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!

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?

 

 

 

Author Interview with Jay Ludowyke

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Dr Jay Ludowyke is an author and academic with a research focus on narrative nonfiction, objects and artefacts. She holds qualifications in writing, history and library services. Her writing has appeared Meniscus, Visible Ink and TEXT. Jay’s debut novel, Carpathia, was released earlier this year by Hachette.

Carpathia is a dual narrative that follows the Carpathia‘s legendary rescue of the Titanic survivors in 1912 and the discovery of the ship’s wreck nearly 100 years later.

Jay and I met two years ago at a writing saloon on the Sunshine Coast. At the time, she was completing a Doctorate at USC and I was completing a Masters. Jay’s intelligence, talent, and enormous generosity are obvious. Hearing about her debut novel Carpathia, I knew I wanted to have Jay on the blog. Being the generous person that she is, she agreed.

What drew you to the story of the Carpathia?

Jay: I first heard about Carpathia while watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow, a British television program where people bring in artefacts to be appraised by an expert. The program featured a commemorative medal presented to a crew member who served aboard Carpathia during the rescue of the Titanic’s survivors. The expert told the story of how Captain Arthur Rostron diverted steam from the ship’s heating and lighting, sending it back into Carpathia’s engines. Then they sailed full speed through the black night, directly towards icebergs, desperately trying to reach the stricken ocean liner.

Carpathia’s rescue mission was brave and heroic, but few people know this story, despite its connection to the most famous maritime disaster of the twentieth century. I have never liked tragedy, but I have always been drawn to heroism and nobility and romanticism, and Carpathia brings these elements to the Titanic story — at least for me. Her rescue mission captured my heart.

This year marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the sinking of the Carpathia. Why do you think now is an important time for people to learn the story of the Carpathia?

Jay: We seem to have a fascination for centenary anniversaries — perhaps because so few humans reach this milestone. Carpathia was sunk by a U-boat while leading a convoy out of Liverpool during the final year of the First World War. Five men were killed that day — 17 July, 1918. In addition to the rescue of the Titanic’s survivors and her war service, Carpathia was built when the shipping industry was still transitioning from wind power to steam power, which coincided with a period of intense immigration from Europe to the United States. She was also one of Cunard’s first holiday cruisers, traversing the Mediterranean. In 2000, after several failed attempts, the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) located Carpathia’s wreck and she was subsequently dived by a group of amateur technical divers in 2001 and again in 2007 during an artefact salvage expedition, in one of the deepest ever UK wreck dives. Any one of these elements warrants mention in the historical record and their cumulative effect makes Carpathia a significant artefact of the twentieth century. So, the one-hundredth anniversary of her loss is the ideal time to commemorate her.

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Your book alternates between the early 20th century and 2007 as you explore the history of the Carpathia and the recent discovery of her wreck. Was it difficult to construct a voice that could move between these two-time periods? Is that why you chose to use a narrative voice rather than a “standard” non-fiction voice?

Jay: I did have to contend with one significant issue of narrative voice while writing Carpathia. This was caused by using both an historical and contemporary timeline in alternating chapters. I felt that each timeline deserved a voice that accurately reflected the period and people within. For example, the historical chapters are written in a style that favours a lyrical voice, with a significant degree of detail and world building that gives verisimilitude to depictions of Edwardian society and life aboard steamships. However, the contemporary chapters dial back the lyricism, particularly since the protagonist here is a down-to-earth, plain-speaking firefighter from Manchester. It would have been a disservice (to him and to readers) to depict Ric Waring and the other men who dived Carpathia’s wreck with the lyrical voice used in the historical chapters — inauthentic to who they are and the way they speak. The key was to find a balance so that the two voices harmonised.

I used the genre of narrative nonfiction to write Carpathia because I wanted to tell people a story – albeit true. One that would captivate them. Too often, the ‘standard’ nonfiction voice to which you refer fails to engage a reader’s mind and emotions, because it focuses on recounting facts, figures and dates. That’s easy. Enlivening nonfiction is much harder.

Can you tell us about the research that was involved with this book? Both the historical research and your interactions with Ric Waring and his diving team.

Jay: So much research! Too much to list it all here, but among other things it involved reading

reference works (at first, with a dictionary in one hand to look up all the nautical terminology), locating primary sources, reading historical news accounts, contacting Titanic experts and maritime archaeologists, and interviewing the divers. I even visited Las Vegas specifically to attend a Titanic exhibition, and in New Zealand I went for a cruise on TSS Earnslaw, the only remaining coal-fired passenger ship in the southern hemisphere (where they allowed me into the normally restricted engine room and let me throw some coal in the boiler’s furnace, and to visit the bridge and steer the ship!)

I also went on a research trip to the United Kingdom, which was funded by the University of the Sunshine Coast. This involved visits to multiple information repositories. The major ones included, in London: The National Archives, and the National Maritime Museum; in Liverpool: the University of Liverpool, and the Merseyside Maritime Museum; in Newcastle: the Tyne and Wear Archives, and the Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum; and in Belfast: the Titanic Belfast Museum and Slipways. Because it was winter in England, the nights were long and it was always dark when I entered and exited the archives. For weeks, it was like living in perpetual night. While researching Carpathia, I remember missing the sun for the first time in my life.

In Manchester, I stayed with Ric Waring and interviewed him about his experiences diving Carpathia. Ric was very patient with me, because at that stage I knew next to nothing about any kind of diving, much less technical diving – the kind of deep diving required to dive Carpathia – which is highly specialised and very dangerous. The rest of the team also shared stories with me, but because they were spread over the UK, Italy and Germany, I focused on Ric, who was the 2007 expedition leader. I was quite nervous about meeting him, but he was welcoming and very forthright about his experiences — the good, the bad and the funny.

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What were some of the most interesting facts you uncovered during your research?

One of the most interesting archival documents I located was a letter written by Charles H. Marshall to Cunard, concerning the naming of Carpathia. This was quite extraordinary because Marshall was actually a passenger aboard Carpathia when she went to rescue the Titanic’s survivors, amongst whom were three of his grown nieces!

I also found records and photographs indicating that 2,000-year-old stones from Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO world-heritage listed Roman site, were displayed in a glass case aboard Carpathia. In the book, the stones are portrayed as her sunken treasure. Previously, I’d only ever seen brief mentions that the end of Hadrian’s Wall had been found in the shipyard while Carpathia was being built — never that the stones were placed aboard her.

Finally, after a great deal of time and effort, I uncovered the real name of the baby born on Carpathia’s maiden voyage and heretofore known only as ‘Carpathius’ —  but I’m not going to spoil that scene by revealing the name here!

What challenges did you encounter while writing a historical non-fiction narrative?

I love history and I wanted to tell the reader absolutely every interesting thing I discovered. And I thought everything was interesting! When I send an early draft to my supervisor, Dr Ross Watkins, he, very constructively, told me it was boring. I’d forsaken the story in favour of reciting facts — the antithesis of what I was trying to achieve when I chose narrative nonfiction as my genre. When I became aware of the problem, it was still incredibly difficult to resolve because I struggled against privileging my desires over the needs of the narrative. In the end, I had to reconcile myself to writing drafts that were factually overwritten. I could only resolve this kind of overwriting during the editing process, after giving myself time and distance so I could evaluate the text more objectively. Only then, could I ‘kill my darling’ extraneous facts.

Can you tell us a little bit about your routine? Are you a morning person or night person? Do you write every day? Do you research and write at the same time? Do you outline? 

Jay: I won’t start writing until I’m satisfied I’ve done enough preliminary research — that’s not to say all the research will be done before I put fingers to keyboard – far from it, but I’m a plotter and I need to know my organising structure (or at least the beginning, conflict, climax and ending) before I begin. This gives me direction. Once I start writing, I’m still always researching, but then I’m seeking the type of information needed to construct scenes and create verisimilitude. I work best during the day, which can be a little difficult since I’m also a night owl. When I’m at the writing stage of a project, I treat it like a job and do it every day.

There are two strategies I found particularly useful for writing historical nonfiction. During the research stage I created a detailed timeline of events relating to Carpathia. I compiled the information from the many sources I consulted, adding fact after fact to create a more comprehensive history of her than any single source offered. It was extraordinarily useful to have a chronological timeline that I could refer to, even though the book’s plot is not structured chronologically. The timeline was fully referenced so that I always knew from where the information came. Then, when writing the book, I used footnotes (always intending to remove them in the finished version) to continue to maintain that link with the original source. This was a huge help when my editor was fact checking, and I had to confirm the validity of something that was being queried.

I usually only do a written outline if I have a limited word count. I’ll note what I need to achieve per 500 or 1,000 words, so that I don’t hit my limit and discover that I’m only half done with no words left. If there is no word limit (or its several tens of thousands), most commonly, I just begin writing. This is because by the time I’m ready to begin I always have a mental plan and know where I’m going to start. Things usually flow organically from there, because of the mulling I’ve done beforehand. Then, at about the halfway mark, I’ll assess what I’ve done, make a list of scenes I still need to write (I have a better idea of them by this point) and continue. After completing a chapter I’ll often do a one-paragraph summary so that I don’t forget what I wrote in that chapter or what threads I’ve left hanging. Excepting major plot points, I usually work out the details of a scene during the act of writing. It’s part instinctual, but always informed by that preliminary research and mulling.

If you would like to find out more about Jay, all her contact details are below. Carpathia is available in bookstores now or can purchase directly here.

Dr Jay Ludowyke

Email: jay@jayludowyke.com

Website: www.jayludowyke.com

Twitter: @JayLudowyke

Facebook: JayLudowykeAuthor

 

 

 

 

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Why You Should Reread Books

I love re-watching movies. Well…to clarify, I love re-watching movies that I love. Unsurprisingly, I also love rereading books that I love. Though, to be honest, rereading a beloved book from start to finish is a rare event. I certainly have done this – ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ have both had three complete read-throughs –  but I am far more likely to reread a favourite scene or to follow a story thread through multiple chapters.

Similarly, I don’t always re-watch movies from start to finish, but since movies are typically 2-3 hours long whereas a novel can take 6-30 hours to read, depending on word count and complexity, the time required to watch a movie is far less.

Part of the value of re-watching a film is that you will notice things you missed the first time. Given that film is a visual medium, there is so much information contained within each and every shot. The first time you watch a movie, your attention will be on the foreground action, but by re-watching a film you can choose to pay closer attention to dialogue, character mannerism, the set, background action and so on. For example, a character may make a seemingly through-away comment and it is only through re-watching that you realise it was actually clever foreshadowing.

This is what re-watching offers, the ability to see all of the small details that the creators have both intentionally and perhaps unintentionally placed within the narrative. Of course, this same witnessing and pleasure also occurs when rereading, however, the effect is slightly different. There will inevitably be occasions when you zone out while reading or you miss a snippet of information, but when you’re reading, your attention is solely on the text itself. Of course, in the same way that film contains multiple levels of action, so do books. Beneath the foreground action and story beats lie layers of foreshadowing, theme, double meanings, concealed information and character motivations.

You don’t have to look beneath the hood, you can enjoy the trip from A to B, but it is through the process of close reading and critical thinking that a book will ignite. If you give a book the attention and consideration it deserves, then it will last you a lifetime.

You may not realise this, but books and films are time travel devices.

Temporal narratives are a genre all their own, but I would argue that all books and films are time machines. Whether you consume this content for the second, third or umpteenth time, the story remains the same. As you may be aware, time travel is not possible – yet! – but revisiting a beloved movie or book is a type of time travel.

I can never go back and re-experience the first time I met my partner, but I can read about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s first encounter whenever I want.

I will never again pass through the chain-link fence of my high school (not that I’d want to…), but I can reread the prom scene from ‘Carrie’.

There are two ways in which movies and books act as time travel devices.

The first is that they can transport you to times and places you would otherwise not be able to access. I can cross the Tudor court while reading ‘Wolf Hall’ or dive into a WWI trench while reading ‘Fall of Giants’. Historical novels allow me to travel into the past and to access the knowledge that only comes with personally lived experience. I can travel into the far future by reading science fiction or travel to another dimension or world by reading fantasy.

Books and movies have the power to turn your couch into a time machine. They allow you to step out of linear time and into other spaces and places, but they also provide the opportunity to re-experience a moment, in real time, exactly as it first occurred.

There are a handful of days in my own life that I’d do just about anything to re-live. Yes, it’s true that you can attempt to re-experience a memory but returning to the physical place with the same people, but time has passed and you aren’t the same. You can close your eyes and recall the memory. You can pretend to feel the Californian sun, to hear the crackle of leaves and to smell the Malibu spray mingling with fresh cut chips and chardonnay, but it’s not real. You can never authentically re-experience a moment from your past, but books and movies are different. The way a character’s life unfolds, the adventures they go on and how they feel about those experiences never changes.

Though your opinion of the art may change over time, though you may sometimes feel disconnected from the story or bored by its familiarity, the story itself hasn’t changed. Sometimes though, when the stars aligned and you are in the exact right mood and the craving for a particular experience hits, you can crack back the cover of a book or hit the play button and know that the story will meet your expectations exactly. And that feeling is pretty sublime.

It is true that you can only read a book for the first time once, but you can re-experience the story again and again, whenever you want and for as long as you want. It’s a small, humble pleasure yes, but it’s a relief to know that while I cannot go back to that Californian day, I can cross the moorlands and visit Wuthering Heights, I can feel the weight of stone in Jack Builders hand, and the sting of Alma Whittaker’s heartbreak. I can experience these memories in all their authenticity, any damn time I please.