Was it Worth the Price of Admission?

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A few weeks ago I started working on the new show which Alexandra and I will be performing at the Melbourne Fringe festival in September. Currently titled ‘Fleur and Alexandra are Out of This World‘ it will be a pseudo-sequel to our last show, ‘Fleur and Alexandra Save the World’.

We’ve got a plot and we’ve started drafting the script, so we’re well on our way. I’m getting excited designing the puppets and set dressing and coming up with jokes and then late last week Alex suggested that we submit our script to a competition run by the Australian Writers Guild (AWG). I’d never heard of them, but apparently they’re THE people to talk to about writing for the screen/stage/radio in Australia.

The competition promised a cash prize which was to be used for development of the project, as well as the opportunity to pitch the Head of Comedy at the ABC. It looked good and I told Alex I was keen.

She did all the work to get the script from the first show into a screenplay format and down to 30 minutes, as well as most of the work to come up with plots for additional episodes (we needed to pitch six episodes).

Then we read the fine print – we had to be members of AWG. It was $210, double that of the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA). It didn’t really seem like something I wanted to sign up for, but if I wasn’t a member we couldn’t submit to the competition.

In the end I decided that it was worth it for the prize. I would do my best to get value out of the membership while I had it, but it got me thinking about the value of professional memberships, especially in the arts.

I’m a member of the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild, who meet once a month. The meetings and writing retreats are immensely valuable for both motivation and learning my craft. Writing is so often a solitary pursuit and meeting others in the flesh really helps you not feel alone.

I’ve been a member of the RWA, however the membership expired this month and I haven’t decided if I’ll renew it. I would have access to discounted rates for the conference, which I’m not going to this year, and to the online writing courses, but both of those can be purchased without membership, although one has to be a member to enter their competitions too.

I’ll do some more thinking about the pros and cons before committing. The RWA doesn’t have meetings I can attend regularly, which makes it feel like a much more ephemeral membership.

The tight-arse in me is skeptical of spending money on something for which I don’t earn any in return. Then again, I’ve paid for writing courses, I’ve paid for acting classes, I’ve paid for rehearsal spaces, and I’ve paid to record an EP.

Perhaps thinking of these things as strictly transactional is not helpful; measuring what’s put in against what comes out. It’s also possible that these transactions will have payoffs down the line. Networking with people in these memberships could end up creating an opportunity which bears fruit, or one day I’ll be rich and famous and all the money and time I put in will pay dividends.

We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. On the plus side, I now have a membership to AWG, an opportunity to win a sweet prize, and the seeds for four new shows. At least we won’t run out of material!

Hello 2018!

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I’m writing this a few days early because I’m going to a music festival over New Years. If you’ve read my Reflections on 2017 you’ll know that I’ve had a pretty productive year.

There were some ups and downs, especially this last week around Christmas. It’s always a weird time when people go away, have family commitments and there’s sort of nothing to do. It sounds relaxing but I find it hard.

My family lunch was good, my grandmother was mostly inoffensive. I was given a hammock and stand which I’m taking to the festival – it’s books in the hammock in the morning and music in the afternoon.

What are my goals for this year then, I hear you asking. Well, here they are:

  1. Win NaNoWriMo 2018
  2. Enter 5 writing competitions
  3. Redraft ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and publish it online (from 2017)
  4. ‘Fleur & Alexandra are Out of This World’ Melbourne Fringe Festival Show
  5. Edit ‘The Discovery of the Franklin’
  6. Submit ‘My Mothers Secret’ and ‘We Can’t Have Nice Things’ to publishers
  7. Perform with the new band regularly
  8. Two blogs per month

The big one in terms of time commitment is the Fringe Show. The show I did last year was a six-months-long intense project. We’ve already started work on the new show; we have a plot and we’re ready to start drafting the script. We’re already way ahead of where we were last time.

I’m also considering entering a self-published box set with a contemporary romance story of ~25k words. I think I could use the project I did for NaNoWriMo in 2017 for this, so that will be another job to put on the list if I commit to it.

I’m thinking of taking some evening acting classes. I’m a pretty confident performer and there is always room for learning and improvement.

On top of these goals I will do my best to make time for exercise, good eating, friends , live music and all that other normal stuff.

My blog activity over the last year has been a bit slack. I’m going to aim for two posts per month, but I also want to have good content. If I don’t have anything good to post, I won’t put anything up, but with all the projects I’m working on, I’m sure I’ll have material.

As always, 2017 had it’s highs and lows. It’s time to close that door, learn what I can and move into the next phase. I hope next year I’ll be in a more stable place and that stability enables me to create more consistently.

All the best for the new year. Bring it on 2018!!

 

Reflections on 2017

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve done over the year even though there are still two weeks left of 2017.

If I made a list of what I did this year it would be sort of inadequate to express what I’ve achieved. I’ll try to make this an interesting reflection on the things that went well and the things that didn’t go so well for me in 2017.

Writing

My commitment to my writing this year has had a few challenges. I finished a manuscript that I started last year in NaNoWriMo. It was 104,000 words at the end of the first draft in July. I pitched the manuscript to three publishers at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Brisbane in August. Of those three, two wanted to see it. I thought I was finally getting the hang of this writing thing.

Since then one has come back to me with a no, the other hasn’t yet replied.

I participated in a weekly workshop for much of the year. Unfortunately that workshop became something I dreaded and sucked the joy out of my writing. I suspect the other members didn’t like my style, and so looked for something positive to say, but it felt forced. As a result, I felt like a fool even when I got positive feedback.

I’ve also written about 50,000 words on a new story, this year’s NaNoWriMo project. I’m considering using it for a self-published collection coming out next year. The story is reasonably solid, and it will need a bit of work to get it into shape.

Finally, I entered three writing competitions. I had aimed for five, but it didn’t quite happen. Perhaps I could count my pitches as competitions.

I’ve learnt the valuable lesson that I can’t listen to all criticism all the time. Not least because it depends who you ask. Editing is a skill I’d like to improve however I became so disheartened trying to please everyone that I didn’t even want to read my own story. From now on I’ll try to be more discerning in taking on critique.

Music

I joined Hello Volume in September of 2015. The three band members and I got on well, we were great at improvising and jamming out new material and I really enjoyed the process. One of my goals for 2017 was to get Hello Volume performing regularly, as well as working on new material.

Unfortunately, as of last month, I am no longer the bassist for Hello Volume. My priorities for the band were not the same as the other members, and I chose to move onto another project which was more in line with my personal goals.

Hello Volume played a number of cool gigs while I was involved: the Bendigo Hotel and the Workers Club, and open mics at Cherry Bar and Mr Boogie Man Bar. Thanks for jamming with me.

I wish the band all the best for the future and I’ll keep you in the loop with regards to my new project.

Day Job

I’m slowly coming to accept most art creators have a day job. There are lucky humans out there who make their living from their art, and that gives me hope. Most creative people I’ve met over the last year have jobs in the ‘real’ world.

It doesn’t make me any less of an artist that I have a job. I keep telling myself that. Artists have to make opportunities for themselves, self-publishing or putting on an independent show, or finding music performance opportunities, for the love of the art. If there’s some monetary reward then that’s a bonus.

It saddens me the world is structured like this. We are a society who doesn’t like paying for art. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. I work hard for my money and I often don’t value art with my dollars.

My day job has been going along pretty well since my new boss started in late July. It’s probably sadistic of me to say I feel validated she’s getting frustrated by the same roadblocks I was before she started.

 

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Relaxing with my backyard banana lounge and a book (not pictured)

Overall, I think I’ve achieved a lot and learned a lot this year. I’ve done many things I’d never done before. I coped with some pretty difficult life crap too, like being evicted from my home with three days notice (the building was unsafe) among other things.

I think I’m starting to get a handle on the things I need to do to keep myself happy. I’m allowing myself to sit with my feelings more, particularly anger and loneliness. After having four good friends move away from Melbourne last year I’ve been looking for new people to hang out with. It’s a slow process.

Next year is looking busy and exciting. I’ll be doing my annual New Year’s Goals soon so stay tuned!

Sixth Time Lucky

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This year I finished my NaNoWriMo on 28 November. My final word-count was 50,336 words.

The working title of my new book is ‘The Discovery of the Franklin’.Cover mockup
I mocked-up this cover while procrastinating doing my words one day.

The story is contemporary fiction with romantic elements. The main characters are sisters, Sarah and Katie Franklin, hence the title.

It needs a bit of work to make it a proper book; I ‘pantsed’ the plot.

As well as NaNoWriMo, November was a time of moving away from creative endeavours which weren’t serving me. I decided it was time to leave the band that I’d been playing with. I’m  jamming with some new people, so we’ll see where that goes.

I also decided to stop going to my weekly writing workshop. The criticism that I got from the workshop group, and from the teacher, really demotivated me. I tried to take it on board and incorporate it, but it was never enough. Criticism, like art, can be extremely subjective.

I have a lot of creative energy which wants to get out, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to expend it on stuff which isn’t bringing me joy. Things don’t have to last forever, and I’ve changed as I’ve gotten older.

Now I’m going to work on setting my new year goals, and take stock of whether I’ve achieved last year’s.

Feeling Powerless

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Last night I was at an event and I saw something I didn’t like. I was at a concert set up in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. I know the woman who runs the ticketing so I get to go to the concert for free in exchange for scanning tickets. I get paid too, but that’s not why I go.

Content Warning: male violence against women

So I was stationed outside the (very poorly sign-posted) VIP area. My job was to give people wrist bands when they showed me their ticket and then make sure that only people with wristbands went into the VIP section. I had a security guard with me keeping an eye on things.

illy publicity shot

Illy, performed at The Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne 18 November 2017, and was not involved in the incident in any way. Image taken from Illy’s publicity materials.

It was between sets, Thundamentals had just finished and the headliner, Illy,  was due to start in about 20 minutes when I saw it.

A man and a woman, in the VIP area, standing near the fence. They were clearly having a fight, the woman was crying. Then the man grabbed her by the back of her neck and put his head close to hers.

It had now gone from watching a couple have a tiff to witnessing an assault. The security guard next to me, a 53-year-old woman of Macedonian descent (I know both of these things because she told me), saw these two and stiffened but made no move to approach them.

I watched as the man spoke in her ear for several minutes. He released his hold on her neck. She moved to stand a foot or so away from him, arms folded. He held her upper arm and continued to speak to her.

I was too far away to hear what was being said but it was clear he was belittling her. He then hugged her. The first time he tried to embrace her, she flinched away, he went in again and she let him, but made no move to hug him back. The security guard seemed to relax, we both thought that maybe the situation was deescalating.

About five minutes later the woman pushed him away. I heard him say something along the lines of ‘you may as well just go home then, you stupid cunt.’ She left the VIP area, and I watched her walk to the exit. I kept an eye out for her for the next half an hour, till  the end of my shift, and she didn’t come back.

‘It’s better that they should be separated,’ the security guard said to me.

‘I was about to go over there myself,’ I said.

‘Yes, but you never know when it will go up.’

I had chosen my own comfort and safety while watching another woman, a woman who was clearly accustomed to being treated terribly, being assaulted.

Later another woman, a punter, came up and asked the security guard whether we’d seen it and why we hadn’t intervened. The security guard gave her the same explanation that she’d given me; that we don’t want to escalate into something more dangerous for her and for us.

But that seemed wrong to me. How can I feel comfortable standing by as a man assaulted a woman, threatened her, bullied her, destroyed her self-worth and reinforced his insidious hold over her? How can I justify that my inaction with the platitude that if I intervene it might be worse? She thinks she’s alone; that people around her didn’t care, or worse, that they thought she deserved it.

The whole thing made me feel dirty. I was complicit in the perpetuation of male violence against women by my inaction.

That old saying that the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you condone has been ringing in my ears today. I want something in my tool box for the next time this happens, because I know it will happen again.

Get the coffee pot ready

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It’s that time again, the lead up to NaNoWriMo. Each November hundreds of thousands of writers around the world commit to writing, the goal is to write a 50k word novel over the month, but writers can approach it however it suits them. I’ve done this month long writing sprint five times already (and I got 50k words each time). Talk about glutton for punishment, am I right?

Nanowrimo

It’s only a few days away and I haven’t got a story idea yet. I’m thinking maybe

more of a family saga than the relationship focused stories I’ve done in the past. I’ll put a romance into it, because I like that sort of thing, but the family dynamics is where my interest is at the moment.

A couple of times over the last month I’ve had conversations with people about my writing. I’ve told them them I have five novel length manuscripts in varying states of polish. Four of these have been submitted to traditional publishers but so far no one has chosen to pick them up.

Sometimes it feels hard to explain to people that I’m a writer when I haven’t had my stories published. I feel like they look at it as a badge of worth. Other writers, of course, understand that if is incredibly difficult to have your writing picked up by a traditional publisher. J.K. Rowling, famously, had eleven publishers reject Harry Potter, and Virginia Woolf published herself.

I know my work is developing and my style is becoming more clear with every project I do. People I’ve shown my work to have responded positively, but occasionally I have doubts. I’ve put a lot of hours into writing in the last six so years. It’s been a labour of love; I do it because, as tortured as the process can be sometimes, I like having written. I like that I’m a writer.

Whether I make it to being an ‘author’ with a traditionally published book remains to be seen. I’ll continue to write novels, and maybe only five people with ever read them. But maybe I’ll find an audience and it will make a difference to someone’s life.

For now, I’ll put the coffee pot on and get down to business. I’ll have to say no to social outings, because for the next month I need to write at least 1700 words a day. And I’ll do it, because I’m stubborn like that. You can follow my progress here. See you on the other side.

A Worthwhile Life

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27 minutes
is how long it takes my father to reply to my
happy birthday email.
He says his friends, ‘the great unwashed’, came to
sing around the piano to celebrate
the eightieth year he’s been alive.
I don’t send anything back.

75 minutes
is how long it takes to catch up
on the life of a friend. He nearly cries twice.
Money, and moving, and relationships.
‘I haven’t written much lately,’ he says.
I know what he means. His feeling is real and
mine is imagined.

50 minutes
is how long I spend with my therapist
once a month
because I can’t afford to see him more often.
I condense my problems into chunks
That fit into our allotment of time.

In 80 years, a person will live 29,220 days.
9,733 of those days are spent sleeping.
78 days waiting for a reply email.
217 days having coffee with friends.
About 20 days talking to a therapist.

A life cannot be distilled into accounting.
Sometimes it feels like the only way
to put one foot in front of the other.

Productivity Hacks – What are yours?

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Yesterday I was at the monthly Melbourne Romance Writers’ Guild meeting. We had special guest Anna Campbell come to speak to us about writing through the fear. Anna is a full time writer and she had a lot of great tips for making the most of your writing time.

One of the things which really stood out for me was the use of a productivity diary. It can be anything, but it’s somewhere to record the work you’ve done on your writing. One of the other participants suggested using Excel and the nerd in me was very excited. After the meeting I came home and made a spreadsheet:

Writing Tracker pic

It’s pretty simple, but it’s a way to keep you grounded about how much you’re actually producing. Anna said she was always surprised by how much she wrote when she looked back over her productivity diary. She said that a lot of her struggles with writing are based around ‘demons’ who tell her she isn’t good enough. Having a record of the writing she did over the month means she can tell the demons to get stuffed. I don’t know if it’ll work for me, but I’ll give it a try.

I’ve also started to think about what to do for NaNoWriMo this year. I’m going to use Lauren Clarke’s The Novel Handbook which I bought from her at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in mid-August. I found that with my last manuscript I was struggling to keep the characters straight in my head, to remember their eye colours, favourite foods etc. A story bible (try this one) like the productivity diary,  can be in whatever format suits you, but the purpose is to keep character, setting, and plot stuff handy so that you can refer to it.

As I was going through editing the manuscript I realised that I’d changed the names of three different minor characters. I got to a section, fairly late in the novel, and thought ‘Who is George?’ He was the main character’s father, originally named Ben. There were also two Renees.

The phrase ‘be ruthless in protecting your writing time’ has come up a number of times over the last month for me, and it’s really brought home the need for me to be disciplined. I’m good at sprinting, doing a lot of work over a relatively short period of time, but I haven’t developed a good sustainable pattern. I’ve blocked out Monday’s in my calendar for writing, and I am going to be ruthless about not booking other things during that time.

I’m going overseas at the start of October for three weeks. I’m taking a laptop with me so I hope that I’ll make some time to write. I’m going to take my Choose Your Own Adventure story with me; I’d like to have that edited by the time I get home. It might be fun just to put that up on the internet for people to read.

What are some of your techniques for squeezing out more writing time? Making use of dead time, not falling down a Netflix/YouTube hole, and doing short bursts, even if they’re only ten minutes, were all ways that I thought I might be able to scrounge some more time for writing.

Going Wild – 2017 RWA Conference

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I’ve been pretty busy lately, including this blog I wrote for the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild about my trip to Brisbane for the RWA conference.

Now I’m working on getting my manuscript ready to submit to some publishers ASAP to take advantage of the renewed enthusiasm from going to the conference.

I’ll update you all soon.

Is it ever ready?

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Last week I finished a manuscript. Well, I typed ‘The End’. It was a project I started as part of last year’s NaNoWriMo and ended up being 104,000 words; my longest manuscript to date. It sort of feels like I’ve finished it, but I know that the next step is starting the editing process.

I have another manuscript that I’ve submitted to a couple of competitions which I wrote a few years ago, and I was working on edits of that right up until the day before the competition. I’m still not sure whether I should rewrite whole chunks of it because it doesn’t work the way I hoped it would.

The thing is, there is always more work that can be done on a piece. I could rewrite some plot point, or change the point of view of a section. A couple of the earlier manuscripts I wrote, back before I knew about genre conventions and other such things, now feel like they need to be completely rewritten so they’re more like what people expect. Of course there is an argument for originality of structure, but I’m not sure how far I’ll get with that.

The problem I’m facing now is when do I call a project finished? I know I have to let go of things, not least because I’ll drive myself batty with boredom, but I’m also afraid that they’ll never be ready.

I wrote an epilogue for the most recent project and I felt so naff tying everything up so neatly. I know that some readers like that, especially in a romance novel, but I was spent the whole time writing it thinking it was the worst drivel I’d ever thought up.

I’m heading up to the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference in Brisbane in August. It was a lot of money, but I decided that it was worth it for the professional development, networking and opportunities. I’m not really sure what to expect, although people who I’ve spoken to about it have sung it’s praises. I plan to have a second draft of the manuscript ready by then so that I can send it straight to any publisher who might request it or even seem even vaguely interested.

Slowly but surely I’m working my way towards releasing a novel that I’ve written myself into the world.