this was just as well because, I underestimated how much editing would be required.

These days I work a lot more efficiently and manage the site myself. But getting to this point has been a process which has taken time.

One of the reasons I didn't go down the freelance writing route was because I was a slow writer. Six months later and with a lot more practice, I'm a lot faster. Same goes for editing and running the site in general.

My point is that if you're trying to get somewhere with your writing or passion project, reemmber that your dreams don't have deadlines. Your ship hasn't sailed. The way I see it is that a blog or a blogazine can be a great launching place for many things.

The nature of online means that anything really is possible, and these days you really do have the ability to get the business and the life you want.

Jane Copeland is founder of, a new personal development blogazine, which features weekly articles from Jane and a bunch of amazing contributors for women who are redefining their lives and careers after they've had children. Jane has just finished writing her first book Boardroom to Baby, available from April.

If you enjoyed this episode of Starting Out, you might also enjoy: Do you need to do a course to be a writer?, From Blog to Job, and Which excuses are holding you back?.

Do you have a dream you'd like to be living? Share!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fibro Q&A: What does an editor do (and how do I find one)?

Editing is on my mind this week. Not only am I editing a manuscript, but I've had several different queries over the past little while, all of which had one answer: get an editor. I think a lot of people are scared of editors, both the magazine and book variety, without really understanding what it is that they do. So I thought it was time I invited one into the Fibro to clear a few things up.

Kylie Mason is a Sydney-based freelance editor with a long history of working with Australian publishers, both on staff and on a freelance basis. I met her on Twitter (where else?) and she graciously agreed to follow me home and answer a few questions (you will note that she knows how to use a semi-colon... something that always makes me sit up and take notice).

What exactly is the role of an editor?
Kylie Mason: "There are different kinds of editors. In Australia, it’s most common for writers to work with a structural (sometimes called substantive) editor and a copy editor. There are also developmental, content and line editors, but these are increasingly being included in structural and copy editing roles.

"Structural editors are often among the first readers of a manuscript and look at the big picture: they want to see if the plot, pace, narrative arc, voice, tone, characters, etc, are working, and if not, why not. They work with the writer to figure out what can be done to improve a manuscript and how; sometimes structural editors will offer specific ways to fix perceived problems but part of the skill of being a good structural editor is helping a writer find their own solutions. After receiving a structural edit and consulting with the editor, the writer will create a new draft. This redrafting process can involve just one more version, or many, many versions – whatever it takes to get the manuscript into shape.

"Copy editors read the redrafted manuscripts closely, looking – of course – at spelling, grammar and punctuation. But copy editors also keep a close eye on anything that might pull a reader out of the story. Since writers, I think, hope their readers will immerse themselves totally in the story being told, anything that might jar or distract or interrupt the reader’s experience needs to be eliminated. So copy editors look at word choice and language use, whether these match the tone of the book or the characters’ personalities, whether they they are repetitious or redundant, or whether they seem, well, not quite right. Copy editors also look for anomalies (Would school students in the 1950s have had pocket calculators?), inconsistencies (Would a girl who considers herself a tomboy also be able to sprint in a pair of stilettos?) and continuity (Didn’t the hero have stormy grey eyes when he met the heroine fifty pages ago, not deep pools of chocolate brown?)."

How did you become a freelance editor? Do you specialise in certain genres or types of manuscripts?
KM: "I became a freelance editor after working in house for a couple of trade publishers. After completing a BA in communications and creative writing and an MA in creative writing – and being a bookseller for a long time – I finally got a job as a publishing assistant in the fiction department at HarperCollins Publishers, where I was given excellent training and mentoring and was promoted to editor. I moved on to Pan Macmillan publishers, where I continued to learn – editing is a career in which you learn something new with every edit – and branched out into narrative non-fiction.

"After six years in house, I went freelance, offering structural and copy editing and proofreading services to both publishing houses and aspiring writers. I work mainly on adult fiction and narrative non-fiction, and have a special interest in historical and literary fiction, as well as fantasy, romance, crime – basically, if it’s fiction, I want to work on it!"

When you're presented with a manuscript, how do you go about 'fixing' it, without taking out the integrity of the author's voice or intended story? Is it difficult?
KM: "I don’t find it particularly difficult to edit a manuscript and retain the author’s voice and story, because I keep in mind the golden rule: it’s not my book. Writers work hard to get their story onto the page, sweating blood or bullets, typing their fingers to the bone, and the last thing they want is some stranger waltzing in and stomping all over their manuscript.

"If I’m working on a structural edit, it isn’t my job to turn the book into something it’s not; my job is to figure out what the writer is trying to do and offer whatever help I can to make the manuscript the best it can be. If I’m working on a copy edit, then the writer’s purpose should be clear and it’s important that any changes or suggestions I make improve the manuscript rather than introduce new problems. Editors are often great mimics, which helps them make suggestions and corrections that naturally reflect the author’s voice and story – once  they get the ‘feel’ of a manuscript, of course. And nothing is ever changed before a writer sees it; the writer gets the final say on what happens to their manuscript."

Do you have to like a work to do what you feel is a great job?
KM: "I don’t think it’s necessary to like a manuscript to do a great job. Having said that, every manuscript has something that can be praised: even if the narrative is not to my taste, I can appreciate the hard work that has gone into producing the manuscript; I can admire the fine job the writer has done in creating characters or in managing an intricate plot, or their amazing ear for dialogue.

"Every editor starts from the same place: Is this book the best it can be? Whether I like or dislike the manuscript is almost irrelevant; I still start by looking at it the way I looked at the manuscript I worked on before it, and the way I’ll look at the one that follows. But working on a manuscript I love can be troublesome, especially if I get caught up in the story and forget to keep my eye on all the things I’m supposed to be checking!"

If I were looking for a freelance editor, to either help take my manuscript to the next level or in the process of self-publishing, how would I go about finding one? Is it expensive?
KM: "The best way to find a freelance editor is to check out the website of an editors’ society. Every Australian state (and the ACT) has an editors’ society (see below) and they all have freelancer directories that writers can browse to find an editor to suit their needs. Another great resource is the Freelance Editors’ Network, which features a great range of editors.

"When looking for a freelance editor, a writer should consider what kind of work they want done: Would they like a professional eye to check their manuscript before it’s submitted to publishers? Do they want a developmental editor, someone they can work with to improve their writing and manuscript? Have they decided to self-publish and would like both a structural and a copy edit?

"Once that’s decided, email your chosen editor and ask them to give you a quote for the work you want done. Good editing isn’t cheap: structural editing starts at around $1500 for a manuscript up to 90,000 words; most editors work to an hourly rate but can also offer a flat rate based on the manuscript’s word count and the work required. Some editors will also offer to edit a sample of the manuscript, say, five or so pages, so the writer can decide if they’ve found the right editor."

You'll find Kylie Mason listed in the Freelance Editor's Network, or say hello on Twitter. Visit the website of the editors' society in your state to find the right editor for you: NSW, QLD, VIC, SA, WA, TAS, ACT.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What does sexy mean?

Mr6 and I had a date to the school disco last Friday. He requested gel for his hair, with a specific level of 'sticky-upness' required. I did my best, but it clearly wasn't good enough because when we go there he dragged over a friend, pointed to his magnificent Beckham-like spikes, and said 'that's what I wanted Mum, can you do that next time?'. Back to the bathroom mirror I go.

During our short walk to the disco, he practised his Gangnam Style moves, hopping and bopping and twirling along beside me. He knows only one line: "Heeeeeey, sexy lady, wah, wah, wah, wah-wah". This he sang over and over again with this kind of thing in between: "bing-bong, ding-dong, can, wokking Gangnam Style". It was all highly entertaining.

As we approached the gate, he turned to me. "What does sexy mean, Mum?" And once again I was caught on the hop, sputtering and spluttering, reaching for an answer to a 'big question'. It's like he plans these things.

"Er, well," I said. "When you get older, MUCH older, you'll like girls, a lot, and, er, when you find a girl you want to kiss you'll, er, probably think that she's, er, sexy."

He laughed. "Girls! Ha! As if, Mum!"

I laughed too. "Well, you will. But that's why it's a grown up word and it's not a good word for little boys to use. It sounds all wrong. See?"

He laughed again. "Kissing! Ha!"

And off he went, 'wah, wah, wah, wah-wah-ing' as he went. Wokking Gangnam style all the way.

Have you had to explain 'sexy' to your kids? What did you say?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Starting Out #8: From blog to job

Today's Starting Out post is by the one and only Maxabella, who began her blog Maxabella Loves around three years ago, and started as the editor of Kidspot's Village Voices about 12 months ago. Here she shares her story about how her blog helped her leave the 'Grey World' of corporate life for a fulltime job as an editor and freelance blogger.

How I went from 'blog' to 'job'
I’ve had one kind of job or another since I was 12 years old. Nearly 30 years of working for someone or another, over eight of those years as a ‘working mother’. (Incidentally (and entirely off the point), I always put quote marks around ‘working mother’ because I think all mothers are working. Working and working and working. It’s gotta be a joke when they add ‘working’ just because a mother gets paid, right?)

Sorry. Al wanted me to write about how I went from being a corporate marketer with a blog to a full time blogger and editor (still with a blog) and I can’t help but feel that I’m mucking up the brief by writing a really passionate, but not terribly well written, piece about motherhood – or is it about working life? You’ll be reading this thinking (as you should, but not for this reason) “man, if that lady can get a paid writing gig then anyone can get a paid writing gig”.

Which brings me to my point (finally): anyone can get a paid writing gig. It just depends on the kind of writing they want to do.

Two years after I started my blog, I left my corporate marketing job and set myself up as a ‘freelance blogger’. (Again with the quote marks, but this time it’s because even after a year I am still not confident enough as a writer to call myself one without them.)

I got some paid work with a few different clients and Kidspot was one of them. My writing on Kidspot led to more writing that led to me becoming the Editor on Kidspot’s Village Voices about three months after I left my marketing job.  Yes, it was that fast. There’s a lot of luck involved here, but there are a few things I think I did and do that I think let Lady Luck walk right on in.

1.     Know what’s out there
So, I might have made up the ‘freelance blogger’ job title – but freelance writer didn’t seem right. I’m basically a blogger who decided not to be a marketer, but rather be a writer. Let me explain. When you decide you want to make money from blogging, these days you have two options – either sell advertising space (either by banner ads or sponsored posts) on your blog; or start blogging elsewhere for someone who will pay you.

To me, going down the advertising route felt way too much like my old marketing job. Working with ad agencies, writing content for brands, worrying about the numbers. Blogging elsewhere meant I’d be working with editors, writing content for readers, worrying about the muse.

Both are good ways to make blogging your career, just different.

2.     Be self-aware
Like most of us, I’ve always been a writer. I’ve kept a journal, I’ve written essays, I’ve written short stories, I’ve written countless marketing spiels and reports. People always told me that I was a really good writer and I’d nod and smile and go back to work. The only reliably paid writing I knew about was writing magazine or newspaper articles and I’m no journalist. My writing style is not objective enough, I’m much better at imagining than researching and, besides, I have the attention span of a midge. When I discovered blogging, I knew I’d found the kind of writing that worked for me.

3.     Be the best you can be
The craft of writing and the study of people have been my whole life, really. Years ago I did my Arts degree with three majors:  English Literature, Anthropology and Psychology and it’s no surprise that I ended up being responsible for all the marketing copy in a huge organisation. What makes words and people tick have always been my thing. Blogging allows me to bring my two fascinations together in a most satisfying way. I really think that if you want to do something well, you’ve got to be ridiculously passionate about it and you’ve got to constantly work to feed your raving appetite for it.

4.     Stand out from the crowd
I could never be one of those people who writes incognito. My writing style is all my own – I write like I talk, but more than that, I write like I think. A strong, clear writing style lets editors know what kind of writing they’ll get when they work with you. Your writing style can be your whole marketing plan.

5.     Draw the crowd in
I’m a hopeless blogger, really. I don’t tweet, I don’t Instagram, stumble or even respond to the comments left on my blog. I started a Facebook page about a year ago, but I’m seriously bad at it. I Pin, but, let’s face it, pinning is probably the least social social media platform ever.

So I am at loss to explain why I’ve always had a very friendly and connected community on my blog. The only thing I can put it down to is that the things I write about are very engaging and I’m genuinely interested in what people have to say about what I have to say about it. I’m proof that you don’t necessarily need all the social media add-ons to have a lovely social media network- you can convey all the warmth and love you need in your writing style alone.

6.     Be reliable
If you want to write more than once for an editor, make sure you write what you said you’d write when you said you’d write it by. A good work ethic is important in any job.

7.     Believe and leap
There’s no other way to find out if you can do it. If you want to be paid for your blogging, you need to put your hand up and send off some of your work to the editors that are out there. Don’t send them ideas for posts you think they’ll like, send them posts you’ve already written and tell them what you can write about. Your blog is your online portfolio – make sure it showcases what you’re capable of and then go for it.

You'll find Maxabella on her blog, at Village Voices, at, and, sometimes, on Facebook.

If you like this Starting Out post, you might also enjoy: So You Want to Be a Freelance Writer?, What kind of writer will you be? and Learning to embrace the editing process.

Would you like to turn your blog into a job? Or do you prefer to keep it as your 'happy place'?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Fibro Q&A: How do you write a memoir?

The Australian magazine industry is a relatively small place. You can work with people on one magazine, not hear from them for years, and then, voila!, up they pop on another title you're writing for. Georgia Cassimatis is one of those names that you will have seen in women's magazines around the country. We first met many years ago at Cosmopolitan and then she disappeared, while her byline lived on. As it turns out, she'd moved to LA. And a whole lot of life ensued. Which she has now written about in her first book Red Carpet Burns (is that cover gorgeous or what?).

I admire people who write memoir. It takes a lot of courage to write one well because you have to be brave enough to leave in the 'warts and all'. So I invited Georgia to the Fibro to answer my two most burning questions about memoir - where do you start and how do you decide what to put in and what to leave out? She even answered a few extras as well. 

Why did you choose to write memoir?
Georgia Cassimatis: "There were a few things that inspired me. When I was 30 I met and married a guy who I thought was ‘the one’ and moved my entire life, from Sydney to Los Angeles, to be with him - only to realise that he wasn’t. I had wondered if other women had gone through something similar: ‘the one’ turning out to be ‘oh so wrong’. Not to mention I was also going through all of this against the backdrop of Los Angeles: a place that people are curious about and which turned out to be amazing (and tough) in many surreal ways.
"On top of that I had also completely underestimated what moving to another culture meant. Then I started reading travel memoirs from other people who who had gone through culture shock (like I had) and that clarified how hilarious and frustrating, yet self-defining, it can be. But these were women who had moved mostly to Paris, Europe and Asia. No one had ever spoken about living in Los Angeles through the eyes of a writer or through someone who had gone for love - most LA memoirs are from actresses who never made it, or celebrity tell-alls, not travel memoirs so to speak.
"When I left my ex-husband and started my LA journey on my own, that's when the true magic there began: I met beautiful, inspiring, amazing people, my work picked up as a journalist and I started interviewing A-list celebrities for movies and travelling to exotic locations for travel stories. I had all these incredible, surreal experiences that I never wanted to forget. For me, the only way I could immortalise all those experiences was in a book."

Did you ever find yourself feeling constrained by the idea of who would be reading the book (eg Mum, people who might be mentioned)? How did you deal with that?
GC: "The only two people I was concerned about were Mum and Dad, because they’re in it and I didn’t want them to be offended. Other than mum telling me to tone down the swearing, they were fine with all of it. It is funny because aunts and uncles are reading it and they're calling my parents saying things like 'Georgia appeared naked in a university play? We never knew!' But, memoirs are truth. If you eliminate things because you’re concerned about what people think, it becomes beige and boring. Deep down people want to read because they’re after a truth."

Is the key to memoir as much deciding what to leave out as it is deciding what to put in?
GC: "A memoir is really about those key moments, experiences and people who inspire you in all different ways (good and bad) and propel you on your journey. So for me it was easy to figure out what I wanted to keep in and leave out. It's more about the details of a scene and editing those down for it to be entertaining or compelling that I found harder. My book editor said to me 'there are too many 'you have to be there moments', which she pulled me back on and tightened things up. In that respect it's great having an editor! It also helps to know that most books are between 80,000 to 120,000 words which always helps with your editing process."

How did you decide where to begin? Is the structure of a memoir an important tool in making the book sing? How did you nut it out?
GC: "Interesting you ask me actually! At first I started my book chronologically: when I was 18, I had an 'epiphany' that I’d be working in the USA in ten years. So I started from the beginning, writing about my initial, fleeting fascination with the USA. But when my agent was shopping my book around to various publishers, one said 'we really like it but we want to see her start from the end of her journey looking back over her time in LA. We'd like to see her start with the sentence 'Well here I am in LA….'"
"Even though we didn’t end up going with that publisher, I kept that rewrite because I preferred it, and that scene became the prologue. I then started the first chapter talking about my first fleeting thoughts as an 18-year-old schoolgirl, seeing myself living in the USA. So where to begin can be a work in progress. It may be a scene that triggered the desire to write a memoir, it may be chronological - it all depends.
"The best advice I got about structure was from a friend of mine, who has written and directed films in LA, and who sat me down and said ‘right – give me the entire chapter outline of your book starting with the title for chapter one….’. We got up to about chapter 16, by which time I had a rough outline for the entire book!"

What are your three best tips for anyone who is writing or wants to write a memoir?
GC: "If you have ideas for a memoir, start writing them down in a big notebook. Fleeting thoughts, ideas, quotes, comments people say that resonate are crucial to document. Start filing, filing and filing! I remember doing courses in LA that I felt I wanted to write about, so I kept the course notes... and then revisited them when I started writing my memoir about all my crazy, whacked out, amazing LA experiences. I also had notebooks full of quotes people had said over the years. They're like your research tools as well as helping you to shape characters.
"I also started thinking of fun chapter headings and kept notes on those too - when you have chapter ideas and chapter outlines worked out, you have a great framework for your book. My idea was to use quotes from celebrities I had interviewed to go with each chapter header. To mix it up, I also used the fortune cookie messages I'd kept over the years from a cool Chinese restaurant I used to eat at in LA. So you can look for ways to make your chapter headlines and quotes fun – which I found inspirational for when I ‘officially’ started the writing journey.
"It also helps to know that publishers and agents like to see three chapters fleshed out, a chapter outline and a book synopsis, and that’s a great goal to have when you start writing your book."

Georgia Cassimatis started out as a journalist on Cosmopolitan magazine before editing tween magazine Barbie. Fate, not ambition, saw her move to Los Angeles where she worked as an entertainment and lifestyle reporter for eight years before returning to Australia. Red Carpet Burns is her first book and you can buy it here.   

What would you call your memoir?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mr6 and the Huntsman

This morning, as he was putting on his sneakers for school (and therefore looking for whatever distractions life might hold), Mr6 drew my attention to the fact that the lovely little artwork that hangs near the kitchen had a new addition. An eight-legged addition.

When I say 'drew attention to', I mean 'shrieked 'Mum, there's a spider on the painting!'.

Mr9, drawn into the room by the fuss, was quick to reassure him. "It's only a huntsman," he said, with all the sangfroid of one who knew he was far enough from said huntsman to ensure no physical contact.

We all stood for a moment to consider the huntsman, who had drawn all his legs together in an attempt to appear as small as possible.

"How long has he been there, Mum?" asked Mr6.

"Not long," I reassured him, contemplating the fact that I could have, in fact, been walking back and forth past this spider for days. And days. Back and forth a million times, washing my floors, getting essential writing snacks from the kitchen, chasing the boys to put on their uniforms/shoes/pyjamas.

Chances are I wouldn't have seen him today, if Mr6 hadn't seen him.

It's been a long time since I even looked at the lovely little painting. It hangs quietly there on the wall, all those labour-intensive dots in all their majesty, the beautiful work of local artist Leslie Little.

When The Builder comes home I will have him catch the huntsman and, with great care, rehome him outdoors.

And then the boys and I will take down that little painting and have a really good look at it.

I can't wait to hear their thoughts about what they see in it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Starting Out #7: Which excuses are holding you back?

One thing I love about blogging and social media is the opportunity to meet other writers (see, it's not all procrastination, some of it is actually useful). I've discovered several authors who, just like me and Sarah Ayoub, are trawling through the process of publishing a first novel - and facing the daunting fact that, to have a career, you have to do it over and over and over again.

Gabrielle Tozer, debut YA author, fulltime magazine employee, part-time freelance writer is, like all of us, learning to juggle time. Writing fiction is her first love, but she admits that it took her a long time to overcome the world's best excuses for not writing fiction and actually sit down and do it. She shares both her excuses and her tips for getting over them here.

What’s sabotaging your writing process?
AKA How I overcame my excuses and made creative writing a priority, once and for all*

Excuses – I’ve always been full of them, especially when it comes to creative writing. I’m too tired. Too full. Too enthralled in this episode of Girls (and consequently, too crippled by Lena Dunham’s writing prowess to put pen to paper). Sound familiar?

Yet, over the past few years, my attitude towards making excuses has changed. It had to. Thanks to two book manuscript deadlines, freelance writing commitments and a demanding fulltime magazine job, I was forced to send my excuses packing. Sure, I wanted to hold my excuses tight and grow old together, but due to the limited hours in the day, it was no longer possible. If I wanted to become an author then I had to pinpoint my excuses then gently push them from the nest.

So, in the spirit of sharing wordsmith tidbits, here were a few of the main excuses holding me back and the (often surprisingly simple) ways in which I overcame them…

Excuse: “A blank page looks too daunting”
Solution: I chose to see a blank page as an opportunity to do what I love most – and then I gave myself the freedom to write without guilt, pressure and rules. Whatever raced through my brain was allowed to spew onto the page – and that helped me to unlock and unleash my voice. No longer worrying about being perfect for the first draft was a delight. I created a system to help me do this, too: my writer side had permission to unleash free-flowing writing onto the blank page, then my pedantic editor side would swoop in much later with a red pen and a fresh perspective to banish poor grammar and poorly formed sentences.

Excuse: “I don’t have enough time”
Solution: After years of flogging this excuse, I finally admitted I had enough time (we’re all given the same number of minutes in a day, after all) – I just hadn’t been using it efficiently. I’d snooze my alarm, trawl social media or watch mind-numbing TV repeats, which were all pockets of time that could’ve been used to write. So, that’s what I did – I used them. I pumped out my novel by waking up earlier, quitting Instagram and only watching my cream-of-the-crop television picks. And to help me stick with it, I scheduled writing sessions into a kikki.K planner (which I truly believe makes it 71.5% more fun). Sure, it’s a little military-like, but without it I end up fretting on the couch because I’m not as talented as Tina Fey. Which brings me to the most writer’s-block- inducing excuse of all…

Excuse: “I’ll never be as good as everyone else”
Solution: This is a big one. A whopper. And, to be honest, I still struggle with it. Motivational coach Craig Harper encourages people to do what frightens them, despite self-doubt. You know, feel the fear and do it anyway. I’ve been giving this method a go: sitting and working with my self-doubt – despite the icky, stomach-churning butterflies – and hoping my passion, drive and creativity is enough to help me wade through the muddy pond of feeling like I’m never going to be good enough. Mostly it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But mostly is better than never so I’m sticking with it.

I also remind myself that the first draft of everything is crap, and a page of average-to-good writing beats a blank page – after all, a blank page is impossible to edit. But mostly, I remind myself why I’m doing this. I want to write books, and share stories, and make people smile, cringe and laugh. Sure, my body is constantly charged with nerves, but loving what I do keeps me stepping up to my laptop. And for me, no excuse – no matter how mighty or overwhelming – is worth giving up my passion. Not even the all- powerful awesomeness of Tina Fey and Lena Dunham.**

*Okay, okay. Not once and for all. Let’s say ‘most of the time’.

**Seriously, these women blow me away. Girl crushes x 1000.

Gabrielle Tozer is a Sydney-based features and creative writer, who has written for titles including Cosmopolitan, DOLLY, Girlfriend, Prevention and Her debut novel comes out in February 2014 and she is currently writing the sequel. Say hello at her website, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Other posts in the Starting Out series that you might find interesting:
You've signed a publishing contract ... now what?
How to build an author platform
What kind of writer will you be?

What’s holding you back from achieving your writing goals? What's your favourite excuse? Any tips for overcoming it?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Fibro Q&A: Charlotte Wood: literary fiction, branding and all that junk

I love Charlotte Wood. There, it's out there. I feel so much better. I read her novel The Children a few years ago, as part of one of my ill-fated ventures into the territory of Book Clubs (I am not a fan of book clubs, but that is a whole different post), and when she popped up in my Twitter feed one day, I was beyond excited. 

So when it came time to tackle the thorny question of literary fiction here at the Fibro, there was no-one better to turn to. Fortunately for me, she was happy to pop by... Unfortunately, she did not bring scones... but then her blog, How to Shuck an Oyster, is more a salt, spice and quinoa kind of place.

Allison Tait: Can you explain the difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction?
Charlotte Wood: "Not really! I guess one broad definition is that literary fiction has traditionally been more concerned than popular fiction with experimental forms of the novel, and with an exploration of language and theme and ideas and so on, placing them on a plane of equal importance with storytelling and plot, etc. But really, these sorts of categories are fast disappearing I think, and often are quite arbitrary. It is one of the many, many things I find bewildering about publishing."
Did you set out to write literary fiction? Can you tell us a little of your path to first publication?
Charlotte Wood: "No, I didn’t set out to write anything except the kind of book I might like to read. I’m not interested in publishing categories or marketing platforms or whatever, it just gets in the way of writing – the business end of things will do what it does without useful guidance from me. The more I publish, the more I think the mechanics of publishing are none of a writer’s business. Our concern is to write a good sentence and excavate the strange and lovely territory of the self – I hope I am getting better at focusing on that as I write, rather than the end result. It’s hard to forget about publication, but after five books I soundly believe that trying to second-guess these things simply doesn’t work.  One’s book will be what it is, and it’s up to others to figure out how to best get it to its readers.

"My first publication was bizarrely easy – I worked hard on my book of course, for about three years, and that wasn’t easy at all. But the actual publication bit happened quickly and smoothly – my book was shown to a publisher by an editor I worked with at Varuna, The Writer’s House; I got an agent overnight (also via Varuna), and within two weeks of my finishing the book the deal was done. My second book had a more normal experience – rejected by that publisher, but then taken up by the amazing Jane Palfreyman, then at Random House and now at Allen and Unwin. She has been my staunch supporter ever since, and I am incredibly lucky to have her and hope her faith in me continues."

What made you switch to non-fiction for your last book (Love & Hunger)? Will your next book be fiction or non-fiction?
Charlotte Wood: "I just felt like a break from fiction after Animal People, and the idea of a book about cooking grew fairly naturally out of my blog, How to Shuck an Oyster. That said, most of the book was new material, but the voice came from my blogging voice, which was a delight to write in compared to fiction – easy, intimate, personal. But I’m very much hankering now to go back to the murky territory of fiction, which is much more difficult (for me), but also oddly liberating and satisfying. I am working on a first draft of a new novel."

Authors are told of the importance of 'branding' and 'build platforms' on the path to publication. What's your take on this?
Charlotte Wood: "I can only speak for literary fiction (and non-fiction to a lesser degree) because that’s the area in which I work.

"I think writing is your first priority – writing a good sentence, a good paragraph, a good book. This takes years and years of careful, quiet attention. Sometimes I think people like to talk about branding and building platforms because it’s a hell of a lot easier than actually sitting down with the quiet self and writing. Writing is hard. I am reminded of a fantastic interview I heard with Jerry Seinfeld recently. He said he was asked all the time about how comedians should promote themselves and network and stuff, and he said he knew of a big comedy convention where people went to learn about this and find agents and so on. He said something like, “I wish I ran that convention. I’d go and take down all the stalls and all the sessions and just put up a big sign that says, ‘Go Home and Work.’ Just do the work.”

"I note that two of the most successful Australian literary authors of recent times – Anna Funder and Christos Tsiolkas – have almost no orchestrated online presence, and I can almost certainly bet the notion of ‘branding’ has never crossed their minds. All their energy goes into writing great books - and readers responded.

"I understand the seductive power of talk about marketing, and it can be quite pleasurable tinkering about on social media and building websites and blogs and all that, I’ve done plenty of it myself. But I know when I’m using it to distract myself from the real work, which is the writing. Marketing and branding and all that junk is simply no substitute for doing the work."

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Australian writers today?
Charlotte Wood: "Declining readership for literary work worries me a bit, but then I try to forget about that and just get on with things. I am extremely lucky to have had my first very odd, small, weird novel published when it was, because I think now that book would never be published.

"I think literary fiction writers, at least, need to face the fact that it is highly unlikely they will ever make a living from writing literary fiction – even one amazing advance doesn’t last long over a lifetime of writing, and Australian writers who command large advances repeatedly can be counted on one hand. But once you face the financial facts and try to align your life to make money in other ways, there is enormous freedom and dignity and rich, profound satisfaction to be found in the writing life.

"The other side of the coin is that the technology available now for digital publishing opens up all kinds of really exciting opportunities and we’re only beginning to see how they will play out."

You can find more information about Charlotte Wood here at her website. You should definitely say hello to her on Twitter as well!

Do you read 'literary fiction'? How would you define it?

Alice's Wonderland: Why I'll never be a designer

As you may have heard if you were hanging out with me on Facebook this week, my shy friend Allison Dobell is eagerly anticipating the sound of the print version of her 'hot' romance hitting the shelves of Target in the US in the next few weeks (I'll insert exact date as soon as I have it).

In honour of the occasion, I have once again hit PicMonkey (somebody stop me, please) and created this little quote for her.

Enough said.

And yes, I know. I won't give up my day job to become a designer, I promise. 

Alice's Wonderland is written by Allison Dobell and published by Avon Red. You can read reviews on Goodreads here. Or buy it as an ebook here.
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