Speed Dating Demons

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Speed date

Speed Dating Demons

I’m about to face my demons

This week I have cut myself off. From everyone and everything not writing related. It’s intense, euphoric and gloriously selfish. A week of me. A week of solid writing. Why? Preparation for today’s speed dating session. Not the romantic kind, but the literary, heart-stopping kind where I will put my passion on the line.

Held by Writers Victoria at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, the two hour session is an opportunity to pitch to ten major players. All I will have is a strict, three minute, face to face, opportunity with each publisher, to make them fall in love with my novel. Then I will hold my breath and watch carefully for their reaction.

It’s a confronting idea: I’ve spent the last six years thinking I can write. I’ve spent the last three years actually learning how to write. I’ve spent the last year and half working on my current manuscript and hardly contributing the household finances. Bless my dear husband.

This week I barely sleep. Character dialogue is like endlesss chatter in my mind, flawless chapters seem to develop huge plot holes, and one night I stay up until 6 a.m. writing because my character won’t shut up and she warns her words will disappear if I don’t get them into my computer right now.

One thing keeps running through my head. One frustrating, self-defeating thought: I have no idea what the core of my story is. I have no idea how to verbally encapsulate the essence of it in a one (maximum two) sentence logline. I need twenty sentences. Thirty. Forty. But I’m required to deliver it succinctly, and then give the whole story’s outline in less than fifty seconds. One minute in total. (We will need the other two minutes to answer questions).

I write, rewrite, ditch it all, write again, swap pitches, get and give feedback, and all I’m doing is making minute changes to the same logline and pitch. I know the truth is buried in there somewhere; it just won’t come to me. Don’t they understand there’s more to this novel than can be captured in one freakin’ sentence?

The story has changed form, characters have come and go, storylines have twisted so far I’ve have to rein them back to reality. Where the hell was I heading in the first place? Not where I’ve ended up. And it’s not even finished!

It takes remembering one comment during an earlier hefty discussion with my weekly workshop group (I’m an addict for having my chapters read and torn apart — okay, questioned in intricate detail by other authors like myself and then sulking for a week before I realise they’re right in their assessment) for the light to go on. It’s all so simple and one wonderfully insightful friend has said it already: ‘Lauren blames herself.’

It all falls into place. Thank you. Thank You!

The day is here. And I’m too excited to be nervous. I’ve gone to ridiculous lengths: I’ve learnt my logline and pitch by heart (though in the actual moment I’m so glad to have it on paper in front of me). I have put together awesome packages ready with my CV, pitch, synopsis and first five chapters — just in case.

While I wait in queues to see each publisher, I chat with other wannabes. It’s a great way to not lose my head because everyone here is just as invested as I am. All these (mostly) women have given their moments of stolen time to write. They all want the same thing: my publishing contract.

I take a seat with my first victim. She stops me twenty seconds into my pitch to tell me she needs to know the age of my protagonist up front. Rookie mistake. I thank her and keep ploughing. She says it’s a great plot but her policy is not to look at anything until the novel is complete. She says I should enter their YA competition when it opens early next year. She doesn’t give me her business card. I think I’ve been brushed off.

My next victim says she likes my pitch very much and she will keep it to read over again later. She’ll get back to me if she’s interested. Still no card though I’m feeling a little more hopeful.

My third try strikes gold. The publisher loves it. She wants to read me. I leave her table feeling like I have a golden ticket in my hand (it’s not, it’s her regular business card).

Fourth victim: I can’t really remember; I’m too high from the success of last one. I think this publisher liked it, she sounded interested. Told me to enter their YA competition. Wait. Was that another brush off? I wasn’t really listening. Did I say I was still high?

Fifth victim: ‘That’s an excellent pitch. I’m going to hand it over to our YA department.’

And bang! Time is up. Another four publishers and one agent sits untapped, probably as exhausted as the rest of us hopefuls. Now it’s the waiting game: waiting for the response from the big one, waiting for the other two possibilities to follow through (if they ever do), waiting for my protagonist to tell me if she wants to change her ending again: happy, heartbroken, or independently triumphant.

I’ve put my heart out there. It might come back chewed up and spat out, it might come back glowing with possibility. And if it does, the next round of waiting and hoping begins. Baby steps of agonised hope. There’s nothing to do now but keep writing.


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Pitch perfect

Tips on delivering the perfect pitch to a publisher

During my last semester at RMIT, where I did my Associate Degree in Professional Writing & Editing, my classmates and I were offered the valuable opportunity of pitching our manuscripts to two major publishers: Penguin and Text. I thought I would share some thoughts about the experience to help other newbie authors who feel their manuscript is at this stage.

We were all nervous, yet excited. We were given two minutes each to get our pitches across and then a further couple of minutes for questions from the publishers. Not a lot, granted, but it’s amazing what you can get across in a short period of time if you know your stuff.

The biggest lesson I took away from the event was not to be concerned about a ‘poker face’ or lack of enthusiasm from the publishers. In most cases, their reactions will have no bearing on the quality of your delivery – they’re just concentrating on listening to your pitch and where it might fit within their publication list.

And if they don’t show interest, well, you just keep on trying. It’s not the end of the world, or the end of your writing career. Chalk it up as experience. And the more experience you have, the better you will get at representing your manuscript.

Some students managed to get themselves all het up, as if this was their one big chance – forget it! Look upon this as a stepping stone. I’ve got a binder with rejection letters that I’m proud of; it means I’m moving through the stages that all successful authors have been through before achieving success. If you’re expecting to nail it first time, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Go easy. It’s just the beginning.

I found that knowing your story inside-out is the key to confidence. Showing that you care about your characters and their stories is what’s going to come across in your delivery.

Quick Tips:

  • remember this is a chance – not your only chance
  • be brief: make a list of around 6 – 8 key points and stick to them
  • open with genre, name of manuscript, name of protagonist
  • focus on your pitch and not your perceptions of the publisher
  • inject some humour into your delivery
  • make eye contact
  • show passion for your writing
  • don’t expect to be perfect, it’s okay to stumble: you’re only human
  • practise your pitch again and again until it rolls off your tongue
  • practise in front of a mirror
  • know your market and be able to name some comparison authors or books
  • leave arrogance at home and don’t tell the publishers what to think
  • say thank you for the opportunity

During my research on how to pitch, I came across the above YouTube video: Make your pitch! 12 finalists pitch to big Hollywood live at the Napa Valley Film Festival.  Enjoy!


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Diamonds

The writing process – Blog Hop

Diamonds don’t start out shiny

My gorgeous friend and fellow scribe, Nicole Hayes, author of YA novel Whole of My World, has asked me to participate in a Blog Hop, called ‘The Writing Process’.

I thought it might be a good opportunity for some introspective examination — a pause to stop, breathe, and look where I am — so here are the four simple questions accompanied by my, hopefully not too waffly, answers.

1. What am I working on?

Oh god! What am I not working on?

• Literary Fiction: a novel based on the universal and ever-present need for parental approval.

• YA Fiction: a coming of age story about an abused young girl learning to face her fear of relationships as she moves into adulthood.

• Adult Thriller: abduction and slavery in the South Seas.

• Romance: love set in the turbulence of cyclonic Far North Queensland.

• Plus: copywriting, blogs, the odd short story, website content, articles, plus my editing and proofreading work. I think I just ran out of breath there.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Okay, I was asked this question in last week and I had a crap answer then, but I’m sticking to it anyway: it’s hard to define because I’m enjoying a tasting plate of genres to find out what my favourite flavour is. I have, however, heard it said again and again that there are no new stories; the difference lies in how the stories are told. So I’m leaning towards what differentiates authors themselves: their voices. I’m either grabbed from the start or it’s not worth persisting with the struggle. That’s a scary thing, knowing you have to snaffle a reader with your very first words.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I’m a little crazy (all writers are IMO) and it’s in my nature to stretch myself. Over time I’ve learned to trust that path. Being brave enough to write the truth of our experiences, painful or joyful, embroidered in fictional characters or made bare in factual narratives, makes the writing real for others to experience. It works, it flows. Resisting the truth arrests the story. Ooh can I quote that?

4. How does my writing process work?

I’m a polisher. I can’t move on until my words, diamonds in the rough, have a reasonable shine. That doesn’t mean my words won’t get rewritten next time I read them. I’m a literary bottle of Mr Sheen and the words are never shiny enough.

That’s it. I’m done. Next Monday I’m passing the literary baton to one of my heroes and tutors at RMIT: Simmone Howell, author of Girl Defective, Notes from the Teenage Underground and Everything Beautiful. You can find Simmone here: www.simmonehowell.com.au


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TC where do you write

Where do you write?

I do it on the patio with TC

Where do you write? I once tried to do it in the bath. I visualised a leisurely, relaxed activity. I sat my iPad on a chair so I could reach over and type thoughts as they came to me. Dumb idea. Uncomfortable, wet-fingered, yoga-twisting awkwardness is what resulted. At least I can say I’ve tried it.

My favourite place to write is on our tiny front patio under a sun umbrella with one of our two cats supervising (see pic). That’s TC. He keeps his opinions to himself, even when I ask for them. He’s stubborn (or wise) like that. If he had opposable thumbs so he could bring me coffee he’d be purrrfect.

In bed first thing in the morning before distractions set in, is an incredibly productive option. Night time in bed doesn’t really work for me as I’m not a pen and paper girl and I have a noise-averse hubby (key taps can sound like whack-a-mole in the dead of the night) whose day job pays the mortgage and buys cat food. Fair enough, I need to eat too.

I’ve been told Hemingway liked to stand at a chest of drawers near a window in his bedroom, to write. *Goes off to visit good friend Google * True, it seems, and Hemingway wasn’t alone: Kierkegaard, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf were also fans of the vertical stance. Personally, I find being seated on my well-padded butt quite satisfactory for a writing position. The art is hard enough without tiring oneself out physically as well as mentally. Having said that, I’ll probably give it a try because I can.

So where else? I used to frequent a Borders Café to write. Sadly, it’s long gone now. It was perfect for eavesdropping on conversations—essential for picking up nuances in dialogue—and being surrounded by books has a settling effect on me. The tasty coffee and banana bread was a bonus. Your local library is always available for a quiet, disruptive-free zone. Again I think it’s the books thing, plus being around like-minded others with a similar energy is inspiring. Try it. If you get stuck writing you can always read and that’s just as productive.

The weirdest place I’ve written? Not so much weird as tense: making notes by flashlight, in a Far North Queensland community sports centre, with a category 5 cyclone in full force. With no power and a flat iPad battery, I had to resort to pen and paper. I felt terribly ‘authentic’, like an on-the-scene reporter, if that isn’t too wanky a concept.

If you choose to write while up a tree, on the loo, or on a pull-down tray in an aeroplane, do what works for you; words on the page is the aim. Your readers will never know.


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conflict

Stories from Conflict

Conflict can lead to creativity

Where do stories come from?

Some writers say the ideas simply float into their heads when they’re not really trying. Others like to brain-storm and think up a plethora of scenarios before they find the one that sits best.

I think the kernels of stories tend to come from our own everyday experiences: people we meet, situations we encounter, characters on television and in books, voices we’ve heard in a café or on a train ride. All this information is percolating in our brains and once our imaginations get a hold of that jumble, it feeds into our writerly minds, presenting us with a myriad of scenarios and characters.

Sorting through the tangle

It’s not so easy though. When stories do present themselves, they’re not something tangible we can grasp. We have to sit our butts down and let our fingers channel the ideas. In an interview with The Guardian, Tim Winton uses the metaphor of hunting to describe the story creation process: “You never look in the eyes of an animal. You never look at it directly, because it knows that you’re coming and runs away”. Isn’t it the truth? If we think too hard about the process it’s like the words slip through our keyboards instead of onto ours screens.

Running with an idea

Just yesterday, I picked up a new idea while sitting in my doctor’s waiting room (I’m fine thanks, if you were wondering). Although the scene I witnessed, involving an arrogant old man and a kindly nurse, left me angry, once I’d calmed I realised I’d been given the gift of a conflict I could develop into a short story or plot for a novel.

In his book ‘On Writing’, Stephen King says “The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question: What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot). What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo).

I applied this What-if scenario to my old man and the nurse and this is what I came up with:

What if an arrogant elderly man, who doesn’t want to wait a lousy ten minutes for his blood test:
– decides to chuck a tanty and knocks over a toxic sample, putting people’s lives in danger?
– kills the nurse with a knife protruding from the base of his walking stick?
– is beaten by his impatient wife when he gets home because he’s kept her waiting?

You know what? I used to think I was a nutcase for constantly creating tension in my mind from imagined conflicts: the dialogue between myself and the person who cut in line for coffee, or the person who took the parking spot I was waiting for, or the guard’s reaction if I lost my train pass before reaching my city stop. Now, I just let it happen and use it. There’s story fodder in every situation. Embrace it.


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baby proofreading

The sound of proofreading

First Impressions Count

Nothing says ‘novice writer’ more than sloppy mistakes. I can’t tell you how often I’ve cringed because a silly blooper has crept through my work. Usually, it’s because I’ve been a bit blase. Truly, it’s a form of laziness, not bothering to go back and read and re-read your own words before setting them loose on the world.

But sometimes, no matter how careful you’ve been, there’s still an occasional slippery sucker that’s got by you. More often than not, it’s a simple missing article like ‘a’ or ‘an’ or a tense issue like ‘has’ or ‘have’. Super easy to miss. That’s when a fresh pair of eyes comes in handy and our proofreading service is just what you need.

Asking friends or workshop buddies to review your manuscript is a great way to test your writing on fresh eyes, but you should be able to bring your work to a decent standard on your little old lonesome first.

I’m not talking about big picture issues like story and structure here; I’m talking about the actual words on the page.

Have a look at this:

mistakes

Did you pick up the two mistakes? Maybe you saw one but not the other (look for ‘the the’ twice). This is a great example of how our eyes can deceive us and see only what our mind wants us to see.

 

Solution 1: Read your work aloud. Nobody has to hear you, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed. Just tuck yourself away in a quiet corner, with a coffee, tea, wine, whisky—whatever does it for you—and verbalise every word on the page. Trust me, it works; mistakes will jump out at you.

Solution 2: Get your computer to speak it for you. How? Have a look at this link: Text-to-Speech Command. It only takes a few minutes to set up this facility and once it’s been added to your Word tool bar, all you have to do is highlight your text and click the ‘speak’ command. Voila! Grab a notepad, relax and listen. Not just for errors but for sentence structure and flow

Solution 3: Use our professional proofreading service. Just let us know your word count and we will provide you with a fixed quote.


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