The Professional Edit

Note: If you prefer video content, you can access the vlog version here.

Writing is not a solitary task but a collaborative effort. The first draft (and several after) may be crafted with the door to your office firmly closed, but eventually, you will need to let others in. The feedback, critiques and advice from other writers, readers and professionals can help us to see the flaws in our work, such as excessive use of filter words, repetitive phrases, redundant sentences, plot holes, inconsistencies, and incomplete character/story arcs.  Novels contain multiple moving parts, so it’s easy for a writer to make a mistake. This is why editors exist: to help writers turn good stories into great stories.

If you are fortunate enough to get a deal with a traditional publishing house, then your manuscript will go through multiple rounds of editing. If you are interested in self-publishing, then I urge you to have your manuscript edited. Readers are savvy. They don’t want to pay $2.99 for a novel that is actually a first draft. Readers want good stories and if you are a self-published author, it’s your responsibility to make sure you are putting forward the best, most professional content that you can. That means you need to get your work to an editor.

However, before you go sending your manuscript off to the first person you find online, it’s important that you understand the different types of editing available. And by the way, if you are serious about being a writer then you should hire a professional editor for the following three processes: structural/developmental edit, copyedit and proofread. You may have to hire different editors for all three stages, or you may find an editor who offers all three.

A word of advice, if you hire an editor to do the structural/developmental edit and copyedit, it may be wise to hire a different editor to do the final proofread. Why? If an editor has performed both the structural and copy edit on your manuscript, they may miss errors/typos during the proofreading stage because they have become overly familiar with the work.

Structural/Developmental Editing

Structural editing focuses intensely on the novels core drive: character and plot. Typically, a structural editor will read your entire manuscript while taking careful note of how each element of the story is working. They will analyse your work for consistency, believability and effectiveness with a particular focus on big-picture elements such as:

  • Voice/style
  • Plot
  • Pacing
  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Story Arc
  • Character Arc.

Some structural editors may also provide feedback regarding the manuscripts potential target audience and its overall marketability.

Structural editors will provide a report that analyses the quality of your manuscript. This may take the form of a letter that discusses the manuscript as a whole, or they may provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Either way, this report should identify:

  • Plot holes
  • Inconsistencies
  • Lack of tension
  • Pacing issues
  • Irrelevant characters, scenes or plot development
  • Believability of characters
  • Whether the work is engaging
  • Areas of confusion, particularly in SciFi and Fantasy.

Structural edits do not focus on the manuscript on a line level (sentence-by-sentence). Instead, it is looking at the bigger picture and how the novel hangs together. For this reason, the structural edit should be the first round of editing your manuscript goes through.

Copyediting

Copyediting, or what some call line level editing, focuses on the manuscript on a sentence-by-sentence level. Here, editors are looking for problems regarding:

  • Grammar
  • Style
  • Repetition
  • Word usage
  • Jargon
  • Filter words
  • Dialogue
  • Unclear character motivations.

The copyediting phase should not occur until after the structural edit has been completed. There is no point in fixing an entire scene, sentence-by-sentence, only to have that scene deleted because it isn’t furthering the plot. These types of edits typically occur as in-document critiques using track changes. 

Proofreading

Once all the large structural issues with your manuscript have been fixed and you’ve carefully examined every sentence for clarity and quality, you can then move on to the final round of editing: the proofread. Like I said earlier, if you used the same editor for the structural edit and copyedit, it may be wise to hire a different editor (someone unfamiliar with your work) to do the proofread. It never hurts to have a fresh set of eyes—especially when it comes to editing! Proofreading is the lightest form of editing as it focuses on minor errors such as:

  • Grammar and style (e.g., tense, measuring units, consistency with numerals and words such as “5” or “five”)
  • Capitalisation and punctuation (e.g., correct usage of commas, semicolons, colons, periods, dashes and apostrophes)
  • Spelling and word usage (e.g., to/too, affect/effect).

You may be tempted to skip the proofreading stage, but please don’t. You’ve already put so much work into polishing and editing your manuscript, the last thing you want is to receive an email from a reader highlighting all the typos and errors that were missed during the copyediting phase.

Critiques

Critiques are not a part of the editing process, but they can be tremendously useful. You can pay a professional to critique your manuscript (I offer such services), or you can approach other readers or writers who may be willing to critique your work for free. Critiques focus on the major issues in your manuscript and a good critique should focus on big-picture elements such as:

  • Voice/style
  • Plot
  • Pacing
  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Story Arc
  • Character Arc.

You can have a critique partner provide feedback of your manuscript as a whole, or you can ask them to provide chapter-by-chapter reports that focus on elements such as:

  • Plot holes
  • Inconsistencies
  • Point of View Issue
  • Dialogue
  • Description (too much or too little)
  • Areas of confusions, particularly in SciFi and Fantasy
  • Sensitive/ethical issues or anything else that may harm your chances of publication.

Before you hire a structural editor or look for a professional critique, it would be wise to exhaust all free resources at your disposal, this includes beta readers, critique groups and critique partners. That way, your manuscript is in the best condition is can be before you invest in professional feedback.

Editing a manuscript can be hard work, but if you find an editor you ‘click’ with then this collaborative effort can be deeply rewarding.

If you have a short story, novella or novel that you believe could benefit from a professional critique, you can find my list of services here.

Desires vs Goals

(Note: The video version of this blog can be found here)

As writers, we all want to write amazing novels. We want to write the kind of novels that readers can’t put down. Novels that take readers on epic journeys far away from their everyday life and that allow them to experience the world through another’s eyes. Novels that challenge readers, that teach them something, that inform them about important issues or that move them in some profound way.

As writers, we want to get agents, sign deals and see our books in stores. We want to go on a book tour and do interviews with smart journalists. We want our online platforms to explode along with our sales. We want readers to send us fan art or emails detailing what our book meant to them.

These secret desires can be rocket fuel on days when inspiration is running thin. Be warned though, these same desires can quickly lead to disappointment and apathy. When these thrilling futures fail to materialise, we may wind up asking, ‘Why hasn’t it happened yet? What’s the point in trying anymore?’ or worse, ‘Maybe I’m no good at this.’

Dreaming about hitting the New York Times Best Seller List or winning a prestigious award can be a fun way to occupy your time while waiting in a doctor’s office or lazily drinking tea on a Sunday afternoon, but there is a big difference between desires and goals.

Getting an agent, a book deal, winning a literary award or experiencing skyrocketing sales are desires. You have absolutely no control (or very little) over any of these events becoming a reality. However, you are fully in charge when it comes to goals.

Goals are specific, measurable and they have deadlines.

Getting an agent is a desire. Querying five agents in the first quarter of the year is a goal. The former is ambiguous and disempowering, the latter is exact and empowering. Goals are specific and measurable. In the case of the above example, you have set the goal to email five agents, and the self-imposed deadline will help keep you on track and focused.

Of course, some goals will involve others, but it’s important that you continue to recognise the difference between a goal and a desire.

Desire: The proofreader will find all the typos in my manuscript.

Goal: The proofreader and I will complete the final round of edits by October.

While it’s fun to imagine the future our current WIP may one day experience, it’s important that we keep our feet firmly on the ground. After all, that shiny ‘one-day’ future will never happen if you don’t do the work.

When working on a project, there is tremendous value in setting goals. However, setting vague goals like “Write a Book” can lead to overwhelm and procrastination. It’s just too damn BIG! Plus, it will be a long time before you experience the satisfaction of crossing that item off your goal list. Instead, it’s much more productive to break that one massive goal into much smaller goals.

Remember: A goal is something you are in charge of.

Instead of setting “Write a Book” as a goal, consider the steps involved in that process. This one goal could easily be broken down into something like this:

  1. Read a craft book such as Save the Cat by Jessica Brody
  2. Spend one week creating character profiles
  3. Spend one week outline the novel using the Save the Cat principles
  4. Write 500-1000 words a day, five days a week. Hit 80,000 words by July 12.
  5. Re-read manuscript in one/two sittings while making note of any large structural issues or plot holes
  6. Spend one week creating a plan on how to revise initial draft
  7. Spend one-two hours, five days a week, revising
  8. Spend 2-3 weeks re-read the revised draft and make any final adjustments
  9. Ask five friends to become beta-readers
  10. Drink copious amounts of whiskey while waiting for beta-reader feedback.

Of course, some of these goals could be broken down further, but you get the idea. For instance, I prefer to complete step ten while clutching my battered copy of Stephen King’s On Writing and crying.

Desires can be inspiring, motivating and energising, but they can lead to dissatisfaction. Goals may be less thrilling, but what they lack in shimmer they make up for in pragmatism. Please, do not underestimate the energy and motivation that comes from real progress. It may not be the Ra-Ra excitement you experience when imagining hitting the New York Times Best Seller List, but those big exciting moment won’t ever happen if you don’t first build the habit of setting realistic and achievable goals.

So, what are you waiting for? Get to it!

The Rise of the Hybrid Novel

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog that listed my favourite reads of 2018. Of the six novels that I listed, five could easily be described as literary hybrids.

A hybrid is a novel that can be identified as literary but that also contains the tropes typically associated with genre fiction. For those of you who may be a bit lost, literary fiction can be described as intellectual narratives that explore ideas and themes through the vessel of story. For example, the rape trial depicted in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is not about Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson, it is about racial injustice and the loss of innocence.

Literary fictions tell the reader a story, but the story is not the point. You can enjoy a literary book for its ‘plot’, but the purpose of literature is to communicate a bigger idea or to contribute to a cultural/political/social discussion. Imagine the story as a monster costume and it is your job as the reader to find the zipper and to peak underneath.

Genre fictions are stories that use similar elements, tropes or structures. Horror, science fiction, romance and crime are considered the largest genre categories, but beneath these umbrella terms lies a multitude of subgenres. Readers of genre fiction have set expectations of how a novel from a certain genre will handle elements such as plot, character and setting. If you select a novel from the crime section of your local bookstore, before you even crack the spine, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what that story is about. Obviously, not all crime books are the same, but readers of crime fiction would expect the novel to be about a crime told through the perspective of the person whose ‘job’ it is to solve it. Note: The character may not get paid for solving this crime (detective, lawyer), but instead have a personal motivation (victim).

At their best, literary fiction is seen as sophisticated and highbrow; they are the types of novels that get nominated for awards. At their worst, they’re considered elitist. Genre fiction can be described as entertaining, exciting and engaging, but their (supposed) lack of originality can mean they are perceived as ‘childish’ or ‘books for dumb people.’

And yet, five of my favourite novels from last year are literary hybrids: smart novels that use genre tropes.

Australian authors Angela Myer, Jane Rawson and Emily Maguire have all chosen to include genre tropes as part of their literary explorations of feminism, technology, ecology, sex and violence. American author Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of short stories Her Body and Other Parties combines horror and science fiction tropes as she explores the themes of women’s bodies, sex writing and queer writing. George Saunders identified himself as a science fiction writer, yet critics consider him a hybrid author due to his literary voice and his 2016 win of the Man Booker Prize for Lincoln in the Bardo only further solidified this title.

So, why are literary authors suddenly using genre tropes?

Literary fiction is often described as realist fiction, by which I mean, no aliens or monsters. Of course, there are examples of literary novels that are told via otherworldly perspectives. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is narrated by Death and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is narrated by a deceased teenage girl following a brutal rape and murder. Though these novels are told through the perspective of mystic beings, they are not considered hybrid novels as they do not use genre tropes.

Perhaps literary novelists are including elements from genre fiction as a way to test their skills as a writer and to stretch the boundaries of their own genre. It takes a high level of skill to use supernatural creature or futuristic technology within a text that can also be described as intellectual. Realism, as a mode, is somewhat limiting. Perhaps literary novelists are enjoying the innovation and possibilities that can occur when realism is blended with elements of the fantastical.

Interestingly, this trend also goes the other way as authors like Stephen King, who is typically described as a horror author, won the medal for American Letters in 2003 and the National Medal for Arts in 2015; an award previously won by Ray Bradbury, Harper Lee and Maya Angelou.

Considering that genre fiction is sometimes described as Popular Fiction, i.e., fiction for general audiences, the sceptic in me wonders if literary authors are simply trying to get in on the market. In general, genre books outsell literary fiction. With publishing houses merging (Penguin/Random House) and book deals becoming harder to secure, perhaps literary novels are doing what they can to appeal to both genre and literary readers.

Regardless of the motivation (author or publisher), hybrid novels are successfully bridging the divide between these two camps. And more importantly, they make for a ripper read.

Writing and Music

Like good literature, music can invoke powerful emotions, imagery and even inspire spontaneous insights. A bad day can be turned around, even if only temporarily, by listening to an upbeat song or by reading an inspired piece of writing; whether that be poetry, prose or non-fiction.

Whenever a group of writers get together, there’s a series of questions and topics that inevitably come up. One such question is ‘Do you listen to music when you write?’

Authors such as Ted Hughes, Jack Kerouac, Haruki Murakami and William Faulkner have all commented on the influence music has had on their writing. Kerouac told the Paris Review that jazz influenced his poetry to such an extent that he used the size of his notebooks to govern the length of each line of poetry the way musical bars determine the structure of jazz composition. Murakami also cites music as a powerful influence, stating that the chords, melodies and rhythm of blues music help him during the writing process.

Early in his career, Stephen King stated that he always had pop music playing in the background while he wrote and that the rhythm of the music influenced the pace of the plot. In more recent interviews, he is quoted as only playing music during the re-reading and editing stage and not during the initial draft.

Jenna Moreci, a self-published author with over 100, 000 followers on YouTube, has made several videos that document the influence music has had on her most recent publication. When Moreci listened to music, she sees her characters acting out a scene as though she were watching a music video. The unfolding of certain scenes is so closely inspired by particular songs that Moreci can describe the exact moment a dramatic action or gesture links up with a line of dialogue, time signature change or crescendo.

YA authors such as Veronica Roth and Cassandra Clare make public playlists on their websites. These playlists include songs that inspired the writing of particular scenes, that have a similar mood to the book or are personal favourites of the authors. This trend is limited to YA novels and has quickly become a clever marketing strategy as it assists in the building of the authors’ online community.

When I was completing my undergraduate degree ten years ago, I used to listen to music (metal?!) while writing assignments and studying for exams. These days, I prefer the less invasive melodies of classical music or white noise (ambient-mixer.com – you’re welcome!).

In researching for this blog, I found that most literary writers prefer to work in silence. Dani Shapiro, Zadie Smith, Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Stout work at libraries (Smith) or in their home offices – preferably when no-one is home. When it comes to genre writing, especially horror, fantasy and science fiction, it was hard to find a writer that didn’t listen to music! Jay Kristoff, Deborah Harkness, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett are all quoted as writing while listening to music.

Perhaps this trend is not all that surprising. To speak generally, literary work is concerned with exploring internal space while genre novels are concerned with story-telling. Genre narratives tend to have a more visual focus, so it is little wonder that the emotions and imagery invoked by music compliment this form of literature better. To add a small disclaimer, I read literary fiction and genre fiction and I see this division as a marketing strategy and not as a means for determining quality.

Whether or not music forms a part of an authors’ writing process is beside the point. The only thing that matter is that each author discovers for themselves a routine and process that works for them and their project. Now, over to you. Does music influence your writing process? Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what kind of music?

 

 

 

New Project = New Process

I recently started drafting the novel that will become the creative component of my doctorate thesis. Although I’ve previously written one full-length novel, three novellas and numerous short stories, I found myself asking the question: “How the heck do you do this?” 

The truth is, my fiction writing muscles have become a little rusty. In the past six months, most of my focus has been on the craft of academic papers, assignments and my thesis. As part of honours, I was required to submit a novella, but most of the past six months were spent editing that story – not drafting. It’s a lot easier to edit a first draft than to write a first draft.

I have confronted the dreaded blank page many times in the last six months in the writing of the previously mentioned papers, but it is far easier to write non-fiction than it is to write fiction.

Non-fiction has a set structure and a particular voice. There is the introduction, a body that contains a clear argument and a conclusion. Each paragraph should start with a topic sentence and a concluding one that ideally, leads to the next paragraph. It must have a distinct voice, whether it be your natural speaking voice or one that is appropriate to the topic or in-house style guide. Non-fiction must be backed up by fact, whether that it be in the form of research or experience. Through trial and error, most of us established a set process on how best to write non-fiction pieces.

I start with a vague question or area of interest. Then I read. A lot. I make note of useful papers and record exciting or relevant quotes. This stage goes on until I sense that I have read enough material. Usually, that means I’ve started to notice links and connections between the sources and my own ideas or question. Key ideas become heading and each heading is given a particular word count. Then it’s basically paint by numbers. A conclusion is added and then the introduction. That’s my process. And it works. Your non-fiction process is likely different from mine, but I bet it’s pretty much the same every time.

Fiction does not adhere to set processes. Don’t get me wrong, I have a process, but I also enjoy messing with that process and challenging it. Fiction writing is creative after all, right?

I wrote my first novel with no outline and no character profiles. What guided me was an idea I had for a pivotal scene, the kind that happens towards the end of a novel. All I had to do was figure out how my characters got there. Of course, the first draft was a complete mess! By writing an outline, timeline and distinct character profiles, I was able to see all that was wrong with the manuscript and then fix it. Since then, I’ve written three novellas. For these, I used skeleton outlines (paragraph summaries of each chapter) while simultaneously writing character profiles. This worked better, but of course, there were still a few hick-ups. And in case you’re wondering, there will always be hick-ups! For my honours project, I decided to write a really detailed outline which quickly became the first draft, but because I was so intent on figuring out the structure and logic of the story, I spent little time developing the characters. It was only later during the editing phase that I constructed the character profiles that helped transform them from puppets to people.

For my latest project, it felt right to construct a (very) loose outline and a complete set of character profiles before beginning the first draft. I’ve set a word count for each day, and after I hit that word count I spend five-minutes brainstorming what will happen next. These ‘mini’ outlines are roughly one hundred words and are a great launching pad for the next writing session.

Now, for a word on word counts. For this project, I decided to set a fairly low daily word count. When writing the first draft, I usually prefer to get the ‘crappy’ first draft done as quickly as possible so that I can then get onto the next task: fixing it. Sometimes that meant writing 4,000-6,000 words a day. And that is not very enjoyable. This approach also zaps your energy and it usually affects your productivity the following day. So for this project, I’ve decided to end my writing sessions before I become exhausted. This way, I stay hungry and excited about the story.

I’m currently 15,000 words into the first draft. Though I know the general trajectory of the story, I will not hold the story to this outline if it no longer feels right. Stories have a mind of their own. They have their own natural and logical flow. If you show up and do the work, inevitably, the story will tell you how to write it. For instance, I started this draft with the intention of using a rotating, first-person point of view. And it totally didn’t work. So, I changed to third person. And so far, so good. Under the guise of ease, I set the story in a town I once lived in, but by the time I hit 10,000 words I was totally bored. Frankly, writing about a town I once lived in made me a little uncomfortable. It was too close to home and I didn’t enjoy seeing my fictional characters tromping around the stomping grounds of my past.

So, in 15,000 words, I’ve already realised that the setting and POV aren’t working.

You can plan and plot all you like, but sometimes, you don’t know whether or not something is actually going to work until you start writing. That’s ok though. I’ve worked on enough projects to know that I’m presently at the bottom of the hill that is my story. Though I can make an assumption about what the view from the top will look like, chances are that my expectation will differ from reality. The only way to find out though is to climb.

My Top Six Reads of 2018

If you read 50 books a year, that’s approximately 2,000 books by the end of your lifetime. When I first heard that statistic, I changed my reading habits drastically. If I wasn’t enjoying a book within the first 30-50 pages, it got shelved or returned to the library. My reading style also changed. I no longer reserved reading for when I had large slabs of time, instead, I snuck reading into the cracks of life. I read while cooking dinner, waiting for my partner to get ready and before appointments. I always had my current read close at hand so that I could pick it up whenever an opportunity presented itself. Even with this tactic, I only managed to read thirty new novels this year. (I didn’t count the novels I re-read because I rarely re-read whole novels). This number seems startling low considering that all I do is read and write (and exercise and cook and pat the dog). When I wasn’t reading a novel for personal enjoyment, I was reading journal articles and other texts related to my study. Although I didn’t hit my goal of 50 books last year, many of the books I did read were solid gold.

To celebrate the start of the new year, I’ve compiled a list of my top six favourite reads of 2018.

 

lincoln in the bardoLincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

The first 30-50 pages of Lincoln in the Bardo are pretty disorientating, but I’m so glad I stuck it out. It’s not that often you pick up a book that teaches you how to read it. Once you understand the premise and the terminology, Lincoln in the Bardo becomes a very rewarding read. It’s funny, heartbreaking and difficult to put down. The novel is about the death of Lincoln’s son William and the incredible grief the follows. Unique texture is established with chapters constructed solely of quotes from eyewitnesses. Many of these quotes are contradictory – some are even made-up! – but the point is to show the fickleness of human perception and historical accounts, and this myopic view helps to provide additional detail that supports the central narrative. Lincoln in the Bardo proves that there is still room to play with narrative structure. That a fictional book can document a historical moment without becoming historical fiction. That a literary book can combine religious themes with genre tropes. Little wonder it won the 2017 Man Booker Prize!

her body and other parties


Her Body and Other Parties
– Maria Machado

This may be the most exciting book I read last year. Her Body and Other Parties is a collection of short stories that combine supernatural, horror and science fiction tropes with a literary voice. The core themes of body and sex are delivered through a feminist lens, but the hearty use of pop culture references and clever intertextuality give it a contemporary feel. Machado cites Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson as early influences, and their mark on her work is obvious, yet Machado presents a certain playfulness that is all her own. Machado has an incredible ability to turn absurd ideas into unsettling tales filled with philosophical undertones. A woman who undergoes bariatric surgery rapidly loses weight only to discover that this fat has now manifested as a ghostly presence in her basement. Eventually, she attempts to beat the entity to ‘death’, a metaphor for our cultural conditioning to abuse and hate our bodies; to see them as separate from ourselves. One standout story was a summary of 272 episodes of Law and Order: SVU and what Machado thought each episode was really about. Some of these tiny summaries are funny; others are gut-wrenching.  Machado’s gift is her ability to write about dark concepts in a way that is beautiful and uncanny and that cuts straight to the bone.

 

from the wreck
From the Wreck
– Jane Rawson

From the Wreck is a difficult novel to describe. It’s historical fiction, but one of the main characters is an alien that lives on the surface of a boy’s shoulder; concealing itself as a birthmark. Sometimes the alien manifests as a beautiful woman. Then there’s this whole thing about horses… Rawson’s style is minimalist, and at times, I was stunned by her brevity. Big ideas, complex plot developments or philosophical statements that could easily flesh out a paragraph are instead presented as tidy, tight sentences. It takes a skilful writer to contain such an incomprehensibly weird idea inside a narrative that is convincing, elegant and completely consuming.

 

A Superior Spectre – Angela Meyer as a superior spectre

Like the above texts, Angela Meyer’s debut novel is a hybrid of historical, science, horror and literature. It’s exciting to see so many literary authors adopting genre tropes! A Superior Spectre is a deeply layered text. It crosses two time periods and two protagonists whose lives are connecting by a future technology that allows users to enter the mind of someone in the past. The concept is ambitious and Meyer’s minimalist style and fast pace stop the novel from becoming bogged down by description and world building. She also explores complex and interconnected feminist themes about sexuality and suppression and what is morally right vs socially acceptable. In the same way that Jeff invades Leonora’s mind and influences the trajectory of her life, I too felt like an unwelcomed presence; like a parasite, passively watching that destruction of a young girl’s life.

 

an isolated incidentAn Isolated Incident – Emily Maguire

I’m about two years behind on this particular bandwagon but better late than never. What I love about Maguire’s novel is that it’s a crime novel but it’s not a crime novel. There are detectives, crime scenes and police interviews, but what this novel is really about is the ramification of crime. What happens to the family of crime victims? What are the first few weeks of an investigation – and grief – really like for them? Maguire carefully weaves elements of the gothic into the central narrative: ghostly sightings, invisible presences and conversation with dead people. Coming from a small outback town myself, Maguire’s depiction of rural communities was spot on. Sometimes, uncomfortable so. An Isolated Incident proves that it is possible to write a crime novel where the protagonist’s emotional journey to more important (and interesting) then finding the culprit.

 

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank GreenAn absolutely remarkable thing.jpeg

I love that Hank Green embedded his experience of becoming ‘third tier’ famous into this science fiction romp. It’s not all fun and games though, in fact, most of the novel is a running commentary on life in the digital age. And it’s not pretty. Or healthy. Writing about instant fame (or becoming famous for no reason) is a timely topic and Green does a superb job of showing how the attention we get through social media changes us – and not for the better. Though this is a popular topic for social commentators, I’ve yet to see this idea explored in a novel. Technology, social media, mobile phones and the internet are certainly mentioned in many of the books that I read, but none of these books are about these new technologies. This isn’t exactly surprising though. Writing about present-day technology is a sure-fire way to have your book age quickly. As long as we continue to ponder the uncomfortable, and presently unanswerable, questions like ‘how much is the internet changing us?’ and ‘how can we move forward without losing the best parts of the past?’ Green’s novel is likely to remain relevant. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing proves that it’s okay (and maybe even necessary) to explore themes that are timely rather than timeless.

Writing While Travelling

Place is so important when it comes to writing, and no, I’m not talking about setting. “Where do you write?” is a question commonly asked of writers. Some can write anywhere: on planes, in motel rooms, bars (?), cafes, libraries or while sitting cross-legged on their nan’s couch. Others can only work in their home office, or a particular cafe, or their dining room.

Me? I fall more into the latter than the former. My preferred choice is to work from home, but I can pretty well write anywhere. Admittedly, working in the same location at home can become a bit stale, so I enjoy moving my workstation around the house. I work just as well writing at the nook desk in my bedroom as I do at the dining table, the outdoor entertainment area, or standing at the kitchen counter – something I do when I am just so sick of sitting! When I am the only person home, I tend to relocate my workstation through the day. When everyone is home, I prefer working at my desk. Door closed.

A well established writing routine will help you rack up a seriously high word count, but this kind of repetitive and mindless practice can also become boring. The good news is that switching up your writing location can be tremendously refreshing.

Research shows that our cognitive resources become a little more depleted with every decision we make. If you get out of bed every morning, don your walking shoes, exercise, shower, dress and eat the same breakfast every day – without thinking about it! – then you will save a ton of creative/cognitive reserves for your writing.

Your work may flourish, but no one wants to live that pious lifestyle forever.

Don’t get me wrong, I love working from home. The ability to make a cup of tea, prepare lunch or go to the bathroom whenever I want – and without having to pack up my laptop and notes (library) or pay for the experience/privilege (cafe) – is so easy and effortless that it makes leaving the house seem silly.

But working from home has its disadvantages too. There is laundry to wash, plants to water and meals to prepare. It’s so easy to waste thirty minutes here or fifteen minutes there tending to the never-ending list of domestic tasks. Plus, if you’re the only one home, the temptation to ‘quickly check’ a favourite blog or social media feed becomes overwhelming. You aren’t goofing off unless someone catches you, right?

When I write at libraries or cafes, I’m constantly amazed by how much I get done. When you eliminate your proximity to nagging chores, you get a lot done. When you place yourself in a public environment where the scrolling of social media feeds would have you pegged as another unemployed Millenial chewing up the complimentary Wifi rather than a clever wordsmith in touch with his muse – again – you get a lot done.

The power strangers have over our laptop screens is astounding. Knowing that someone may flick an idol gaze our way is enough to keep the current WIP document open and the browser closed. (Unless, of course, you’re reading what is clearly an academic journal article and you are studiously taking notes in a moleskin journal. This is a different type of Millennial wanker, yes, but one you are willing to live with).

Writing on the road is its own particular beast, and it’s a question that marries well with the topic of writing spaces.

I can write while travelling, but it’s not easy. Not by a long shot.

When you step outside of your hometown – even if you’re visiting a very familiar city, or staying with close family or friends, or are attending a work-related conference – it’s difficult to not become distracted by your surroundings. Your inner child is determined to be social, to be irresponsible, to drink wine, mess up your sleep pattern and abandon all of your meticulously established rules and routines (you know, the ones that support your writing ambitions; the ones you’ve learned through trial and error).

You don’t have to write on the road. You can abandon your routine and take a genuine holiday. No one will die and I’ll only judge you a little bit. Promise. But what if you want to write while travelling?

In this instance, there are no easy solutions, but I do have four tips:

1. If you’re travelling with others, communicate your desire to write while on the road
2. Write when there is a break in activities, responsibilities, appointments
3. Write when you don’t feel like it but the time is available
4. Milk that time for all that it is worth.

Recently, I attended a music festival with some friends in Tasmania. The first few days were pretty jam-packed as we explored St Helen’s, set up our accommodation and generally caught up with one another. Pretty quickly though we settled into a semi-routine of 8am get up, outdoor exploring until 2pm, a couple hours of quiet time and then meeting again around 6pm for dinner/drinks. Now, I know this may sound exhausting (because it kind of is) but while everyone was having an afternoon camp, I was working.

Sometimes I worked on my thesis, academic proposal forms or researched articles.

Sometimes I woke up at 6am and squeezed in two hours of editing before everyone got up.

It would have been very easy to become a whinny little writer during this time because frankly 6am-8am and 2pm-5pm are definitely NOT my peak energy times. In fact, during these hours, my brain is nothing but a big old bowl of mash potato. While I don’t naturally sleep late or take naps, I do appreciate downtime, especially after sight-seeing and socialising; two activities that are equal parts rejuvenating and TOTALLY exhausting.

But I had deadlines, and though I had worked hard to get ahead so that my writing load would be less while on holidays, I couldn’t abandon it completely. Writing and engaging in deep thinking while sitting on a couch from the 1970s in a cottage in desperate need of a revamp surrounded by the snores of three weary travellers who were clever enough not to become writers was far from an ideal workspace.

Unfortunately, writing, even when you’re in the ideal situation, still takes effort. Writing within your absolute unideal situation is a little like having your car break down on the highway, you really don’t want to deal with this problem, but you have to.

I know I make writing outside of my workspace sound like hell (because it kind of is), but I chose to do it.

We (kind of) choose to be writers. No one is holding a gun to our heads. In the end, how I got through my holiday writing sessions was by changing my perception. Instead of being pissed about losing my downtime because I had to write, I saw socialising and sight-seeing as downtime. I also altered my writing goals so that they were more realistic given my energy levels and time constraints. I chose to work on holidays, but I also get to choose how I work.

All that said, we’re about to enter the busiest time of the year. So, I’m giving myself permission to take a break from this blog for the whole month of December. If I find the time, or if the muse whacks me with a big old inspiration stick, then I’ll go ahead and post. Otherwise, I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and thank you so much for taking the time to read these weekly ramblings.

Happy writing!