How To Use Music To Fuel Your Writing

I’ve previously written about the different ways that writers can use music to enhance their creative process, but today I’m teaching through showing as I share how music inspired the writing of mystery novel, Every Time He Dies

To be fully transparent, I rarely listen to music when I am actually writing, but I definitely use music as a way to generate ideas and to brainstorm scenes.

If I do want to listen to music while I am writing, I often listen to classical music, nature sounds or any of the ‘white noise’ loop tracks found on the wonderful website, ambient-mixure.com (a personal fav is Sherlock’s Apartment). 

I can listen to music with lyrics when I’m editing, but I need to be careful as this too can drag or split my attention.

As a couple aside, I often find it difficult to hold conversations with someone or to concentrate on mentally demanding tasks if music is playing.

I would not describe myself as a natural musician (ton-deaf!), but I did grow up playing instruments (organ, piano, saxophone and guitar) and I desperately wanted to be a music journo when I was in my early-twenties (fortunately, I decided to go the much more lucrative route of becoming a writer, haha). So, when music is playing, my attention naturally drifts towards it. 

An affinity with music can be a hindrance or a source of inspiration depending on how you use it. 

For instance, there were several times during the drafting of Every Time He Dies where I got stuck on a scene or I realised that the direction of the book had to pivot and I wasn’t sure how to do it. When this happened, I popped on my headset, picked a favourite band or playlist and went out for a walk. 

In the same way that you can replay a music video in your mind, I would intentionally create a scene in my mind using the music and lyrics as inspiration. I imagined my characters in a particular scenario or having a certain exchanged and I allowed this creative ideation to continue through the full length of the song/s. 

If I needed to ‘unstick’ my brain, I would turn on some upbeat music and free write a scene featuring my characters or practice some writing exercise that featured my characters. Note: These scenes and exercises didn’t go into the book, it was just a way to loosen up by writing and to stop taking things so seriously. 

Sometimes I would listen to a song on repeat several times as it would shift me into the right mood or headspace that I needed to be in to write a particular scene. 

If you’re the kind of person that can write while listening to music, then good for you! But, if you are like me and you find that lyrics and intense instrument music is too distracting, then perhaps these other methods will work for you. 

There is more than one way to become inspired, and music has a way of shifting our mood and mindset quicker — I would argue — than any other art form. For this reason alone, music can be a powerful tool that all writers should have at their disposal. 

For those interested, here are some of my favourite bands that I listened to while working on ETHD:

Metallica
Apocalyptica
Alice in Chains
Lana Del Rey
Queens Of The Stone Age
Tracy Chapman
Johnny Cash
Kingswood
Tool
Alex Lahey
Vira Blue
CS Stone King

Do you listen to music while you write or do you use music to inspire or influence your story? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about it!


EVERY TIME HE DIES

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER + GIVEAWAY

‘Who knew that a book about murder, grief and disintegrated families could be so funny?’ – Paul WilliamsEverytimeHeDies_3D

‘A unique modern mystery that is one part psychic practices and one part police procedural. The fast pace, dynamic characters and intricate plot will keep readers hooked until the end.’ – Gregory James

‘It’s rare to find an Australian-set book of this scope and genre that could stand among its international peers and hold its own, but I won’t be surprised to see this book find its success in all corners of the crime genre reading world.’ – Shayla Morgansen

‘Can someone please make this into a TV series? This is a fabulous read and I want to see Liam and Daff on the small screen.’ – Carol Seeley


CLICK BELOW TO PREORDER NOW

Amazon Australia

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barns & Noble

Bookdepository

Booktopia

Kobo

Glose


PREORDER GIVEAWAY!

Everyone who preorders a copy of Every Time He Dies (paperback or ebook) will go into the draw to win one of THREE MAJOR GRAND PRIZES.

To celebrate the release of Every Time He Dies, I’m running an EPIC book giveaway. The three grand prize packs include signed copies of:

🎉Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
🎉Bordertown by Gregory James
🎉Haunted by Shayla Morgansen
🎉The Spark Ignites by Kathleen Kelly
🎉Every Time He Dies by Tara Louise East

IMG_1576

If you preorder a copy, simply take a snapshot of your proof of purchase and fill out the entry form here. 

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Everyone who preorders a copy will ALSO receive the first five chapters straight to their inbox. Not only will this tide you over until the book arrives, but it’s also my way of saying thanks!

Research: taking your book to the next level

Like everything else to do with writing, how and when you decided to conduct your research is a matter of style. In all honesty, you need to know yourself as a writer, because research can quickly become procrastination in a fancy suit.  

I chose to write my “first draft” (I’m not even sure what this means anymore) of Every Time He Dies before I started researching. The purpose of this exploratory draft was to get to know my characters better, to figure out the beats of the story, what the story was actually about and whose story it was. 

It was only later, during the revision process, that I fired up Google and went to town. 

Every Time He Dies is a mystery novel that centres around one major crime. As a result, I was Googling some pretty crazy things, such as: 

  • The decomposition rate of human bodies that are: buried, exposed to air, weighed down in water
  • The decomposition rate of human bodies in Summer vs Winter
  • Australia’s VLAD laws
  • Drug importations
  • Gang crime in Australia
  • Location of Police Academies in Australia
  • How do you embalm a body?
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Forensic evidence
  • Criminal Law, Australia

Don’t worry, I always made sure that I Googled “How to write a crime novel” before and after every research session. I also Googled “Puppy Images” as a palette cleanser.

Google is a great place to get some basic background information, but it can’t replace one-on-one interviews with industry professionals/experts. 

There are some details and nitty-gritty facts that you just can’t find online. 

Research adds credibility and believability to your writing.
Research adds credibility to your writing. 

Two of the central characters in ETHD have unusual jobs, Daff is an embalmer and Jon Lawrence is a Detective. Had I relied on Google to supply all my information, there would have been some seriously big errors in my manuscript. 

The thing is, Australia is pretty small. There was a ton of information on police departments and funeral homes in the US and the UK, but I struggled to find detail information on how these services operated in Australia.

Fortunately, I have a background in Journalism, so … I have no problems “cold calling” businesses and departments, introducing myself and seeing where my (well rehearsed) speel gets me. 

Cold calls can be effective, but of course, a far better option is to tap into your existing network. Trust me, someone will know exact person you need to speak to — you just have to ask!

For example, a couple of years ago, I enrolled in a masters course. On the first day, I met another student who was also writing a crime novel. Now, here’s the cool part, Greg was a former detective. Hallelujah! 

Greg decided that the masters course wasn’t for him, but I was smart enough to get his email address and to shout him a coffee in exchange for information. After that, I felt totally comfortable to send Greg an email whenever I needed a bit more detail about police procedure, lingo or his thoughts on certain “what would happen if?” scenarios. 

 I should also add that Greg is now a published author, his debut novel, Bordertown, came out earlier this year — so go buy it!

Bordertown by Gregory James
Bordertown by Gregory James

Later that same year, I was volunteering at a children’s writing festival, while waiting in the green room I started chatting with a lady who was on the cusp of having her debut novel, Becoming Aura, published (it wasn’t until four hours later that I found out she’d won the Queensland Literary Prize that year, the sneak). Anyway, we had a great time and I was desperate to make some new writing friends, so we exchanged phone numbers and organised a coffee date. 

We talked about the writing life and our current projects while sipping away at our cappacinos. When Liz found out that I was writing a crime novel, she immediately put me in contact with a friend of hers who was also a crime writer and an active police officer. Yet again, I sent an email off to a total stranger, offered to buy her coffee and then picked her brain. 

Here’s the thing …

When it comes to research, you’re never going to find facts or stories online that are as good as the ones shared by people who have lived that experience. 

This might sound all very easy, and look, finding cop contacts actually was pretty easy — I once exchanged email address with a cop [also a writer] after he’d given me a fine! Miss no opportunity, people! — but it took me two years to make contact with an embalmer. 

Research and writing
Me: waiting to find an embalmer that would talk to me!

At the time, I was studying away from home and was renting a spare room with a family. I had been cold calling and going into small funeral homes in the hopes that someone would be willing to talk to me. They weren’t. 

Exasperated, I was sharing this experience with my live-in family one night — thinking that at least I’d get a laugh out of this scenario — when someone said, “Why didn’t you say you wanted to talk to someone? I went to school with a fella whose family owns the biggest funeral parlour business on the coast.” She open her phone, found said person on Facebook and sent them a PM. Fast forward a week and I spent three hours interviewing one of the top embalmers in Australia. 

The crazy thing is, I had told everyone in that family what my book was about, but it wasn’t until I said that I wanted to interview someone from that industry that this connection finally happened. 

Here are some of the things I found out through my in-person emails that I couldn’t find out online:

  • Cop lingo
  • Australian police culture
  • What a typical day looks like (for a cop and an embalmer)
  • What training is involved
  • Career trajectory
  • The fact that Australian embalm procedures differs from the US and the UK because of our unique climate
  • What embalming chemicals smell like
  • What embalming rooms look and smell like
  • The typical equipment used every day 
  • Unusual requests/weirdest cases
  • The physical layout of workspaces
  • The dynamics between professionals, their colleagues and how they interact with the public
  • The worst part of the job
  • The best part of the job
  • How a cop/embalmer answers the question, “So, what do you do for a living?”
    (Best Answer: “Bricklayer, it has way less follow up questions.” [I may have put a similar line in the book, it was too good not too!])

It was these details that added credibility, authenticity and intrigue to the book. Several of my beta-readers said that the embalming scenes in ETHD were among their favourite because they “were so different.” 

I also interviewed psychics, mechanics, nurses and pharmacists, but that’s a whole other blog. 

Research can make a scene in your novel really pop
Interviewing an expert will provide you with insights and details that you won’t find online.

Finding the right professionals to interview can take a lot of time or no time at all, but it’s always worth the effort.

The two biggest boons to one-on-one interviewing are:

1. Access to fascinating and unique stories, details, information and insight into a particular workplace’s culture
2. Talking to an actual person is (often) far more interesting and quicker than trying to find information online. 

This second point is particularly important. Once you’ve conducted your initial interview with a professional, you have now created an invaluable resource. Over time, you will create your own customised Google: a network of contacts who will provide you with the exact information that you are looking for. 

The internet is a great source of information, but nothing beats direct contact with an industry professional.  


Every Time He Dies

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER + GIVEAWAY

‘Who knew that a book about murder, grief and disintegrated families could be so funny?’ – Paul WilliamsEverytimeHeDies_3D

‘A unique modern mystery that is one part psychic practices and one part police procedural. The fast pace, dynamic characters and intricate plot will keep readers hooked until the end.’ – Gregory James

‘It’s rare to find an Australian-set book of this scope and genre that could stand among its international peers and hold its own, but I won’t be surprised to see this book find its success in all corners of the crime genre reading world.’ – Shayla Morgansen

‘Can someone please make this into a TV series? This is a fabulous read and I want to see Liam and Daff on the small screen.’ – Carol Seeley


CLICK BELOW TO PREORDER NOW

Amazon Australia

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barns & Noble

Kobo

Glose


PREORDER GIVEAWAY!

Everyone who preorders a copy of Every Time He Dies (paperback or ebook) will go into the draw to win one of THREE MAJOR GRAND PRIZES.

To celebrate the release of Every Time He Dies, I’m running an EPIC book giveaway. The three grand prize packs include signed copies of:

🎉Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
🎉Bordertown by Gregory James
🎉Haunted by Shayla Morgansen
🎉The Spark Ignites by Kathleen Kelly
🎉Every Time He Dies by Tara Louise East

IMG_1576

If you preorder a copy, simply take a snapshot of your proof of purchase and fill out the entry form here. 

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Everyone who preorders a copy will ALSO receive the first five chapters straight to their inbox. Not only will this tide you over until the book arrives, but it’s also my way of saying thanks!

Why Keeping a Journal is Vital to your Creative Practice

I’ve written in the past about the value of keeping a creative journal: a place where you can reflect upon your current project while you are creating it, but this post is different. This post is about journaling in general and how this practice can help your writing. 

Perhaps you’ve kept a diary or a journal in the past; a place where you could record activities, events, meetings, or appointments. But have you ever kept a journal that recorded your observations, thoughts and feelings?

If you can become an observer to your own thoughts and feelings, then you will be able to articulate certain experiences and sensations better than a writer who doesn’t take the time to analyse or reflect upon their life. 

By recording and critically evaluating your behaviour, feelings and thoughts, you will begin to clarify what your core values and beliefs are. As a writer, you need to know where you stand on particular issues so that you can write about them from a conscious and informed stand-point. 

Do not get hung up on the ‘proper’ way to keep a journal. There is no right way to record or reflect upon your day. To begin with, you might like to keep a bullet-point journal where you list the day’s events in bullet form followed by a brief (1-2 sentence) description of your thoughts or feelings. Maybe you’d prefer to write a paragraph about one event.  If you lean towards the spiritual/mindfulness side of things, you might like to keep a gratitude journal where you list all the people, experiences and objects you are grateful for. If you’re more of a pessimist, you could always rename this exercise as a what’s not wrong right now list

Writing cannot be separated from living.

If our writing becomes too detached from lived experience or from the world, then our stories will fail to connect with readers. Our words will become flat, our characters dull and our plots predictable.

If truth is stranger than fiction, then what better inspiration can there be than the content of our own lives, community and world? 

Inspiration is ‘out there,’ but it’s through our internal processing that we can turn the messy, perplexing, beautiful, scary, dramatic and reverent event into gripping stories. 

Writing is not a purely intellectual activity. It is a combination of imagination and intellect.  As Virginia Woolf said, it is the result of “discipline and the creative fire.”

All brain and no heart leads to unremarkable writing. 

Journals are loose, unpredictable and creative. You can write about the weather, reflect upon the day’s events, record your sleep patterns and dreams, your goals, your disappointments, that shitty thing you did to X and all the ways you were incredibly generous to Y. You can riff on a topic that’s gotten you all fired up or write about how a certain book or movie made you feel. What did the storyteller do right? What would you change about it?

You don’t have to write in your journal every day, but taking the time to regularly reflect on your life is a good practice. Not only for your craft but also the development of you as a human being. You needn’t write for hours. Fifteen minutes is good; three pages is enough to satisfy Julia Cameron. 

Keeping a journal may seem self-indulgent or juvenile, but that’s simply a matter of perspective. Learning to meaningfully reflect on your life, behaviours and thought processes isn’t childish. If anything, it is the mark of a person who is brave enough to examine the beautiful and the disfigured facets within their own character. 

Writing will make you a better writing. Keeping a journal will make you better still. And I can think of no better time to start than right now.

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How To Your Daily Walk Part of Your Creative Practice

In previous posts, I’ve written about how walking in a relaxed state with an open mind can lead to creative insight and new ideas. In fact, many authors consider their daily walking a part of their creative practice, as they use this time to solve plot holes and other creative problems. 

The walking practice I’m going to unpack in this post is different.  

Instead of walking with the intention of observing your surroundings and allowing your mind to wander, this post is about walking with the intention of solving creative problems by concentrating on them intensely. Cal Newport refers to this practice as productive meditation.  

Productive Meditation: walking as a way to solve creative problems

I first heard of productive meditation when listening to a podcast with the aforementioned Newport — an Associate Professor at Georgetown University and author of six productivity books. The phrase productive meditation may sound like an oxymoron and hard-core meditators may find this term slightly blasphemous but don’t discredit this practice just yet. 

The intention of meditation is to become detached from your thoughts; the purpose of productive meditation is to hone your thoughts on a creative problem. In this way, both practices are requiring you to take control of your thoughts. Meditation is about focussing on a mantra or your breath where disruptive thoughts are acknowledged and released before the meditator returns their focus to the mantra or their breath. Productive meditation is about focusing on a creative problem in order to find a solution. The idea is that when your mind wanders, you notice this disruption and shift your focus back to the issue at hand. 

Productive meditation is its most effective when done while going for a long walk, 60-120 minutes. Walking activates parts of our brain that are dormant when we’re sitting. This is why we often coming up with fresh ideas, creative solutions or insights during an afternoon stroll. 

My Experience

I decided to experiment with productive meditation after listening to the interview with Cal Newport. At the time, I was dealing with a particularly sticky creative problem. As you may or may not know, I started a doctorate in creative writing earlier this year. My doctorate comprises of two components, a creative work (in my case, a novel) and an accompanying exegesis. 

My research covers multiple areas of study including, but not limited to, ecofeminism, Anthropogenic fiction, the trickster archetype and human-animal relations. 

The problem? 

I was struggling to pull these seemingly incongruous areas of study into one cohesive narrative. While the novel doesn’t have to explicitly reflect ALL my research, I was unsatisfied with the work as it currently stood.

Basically, I knew I could do better. 

So, I followed Newport’s advice. 

To be clear, productive meditation is not as easy as it sounds. You are not simply thinking while walking. No, in order to get the most out of this practice, you must push your mind to think harder and to actively look for new connections, possibilities and solutions. Little will be gained by lazily cycling through the facts you already know and repeating the familiar thoughts you’ve already had about this particular problem.  

You needn’t power walk, this process isn’t about exercise. A gentle stroll or amble is suffice – preferable in fact – because you want your attention to be focussed on the problem at hand. Your thoughts should be turned inwards, not outwards. That being said, creative idealisation is heightened again when walking outside in nature as opposed to urban settings or office stairwells … after all, you’re not going to find much inspiration in there! 

It’s also a good idea to take a notepad and pen with you to record any ideas or insights that occur during your walk. 

My first productive meditation session went for two hours and to be totally transparent, the first twenty minutes were incredibly difficult.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the thoughts that were cycling through my mind:

  • You don’t have time for this
  • You should be back at your desk reading that journal article/writing that paper/working on the next chapter/revising that other chapter/replying to that email blah blah blah
  • This is stupid
  • Screw you, Newport
  • This isn’t working
  • I can’t find a solution because there is no solution to find
  • I’ve painted myself into a corner
  • I’ve totally screwed up this research project, what the heck was I thinking?

Now, to be even more transparent … I was terrified of finding a solution. 

Let me elaborate.

The reason I was resisting this exercise is because I was afraid that I might come up with a solution that would require me to scrap the manuscript and start again.

This is an unwelcome thought for any writer. The idea that I may have to toss my 60,000 word draft in the bin was .. let’s say … disheartening. 

Despite these thoughts, I was determined to stick with the experiment, mostly because Newport’s anecdotes were so convincing. For the first 20-30 minutes, I really struggled to stretch my mind. My thoughts alternated between all the research I had gathered over the past six months and the novel’s premise; cycling and repeating the same information over and over. 

I could sense the connections that ran between these supposedly unrelated topics, but I couldn’t articulate what those threads were.

If these connections were a school of fish, then I was standing on the pier with neither a line nor bait. 

I kept walking and I kept thinking; hard. Slowly and painfully, the connections between my research and the manuscript started to become clearer. The fish swam closer to the surface of the lake. 

After an hour, something shifting. 

If there is one thing I learned from this exercise it is this: you must stick with this process until you experience that first shift. 

That first shift is the key to unlocking your thinking process. Like a domino effect or a chain-reaction, once that first new idea pops into your head, you’d be surprised how this dislodges creative blocks and new ideas start flooding trickling in. 

As I continued my walk, I pushed harder against the boundaries of my limited thinking. I actively sought out new solutions, stopping every ten minutes to write down whatever ideas came to me. This may all sound a little vague, so let me get super-specific. 

During this stage, my thought process looked a little like this:

  • How can the research be turned into the premise for a novel?
  • How else might the research be reflected in a novel?
    (Hint: this is one of the best ways to come up with better ideas. Don’t ever accept the first answer/solution your mind comes up with. Ask what other possibilities many exist. Dig a little deeper and try to come up with at least five responses to every question or problem). 
  • What do I really want the novel to be about? 
  • How big of a scale do I want this novel to be? 
  • How do I want people to feel when they read this novel?
  • Do I want the voice/style/tone to be warm/literary/moody/eerie?

These were the general question that eventually leads to the first BIG realisation. After that, I was able to drill down on the structure of the manuscript. Another 90 minutes of walking passed. I continued to write down ideas and to ask myself further questions. Eventually, I had clarified my ideas enough to sit down at a picnic table and to write a fresh outline. 

To be clear, this was a broad outline that filled two A4 pages. (I tried to follow Steven Pressfield’s method of a single page outline, but failed!)

The Take-Away?

Productive meditation is a very effective tool that can add great value to your creative practice. My project benefited so much from this process that I’ve decided to do one session every week. 

To date, I have only used these sessions as a way to develop my creative work, but I have no doubt that they would be equally beneficial for academic work such as outlining research papers or thesis chapters. 

If you choose to experiment with this method, then I urge you to fully commit to the process. Push yourself to break out of your cycling thinking, challenge yourself to find new solutions and stick with the walk for the allotted time period (60-120 minutes). 

If you do decide to give this method a whirl, please reply in the comments or send me an email. I’d love to hear about how this method works for other creatives.


 

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 3.51.18 pmWhile you’re here, be sure to join my email newsletter and gain instant access to your FREE downloadable copy of the Writer Kickstarter Pack: How to Start a Blog and Get Published. Plus, you’ll receive my weekly newsletter straight to your inbox every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog/vlog, updates and other exclusive content that I ONLY share via email.

 


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How to Include More Diversity in Your Fiction

The publishing industry is constantly improving in response to reader’s feedback and the natural progression of society and culture in general. For this reason, it is essential that writers challenge themselves to include more diversity in their fiction.

Think about it.

Every day we interact with people whose backgrounds, lifestyles and beliefs differ from our own. People with different ethnicities, sexual orientation, life experiences, physical and mental abilities, classes, education levels … you get the idea. People are different. However, this reality is not always been depicted in fiction or entertainment in general (tv shows, films and music).

When we start talking about the importance of diversity or representation in literature, the conversation quickly turns into a heated debate about appropriation: Who has the right to tell this person’s story?

Ann Patchett firmly believes that she can write about who and whatever she wants, but readers also have the right to tear her to shreds if she does a bad job. Other writers feel a little bit queasier at the prospect of including characters whose backgrounds differ too much from their own.

The way I see it, writers have three options:

  1. Don’t include a diverse cast
  2. Include a diverse cast, do a lot of research, and do it well (and deal with whatever fall out happens as a result)
  3. Include a diverse cast, but don’t make the story about diversity

# 1 / Don’t include a diverse cast

Does this option really need to be unpacked? I think the title speaks for itself. You are certainly welcome to continue the outdated legacy of writing novels about straight, white, western people.

# 2 / Include a diverse cast, do a lot of research, and do it well

 If you agree with Ann Patchett, then this may be the best option for you. If you are a white, straight female living in Hobart, Tasmania, no one is going to arrest you for writing lesbian erotica about two Nigerian refugees. Even if you do a good job, the reality is that some people will be VERY upset with you. If you have thick skin and a rock-solid justification for why you want to write this story, then go ahead.

People may not be happy with you, but if there is a story in your heart that is begging to be written, then you have to write it.

However, if you are writing about people whose background differ from your own, please do your research and do a lot of it. Read memoirs, interviews, blogs. Conduct your own interviews with actual people whose lives and experiences mirror those of your characters. And when the manuscript is done, hire sensitivity reader/s. Sensitivity readers are people who review your book and who assess the work for issues regarding representation, cultural accuracy, biases or insensitive language/depictions.

You can write about people from different background, but do it well and know why you want/need to write this novel.

#3 / Include a diverse cast but don’t make the story about diversity

If the above tactic is for brave writers, then this tactic is for ethical writers who are also cautious people pleasers. It is a lot easier—though that’s not to say easy—to include a diverse set of characters when the novel isn’t about their diversity. For example, some may argue that it is inappropriate for a white, straight female to write a coming-out story about an African teenage boy, but it is appropriate for that same writer to publish a novel about a female heroine whose best friend happens to be queer. See the difference?

You will still need to do a lot of research, but the pressure around articulating the internal experience/perspective of this character is eliminated because the story isn’t about sexual orientation, it’s about something else.    

This option has been used to great effect in contemporary YA dystopian novel and children’s book (though of course it also appears in adult fiction). The need to include more diversity within these two categories become very apparent in 2011 when YA authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo realised (during an online conversation) that their (respective) fiction become popular due to the setting: a fantastical version of Asian. This conversation quickly sparked the twitter movement #WeNeedDiverseInBooks and #DiversityinYa.

Adult writers feel that it is especially important to include more diversity in YA and children’s literature so that children and teenagers can see themselves in the fiction they are reading.

As author Walter Dean Meyers, said “[As] a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.”

Regardless of which option you chose – okay, hopefully, you are choosing option two or three – the literary landscape is changing alongside our broader social and cultural awareness of those who have been marginalised. Progress is a natural part of human nature. We need to grow, develop and do better. Including a diverse cast won’t solve all the world’s problems, but it is a step in the right direction. And I encourage you to take it.


 

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 3.51.18 pmWhile you’re here, be sure to join my email newsletter and gain instant access to your FREE downloadable copy of the Writer Kickstarter Pack: How to Start a Blog and Get Published. Plus, you’ll receive my weekly newsletter straight to your inbox every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog/vlog, updates and other exclusive content that I ONLY share via email.

 


 

Batching Your Tasks

As mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve recently started my doctorate. I’m presently enrolled fulltime, but the completing of this research investigation is hardly the only project on my plate. (Who the heck has ONE project on their plate anyway?)

Over the years, I developed a time blocking schedule where I worked towards the completion of tasks/goals by spending a little bit of time every day working on each task or goal. This meant that I shifted between 3-5 different projects every day and I would spend 1-3 hours on each task. Although I was constantly shifting gears, this system worked because I was strategic in how I organised the completing of these tasks.

For instances, I’m a morning person so my mornings were always spent working on high priority projects or projects that required a greater amount of cognitive or creative clarity such as novel writing, reading and analysing journal articles, or drafting/revising assignments. My energy is much lower in the afternoons, so I usually spent this time working on lighter tasks such as marketing, administration or research.

In between these tasks, I would frequently check my emails, ebook sales (published under a pen name), tend to domestic tasks (laundry/baking/candlestick making) or run personal errands.

For years, this flittering between tasks worked for me. I enjoyed the variety that came with each day and the satisfaction of daily, steady progress. This system suited me and my temperament and I had no problems winding down and switching off at the end of the day.

Then something changed. With no warning at all, the system that I had used to organise my life stopped working. Shifting between 3-5 tasks every day no longer felt invigorating or satisfying. Instead, I felt scatterbrained and overwhelmed. What made matters worse was that I could no longer switch off. I was waking up at 12am to the sound of my inner taskmaster reading out my to-do list. I had worked hard to train my brain to focus intensely on one task for a short period of time before switching to another task and now my brain didn’t know how to switch off.

The system that worked seamlessly for years was defunct. I needed to find a new system!

I first heard of ‘batching’ a couple of years ago, but I never gave it much thought. After all, I already had a system.

If you haven’t heard of this time managing technique, here’s the low down:
Batching is when you organise your day, week or month to the completing of one task or the completing of similar tasks. For example, my blog posts are written in real time. I spend a few hours every Thursday writing and revising a blog that is then posted on Friday. Rather than writing one blog every week, I could batch this task by dedicating one whole day to writing and editing enough blogs for a whole month.

This intense focus allows you to stay in the one headspace for an entire day/week/month rather than flittering between multiple tasks that require different levels of skill or concentration.

When it comes to batching, you choose the time frame and the task. You may want to dedicate a whole month to the completing of a major project, or you may dedicate a whole day to writing. Some tasks don’t require a whole day but you still want to stay in a similar headframe. If that’s the case, you could group similar tasks together such as domestic chores: houseworks/errands/bills or marketing: content creation/social media posts/ads/copywriting.

At the top of this post I mentioned how I used to constantly check my emails. While ‘batching’ a task like emails isn’t feasible for me, I have decided to dedicate one hour every day to this task. I’m not going to lie, it takes a lot of will power to do this. Checking my emailing became something I did whenever I needed a mini-break from whatever task I was working on. Email is disguised procrastination. It seems like you’re being ‘productive’, but usually you’re just wasting time. Don’t get me wrong, mini-breaks are good! Just don’t spend your mini-break in front of a screen checking email or social media. If you’re taking a mini-break, actually have a break. Stand up, move around or stare out the window.

How about you? Do you use the batching method or a different technique to get your tasks done?

 

 

 

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.