Competitions & opportunities

Picture of writing in a book

Competitions & opportunities

There’s only one way to get yourself noticed as a writer.

You’re writing because you want to read, correct? So you need to take a chance on your work being seen by those know. Entering short story, unpublished manuscript or poetry competitions is a great way to firstly, get your writing chops moving, and secondly, get your name circulating where it counts – within the world of readers, writers, editors and publishers.

Whether you’re new to the game or have been doodling away for years, if your words are staying hidden on your computer or smart phone, in your bottom draw or journal, you’re never going to know the satisfaction of being published.

Of course, before sending off any submission, you’ll want it to be the best it can be: polished and proofread. Workshopping through a writing group, engaging a beta reader or a professional editor will increase your chances multi-fold. If a judge spots errors in your first few paragraphs, or they can see you have no idea about point of view, character development and story arcs, I can assure you they won’t read any further – and why should they? If you can’t be bothered to put in your best effort, why should they give you their valuable time?

So go to it!

Below is the link to Writers Victoria current list of competitions and writing opportunities. Good luck and remember:  Rejection is not failure, but a step closer to your goal. 

Writers Victoria – Opportunities and Competitions


Editing: A Strange Life

Editing is a strange life

Editing is a strange life

Any writer knows that the creative mind is a tenuous friend, given to disappearing just when you need it most. You think you’ll never speak again, that the relationship has desiccated into a hot crumbly mess you could use as chili flakes. But then, like a cool fifty bucks you find in the pocket lining of your favourite jacket, your friend, your motivation, creativity, angel, muse — whatever you like to call it — comes sneaking up from the land of who-knows-where and suddenly you remember why you’re a writer. Editing is seen as different — the sobre part of the process. But it’s just as easy to lose yourself.

Freelance Editing is solitary. You forget the time and day. You forget what you did yesterday, what you did this morning. The only thing you never forget is there’s chocolate and coffee in the kitchen (red wine anyone?).  And since I’m an adult, how I take my breakfast caffeine is my business.

Being trusted with someone else’s work is also strange. Editing isn’t the black and white, right or wrong, clickity-clack straight railway line job people often perceive it to be.

‘Really? You’re an editor? What do you do? Fix spelling and grammar and stuff?’

‘Sure. But there’s also syntax, and voice — the personality of the author or narrator that shines through the text. There’s meaning — what are they trying to say? There’s arcs — story and character. For non-fiction, there’s flow and fact. How does it all hang together? And there’s the author themselves to consider: how you communicate with them without breaking their spirit.’

*pause to check the person is still awake*

‘There’s a subtlety involved. It’s subjective and rule bendy. It’s a tightrope walk: you’re dealing with someone else’s energy, their hopes, their passion. Sometimes a manuscript is akin to a first child.’

‘Zzzzz.’

‘Hello? You still there?’

Chops are tough. Not the meat kind, the Kill Your Darlings kind. Cut, cuts, cuts. Even though you know words have to go because they’re repetitive, or misused, or misplaced, or they drag the pace into a pit of no return, the process can be uncomfortable. Yes, cuts make the text and story tighter, and therefore give the manuscript a better chance of getting published (and that’s what we’re paid to do), but there’s also a chance the cuts are going to whack a sensitive author’s ego over the head with a wet fish. A large, smelly, heavy tuna fish. The upside is, if you handle that fish gently (perhaps fillet it before serving) the author will get over it and on with it, and show their appreciation.

Handling authors gently is a talent in itself. In my first year of study, I thought it would be fun to insert some humour into my feedback comments on an author’s manuscript. I didn’t personally know the author I was assigned to, and as it turned out she took great offence. It made me stop and reflect how I would’ve felt receiving that kind of feedback in my early days of writing. I subsequently apologised, several times. Luckily she’s a gracious person and we’re still friends. Lesson learnt. Gently does it.

Clear Communication: I’m probably an over-communicator. I need to know the author understands exactly what I’m doing for them. Even if it’s not what they’ve initially asked for — because I’ve had to extrapolate what they actually need done. My worst nightmare is a client getting their manuscript back and going WTH????? To avoid this, I respond to each client in writing, laying out exactly what we’ve verbally agreed on: the type of editing required, the word count, rates, expected completion dates and response times. It’s a fail-safe for down the track, especially if the direction of the project changes along the way.

Don’t Hide. When I was starting out, my first project was a piece of cake: fiction with a clear story that only needed a light line edit, plus a tad of structural editing. My second project was enormous and I accepted it not realising the time frame I quoted was way out of whack with the amount of work required. Apart from giving a fixed price and doing myself out of quite a few hundred dollars, I was feeling stressed because of the time it was taking me — it was a clever and complex story but with an unusual and inconsistent voice that required nearly every line to be edited. To counteract my fears of ruining my reputation (by missing the deadline and disappointing my client), I kept in constant contact with him, being honest about the work I was doing and the time it was taking: I wanted to be thorough and not rush through. Being honest paid off and his appreciation for being kept in the loop meant there was no annoyance. This took an enormous pressure off me.

Boundaries. I have a setting on my phone that cuts off communication between certain hours. It’s easy for an author who’s in a panic to forget what time it is, or what day it is (sound familiar). I tell them my hours of availability, my response time, and I stick to them. Sometimes it takes a bit of training, on both sides … I’ll just check my emails after dinner … wham! I’m thinking about my client’s curly question all night. Occasionally, I need to send a gentle reminder when a client is persistent. If I’m clever I can give them a distraction to keep their ferreting brains, or need for approval, at peace — a research project, or clarification of something unclear in their text.

Content is a personal decision. Sometimes a project might go against the grain of your beliefs, knowledge or advice. I once turned down an edit on a manuscript because I felt the content appeared to be misogynistic. It surprised me how strongly I felt about it. I pondered whether to be honest with the prospective client, or make up an excuse as to why I couldn’t do it. I chose honesty. Luckily, the author was an intelligent person and went away to reconsider his angle. He came back to me with a completely different manuscript and we developed an open, on-going working relationship (insert happy sigh here).

So it’s a strange life I’ve chosen. And if you’ve chosen it too, whether you’re a writer or an editor, like most creatives, you probably doubt yourself daily, or wonder where your next job will come from. When things are rolling along nicely and you have a mountain of work, you allow yourself to smile, to love what you do. When things are uncertain and you feel like a fraud, tell yourself:

Be patient.

Be brave.

Be yourself.

Strange is good.

 


Elderly person's hand

Wringing pain into writing

Wringing Pain into Writing: Many writers question whether they should take advantage of witnessed pain by incorporating their family or friends’ stories into their writing. Helen Garner is famous for it in ‘The Spare Room’. Lee Kofman has just released a glaringly honest account of her personal relationships in ‘The Dangerous Bride‘. I’ve been facing this dilemma recently with my own work, even though in my case I write fiction.

For my family, it’s a time rife with guilt, helplessness, yet humour. Guilt because we’re wondering if we’ve given up too early, helplessness because we simply don’t know what else could be done, humour because it’s the only way to cope.

Today, my father and I are transferring Mum, my step-mother, to a hospice. She won’t be coming back home. She has dementia. This is my father’s third marriage (my natural mother and first step-mother both died of cancer.) Current Mum has survived cancer too, only to succumb to this insidious disease.

The hospice is as nice as any modern, fresh, spacious and clean hospice can be, but it’s not home. Mum stalls outside her room. ‘No. No.’ It’s not hers. She doesn’t want it. Dad points to the picture of a collie dog on her door. Mum used to have a collie, Jordan. There’s a hint of recognition. Kathy, the hospice manager encourages Mum to come inside and look out the window — there’s a koala statue just outside, in the garden. Child-like, Mum shuffles in, coos at the window, then walks back out to the corridor.

While Dad retrieves her clothes and belongings from the car, I lead Mum outside to a grassy fenced-in garden. I’m grateful she’s distracted by the chicken and kangaroo statues. But her attention span is short and, tired of exploring, she wanders back inside to roam the corridors, eyes wide and mouth constantly working. ‘Where’s Dad?’ she asks. She no longer recognises that she has a husband.

We sit at a dining table with Kathy. Two other elderly residents sit across from us in the lounge, one inert in a recliner the other shifting her eyes between the television and us newcomers. There are plastic placemats with pictures of animals and birds. I move one with horses in front of Mum. In broken dialogue she manages to convey she used to ride horses on the sheep station where she grew up. Dad and I joke that I may be causing an upset if the residents come to dinner and find their placemats have been shifted.

We drink instant coffee while Kathy explains the admission procedure. She assures us that Mum will settle in after a week. It’s heart-breaking watching Mum stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, pick at things, wander the halls, ask to go home, stand up, sit down, grimace, wander the corridors again, ask to go home, try to open doors too heavy for her. Her mouth still works, her hands wring each other. Her expression is one of confusion and … panic? It’s hard to know what her damaged brain is processing.

Kathy is softly spoken. She offers us sympathy. ‘It’s a difficult time for you all. You’ll be feeling a lot of emotions, including guilt. Be kind to yourselves.’ At this point, I grit my teeth, force my face to freeze and picture my heart as a small, solid, steel box. Don’t be nice to us or I’ll cry. I swallow and ask about the DNR form she mentioned earlier. Practical. Be practical. Be strong.

The discussion dwindles to awkward glances of ‘do we leave now?’ We sneak away so as not to panic Mum. We’re heavy with a fusion of relief, self-loathing and sadness mixed with a clutching hope that we are doing the right thing. And if we are, why do we feel like cowards?

Conflicting emotions

What does a writer do with this emotional miasma? I’m doing it ‘write’ now. I’ve known this day was coming: years, when it was an early prognosis with a distant, inevitable end; months, when the insidious symptoms were too obvious to ignore; weeks, when I kept hoping for a reprieve from this horrible looming moment.

I experienced first-hand some of the cliches of Mum’s disease — the trembling hands and body, the half-formed sentences, the child-like tantrums and sudden joys at delusional imaginings. But from my father, I heard of more awkwardly embarrassing moments like pants being dropped in supermarkets, or unsettling yelling matches with ‘the people in the mirror’. I’m thankful I didn’t witness that; it would have touched some deep element of fear in me — is she seeing people from the ‘other side’? Or is it a basic symptom of brain malfunction? Either way, it’s confronting and terrifying.

So I observed, I stored away details, I derailed my emotions by incorporating them into the written word of my manuscript (an older YA fiction novel currently under submission). In the final stages of writing, it stunned me to know that life had handed me the missing pieces — the bits that coalesced the story, that solidified the characters and their relationships like an egg binds the ingredients of a cake, like the surface tension of a drop of water retains the liquid in one, whole, complete form. It was up to me to be brave enough to incorporate this ugly gift.

So I’m here now, with Dad, facing what we fear. And while I feel like a twig, offering miniscule support, my father is somehow surviving this constant tide of unfair crap life has handed him. And I see him as a sack of steel bearings: on the outside, he’s soft, malleable, worn down, world weary. On the inside, he’s intensely resilient, smiling for those of us that need it, placing one foot in front of the other to push through the shit life is throwing at him. Again. And Again.

And it’s only now I realise that this one day I’ve been dreading, the day I thought was the end, is only the beginning. For, like Noah Calhoun in The Notebook, my father will now have to sustain visits with a woman he loves dearly, a woman who will break his heart a little more each day, a woman who will swim in and out of reality and eventually lose whatever recognition she has of him.

Capitalising on Pain

And so it is for the teenage protagonist in my book: I gave Lauren’s mother dementia too. That’s a powerful, yet scary thing to say. While it’s not the core of the story, on one hand I feel like I’ve capitalised on my parent’s misfortune; on the other, I feel like I’m honouring their lives by sharing the deep ache of their lives.

Yes, there’s a risk that I may upset some family members by exploiting this horrible situation, but like many writers before me, I take a breath and move forward with unease. I steel myself by recognising that it’s a necessary step to making my writing resonate, and to perhaps showing other people who are suffering similar family tragedies that they’re not alone. That it’s okay to be frightened, to sometimes drop the ball, to ask for help, to learn and not fear the moment at hand. To know that you will survive and grow stronger than you think you are.

Otherwise, what’s the point of all this pain?

*Image source: Pixabay, Sabine van Erp, Nederland

diamonds_writing_process_blog_hope

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


kids_reading

The sound of proofreading

First impressions count, and 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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