Inside a Writer's Mind

Inside a Writer's Mind
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” -- Oscar Wilde

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Religion of the Future

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Albert Einstein

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Quotes From Kahlil Gibran

The Lebanese artist, poet and mystic, Kahlil Gibran (1833 - 1931), is one of my favourite writers.

He is perhaps most well known for his work, The Prophet, which is one of the most poignant and beautiful books I've ever read.

He is one of those writers whom I believe glimpsed the true purpose of our existence on this earth and his insights and truths filter through his poetic prose.

I would like to share some of my favourite quotes from his writing.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Wisdom is not in words;
Wisdom is meaning within words.
You may judge others only according to your knowledge of yourself. 
I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers. 
They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold;  And I deem them mad because they think my days have a price. 
Said a philosopher to a street sweeper, 'I pity you. Yours is a hard and dirty task.' And the street sweeper said, 'Thank you, sir. But tell me, what is your task?' And the philosopher answered, saying, 'I study man's mind, his deeds and his desires.' Then the street sweeper went on with his sweeping and said with a smile, 'I pity you too.'
If you enjoyed this, please consider taking a look at my novel: Seventeen Summers.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A Letter To A Writing Friend

This post is basically an email I sent to a writing friend in response to his request for the names of literary agents he might approach with his debut novel. I thought it might be useful for other aspiring authors.

* * *
Dear John,

Congratulations, first of all, for getting to the stage you are at with your novel. I know it is not easy and takes much perseverance and self belief.

I would be happy to suggest some literary agents to query, but first I would like to ask you a few questions, and, if you don't mind, make a few suggestions.

As far as the questions go, these are questions concerned with novel writing I have come across again and again. I think my writing journey would have been a bit smoother had I known to ask them of myself in the first place. Some of these things a prospective agent will want to know as well. I've tried to put them in the order I think will be most helpful.

Here goes:

What is the genre of your novel? (It's very important to be able to be clear about this, particularly for a first time author. Be sure to only contact agents who represent the genre you've written in. One of the problems I had with my novel was that it didn't seem to fit neatly into one genre.)

What is the word count? (Should be at least seventy to eighty thousand words, unless it's a young adult novel in which case fifty or sixty seems to be ok, according to what I've read at least.)

Have you put your manuscript away, after finishing it, for at least a couple months before you started rewriting it? (I think this is essential for the development of your novel. It will give you some distance from it and make easier for you to be objective when you go back to it. That is, it will help you to read it as "a reader", rather than as the author. What I'm trying to say here is that I wouldn't send your first draft to an agent. No matter how good it is now, it will be better after several rewrites. One British writer I read about
-- it could have been Emily Dickinson -- used to lock her manuscripts in a cupboard and give the key to her friend, along with instructions not to give the key back, no matter how many times she asked for it, for six months.)

Have you had your rewritten manuscript read and sought feedback from other writers/readers and then rewritten your manuscript several times more based on this feedback? (Having several people read your work and give you feedback is important -- although scary as hell -- and it helps you to be more objective about it. Getting it read by a manuscript appraiser might be something else you want to consider. If you decide you want to go there, I would recommend author/manuscript assessor, Sally Odgers, for a start -- she was cheap (about $150) and gave me a lot of useful feedback. I wouldn't recommend (redacted) as
he was expensive and less helpful, though very complimentary, which I guess was helpful in another sense. I'm not suggesting you toss out your vision for your novel in favour of trying to please or appease others, but trust me, you will be surprised at the things other readers pick up on that you've not seen or thought of. And ultimately your novel will benefit. A writing group or online community might also help with this -- more on this later.)

Have you had your MS professionally edited? (Based on what I've read, and been told, I think this is important to consider if you want your novel taken seriously. It will probably cost between one and two grand to get your novel line edited -- line editing is where the MS is edited line by line for consistency of punctuation, syntax and grammar, this is cheaper than developmental editing, where the MS is edited with a view to improving the overall story in terms of how engaging it and the characters are, how it flows, and how well it builds to a climax. If you get enough reader feedback though you are hopefully getting information you can use to do your own developmental editing. I would definitely consider getting it line edited once you've rewritten it several times and are convinced it's as good as you can make it. I used a US editor recommended on 'Predators and Editors' by the name of Michael Garrett. He was pretty good, but probably only worth it if you're going to submit to US agents or self publish online with Amazon Kindle or Smashwords. I don't know of any Australian or British editors that I can recommend.)

You could get the 'The Australian Writer's Marketplace' for information on Australian agents, editors, and publishers, or, 'The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook' for info relevant to the UK, for the USA there are a few, I have 'Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents'. I used the ‘Book Depository’ sites to order most of my books as they were cheap and quick -- be aware there are two, one ends with '.uk' and the other with '.org' I think, I mention this because their prices differ from book to book, so worth checking both.)

Are the opening paragraphs and pages of your novel the very best in the whole book? Do they set the tone? Intrigue the reader? Start mid action? Introduce the key characters and conflict? Are they absolutely perfect in terms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar? Do they make it impossible for a reader to put down your book without wanting to know what happens next? Do they sing like a baritone with the lungs and balls of a bull elephant on speed? (Sorry, got a bit carried away there... But seriously, they need to -- much to my frustration -- as these are all most agents want to see before they decide to request your MS or reject it. Usually the first five to ten pages of your novel, along with a synopsis and a query letter is all an agent wants to see. I can't stress enough how important the opening is. I read Hemingway rewrote the opening of one
of his novels over one hundred times -- maybe that's where the reference to the elephant came from.)

Do you have any other publishing credits? (Anything at all you've had published I would mention in your query letter.)

Is there a similar novel to yours in print and how is it selling? (If it's not selling well I wouldn't bother mentioning it. If it is, this is obviously a selling point. 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is fan fiction based on the Twilight series, and, I think, it derived a lot of its interest and sales momentum from that connection. It's a good idea to follow what's happening in publishing by doing some reading on sites like 'Publishers Marketplace'. It's also a good idea to check out debut novels that are selling well on Amazon, or that feature on other bestsellers lists, and to read them. These are your -- our --competition, and we can learn from them, not only in terms of how they wrote their novels, but also what is attracting particular agents' and publishers' attention. You can then find out who represented them and, hopefully, get an idea of who might be interested in the sort of thing you've written.)

Do you have a platform? (The US agents in particular seem obsessed with this. It basically means do you have a media platform; either social media, as in Facebook, Twitter, a blog or website with a significant following i.e. a ready made readership, or are you a celebrity, or an expert in your field if you've written non fiction? If you have a significant platform -- like the author of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' did -- some of the other things I've mentioned aren't as important because an agent/publisher knows you've already got a readership i.e. people who will shell out money to buy your book.)

Which agents should you query? (The books I mentioned earlier are a good place to start, as is the site 'Predators and Editors' and there are lots of other online resources to help you decide this also like 'Writer Beware' and 'Query Tracker'. See my blog for posts (the earlier ones) and links (on the right) that might help: . But ultimately this depends on what you've written as it has to be a "good fit" -- you'll read this term a lot -- for the agent to take it on. Basically, it needs to be something they've had success selling in the past. It's also a good idea to join an online writing community, or at least read their forums, to gather up to date information on agents, such as: . These communities can also be good places to get writing tips, get feedback on your work, as well as
querying information.)

Have you studied examples of, and practised repeatedly writing, a query letter and a synopsis before you sent either anywhere near an agent? (I didn't and I cringe when I look back at some of the stuff I sent out earlier on. Again, see my blog for links and posts that can help with this, in particular, 'Query Shark' and 'Nathan Bransford' -- heaps of great stuff on this ex-agent turned author's site that I suspect will be useful to you. I will forward you some of my query letters and synopses as well. But I can't stress enough the importance of the query letter, it is key to getting your foot in the door. Sending off a poorly written one is akin to farting in a job interview. The synopsis is also important and I found writing one extremely tricky. It’s easiest if you can summarise your novel in a sentence – in simplest terms: A wants B but must overcome C to get it -- which you then extend to a paragraph, and finally to a page or two. This is best done, I now realise, before actually writing the novel, rather than trying to do so afterwards.)

Why are you querying this agent? (I know the obvious answer is because you want them to represent you and your work. But I would find ways of personalising your query letter so the agent knows you haven't picked them randomly, perhaps by mentioning something you read on their blog or Twitter feed -- see below.)

Have you read the agent's submission guidelines? (Very important to do so, and to follow them. I would also suggest reading agents' blogs and following them on Twitter to get further insights into how they operate and to find out who is looking to read the sort of thing you've written. See below for websites and books to help with this also.)

And now to your original question about recommending agents. I’m attaching a spreadsheet of agents I’ve contacted or planned to contact.

I started off querying agents in the USA, for a few reasons. Firstly, there are so many of them -- thousands -- that I thought my chances may be better over there (I had one request to read the MS and she subsequently rejected it). Secondly, there are only ten or so literary agents in Australia and I didn't want to get rejected by all of them, before I had some idea of what I was doing. Thirdly, I figured by the time I exhausted my options in the US, my manuscript would be much better and I'd have a clearer idea as to how
the whole querying process worked, and therefore a better chance of getting 'picked up' when I started querying back here.

I recently started querying in Australia. Both Australian agents I queried requested the MS. I’ve not tried many of the British agencies, there are some on the spreadsheet though. And many more worth trying.

What I have learned about writing and seeking publication is that nothing good happens quickly. If you are determined to learn about the publication process and to keep writing, success, in some shape or form, is unavoidable. The key is to keep learning and never give up.

I hope this goes some way to answering your questions. I'm sorry this is so long.

We are all well and settling into our new life here. At the moment I'm juggling teaching and working on my second novel.

Hope the universe is treating you all kindly.


J. C.

* * *

P.S. If you have anything to say in response to any of the above, I would be keen to hear it. Please put it in a comment and post it. Thanks. (-:

Sunday, 14 October 2012


I've been reading a book on my recently acquired Kindle, titled, The Druid of Harley Street: The Spiritual Psychology of E. Graham Howe, by E. Graham Howe and William Stranger.

It is a selection of excerpts from essays and books written by the British psychologist E. Graham Howe.

I have been interested in Howe's writing since I first came across a reference to him some fifteen years ago while I was at university, in an essay by Henry Miller, called, The Wisdom of the Heart.

Chapter 9, The Wheel and the Road, begins thus:

Truth is not a plain tale. It cannot be told simply, as if it were in a straight line, with a beginning and an end, word for word, once and for all. It is too subtle, too manifold and too self-contradictory for that. Like hunters after our prey, we can have a shot at it with a quick-fire of words, and when we miss, shoot at it again from a different direction. Then, either all our shots must miss, or, if we hit it, we shall do injury to the truth, merely wounding it by our injustice. Then we must try again, but more as poets do, to catch it in a picture, and see a fleeting glimpse of it as it disappears like water through a sieve. In truth, the truth cannot caught or held nor simply told, because it is more subtle than the mind can see.

It has been my experience that all truth has at its core a paradox. A conflict. An opposition. If this is the nature of truth, and therefore the nature of life, it is little wonder then that living can be a confusing business. There is some solace, I find though, in knowing that it is meant to be thus.

* * *

If you found this interesting, please think about purchasing my novel: Seventeen Summers.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Another Writing Update

Apologies for not posting recently; I have been busy with family and work commitments and I've been spending my spare time working on my WIP.

I've temporarily shelved plans to independently publish my first novel as two Australian agents have recently requested to read it. (Excuse me a moment while I punch the air and make whooping sounds.) So I have decided to wait a little longer before committing to the path of self publishing.

I have found another helpful link for aspiring authors: The Creative Penn, by UK author and entrepreneur, Joanna Penn, is a blog I've found really useful in terms of gaining information and insights into how to make a career out of writing. It's well worth having a look through her previous posts for all sorts of instructional and inspiring stuff.

I hope your writing dreams are coming to fruition. But if you're not seeing it happen yet, don't give up the dream.

Keep writing!


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Writing Update

I've been following my own advice of late (see tips number #1 and #29 from previous post) and have been getting immersed in a new project. It's still in the embryonic stages, but I'm feeling enthused about writing in a way I haven't for a little while now. That can only be good.

I'm still shopping my completed novel around, though much more selectively these days. And I'm holding out quite a bit of hope for my most recent queries.

But more importantly, of late I've been reflecting on how much I've learned about writing these past two years. And already I'm seeing the benefits of this, significantly, with how quickly my current project is flowing from my brain (heart, soul, the universe etc. insert wherever it is you think stories come from) and onto the page/screen.

Following the writing process I outlined in my last post, along with drawing on everything I've read--'how to ...' books as well as many novels and short stories--has really helped to illuminate what previously seemed like a process akin to alchemy.

I hope your writing progress is going along swimmingly as well.

Let me know about your challenges and successes.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Writing Tips (Recipe for Writing a Novel)

  1. Write often, preferably at the same time everyday. Cultivate a writing writing habit as you would with exercise or any other activity you want to get better at.
  2. Write without the expectation of producing something good.
  3. Conceive of your story by constructing a one sentence embryo of your story: a one sentence synopsis (A wants/needs B but must overcome C to get it.) Develop this into a one paragraph (three sentence) synopsis. Develop this into a page (five to seven paragraph) synopsis.  
  4. Vary chapter beginnings and endings. Make them strong and memorable.
  5. Have your reader enter scenes as late as possible and get them out out as early as you can.
  6. Choose a setting that amplifies and resonates key themes.
  7. Be well researched and versed in all areas and aspects of your characters' story-world; their lives and your credibility depend on it.
  8. Have a clear central plot (storyline) and interweave subplots that are subordinate. Subplots should somehow reflect and enhance the main storyline.
  9. Characters be constructed so they have depth. Consider assigning characters conflicting habits, traits and features. Each character should represent a part of the human condition.
  10. All characters should change in some way in the course of the story.
  11. The protagonist must change and develop the most. He must face and overcome fears, obstacles, and the antagonist.
  12. Ways for the reader to learn about characters include: what a character does; what a character says; what other characters say about him; how other characters behave in response to him.
  13. The most effective settings are a crucible that protagonist and antagonist cannot readily escape.
  14. Conflict should be present on multiple levels: internal; interpersonal; external.
  15. Write your own story. Don't try to second guess popular trends.
  16. Incorporate a three act structure into your plot.
  17. Insert/include backstory only where necessary and only when the reader needs to know. Use a variety of techniques for delivering backstory. And drip-feed, don't info dump. Do not begin your novel with backstory.
  18. Start your story in motion -- in medias res for you Latin speaking winkers -- in the middle of some compelling conflict, action, or event.
  19. Be sure to include conflict, imagery, character and plot development on every page.
  20. Strong verbs and unusual verb and noun combinations power a story at word level.
  21. Vary sentence structure (syntax) and use it to 'pace' story and events. The same goes for paragraph structure, though briefer is almost always better. 
  22. Edit and repeat.
  23. Edit and repeat.
  24. Edit and repeat.
  25. Edit and repeat.
  26. Learn who and how to query.
  27. Continue learning who and how to query.
  28. Edit and repeat again.
  29. Whilst trying to solicit interest in completed project begin writing a new one. See step one. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A Sample Query Letter

 I've decided to post more about querying agents. I thought I would share an updated version of my query letter and one or two other things I've learned.

Firstly, I think it's important to look at querying as a process, potentially, a lengthy, ongoing one.

It's also important to work at building your knowledge and developing and refining your skills in this area, just like you would in any other.

I can tell you from personal experience, querying can be a disappointing and frustrating experience, particularly when you've worked hard on your project, and at researching your agent list and improving your letter.

But it's important not to give up and to continue to be open to new information and ways of working.

One tip I received recently, was, in addition to including the word "Query" in the email Subject line, to also state the project's title and genre. For example, the subject line in my email query read: "Query: Commercial-Literary; Title: SEVENTEEN SUMMERS."

Doing this ensures an agent/editor knows what they are about to read, and might help them determine when they want to read a query in that genre, that is, when they are most receptive to it. As I see it, this can only help your cause.

Below is the most recent query letter I used; I hope you find it useful.

Dear Ms. (Redacted):

Please consider reading my 72, 000 word, coming-of-age, commercial-literary novel, SEVENTEEN SUMMERS, a “displaced memoir” of hope and love, overcoming violence and hurt.

Teenager JAMES CAIN is struggling to breathe amidst the crush of a dysfunctional family and a prejudiced peer group with a herd mentality. But when he trips for a spunky girl of mixed race named SARA LINDS, he’s no idea the wild ride their intercultural relationship will unleash. Thrusting them on a passionate and confrontation filled journey of discovery, and understanding of themselves, one another, and the invading world.

Years later, married to Sara with a young family, but with the ghosts of the past still haunting him, James returns home for his estranged father’s funeral—at least growing up he’d thought he was his father. But if leaving town the first time was tough, going back is almost a killer.

I’ve taught high school English for several years and hold a BA in Communications (creative writing and journalism) and a Graduate Diploma (English) in Education. I’ve had poetry and short stories published (Ribbons of Steel Poems & Stories Anthology; Opus magazine).

I’m querying you as I am impressed with what I’ve read about you and believe this novel may suit your tastes.

As per your submission guidelines I’ve included the opening pages and a synopsis below.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


J. C. Phalene

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Querying Agents

I’ve decided to post on what I’ve learned about querying agents. I’m not claiming I’m an absolute authority on the subject, but I have picked up a few things which I think are helpful, and I’d like to share them.

Here they are in no particular order:

  • Be sure to research the agents you approach. Make sure they handle the category and genre you’ve written, and that, as far as you can tell, they’d be a good fit. Follow their blog and follow them on Twitter to gain more insights into what they’re looking for. Check out Predators and Editors. And consult a guide book to agents, such as Jeff Herman’s Guide To Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents.
  • Query them mid-week during office hours. Not over the weekend; an agent might have received hundreds of queries over the weekend and you don’t want yours lodged among them.
  • Be polite, respectful, and professional in all your dealings. You’ll be judged on the standard of your initial query letter, writing sample, and synopsis, as well as on any future correspondence (email included), so continue to be polite, respectful, and professional.
  • The opening sentence, paragraph, and pages of your manuscript are critical to getting an agent's attention. Make sure they draw the reader in and absolutely sing.
  • Don't: sound desperate (even if you are); come across as crazy (if you can help it; if you can't, never mind); mention previous failures of any kind, mention self-published work unless you sold thousands of units; forget to meticulously edit for comprehension, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and spelling; ramble on; say, "God told me to write this book." 
  • Do: highlight previous publishing credits; be positive in your tone; be succinct (300 words or under); meticulously edit for comprehension, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and spelling; carefully follow the "How to submit..." information from your agent's website; address your agent by their surname as you would in any business letter.
  • Research how to write a query letter. Spend lots of time researching how to write query letters, practise writing query letters, and seek feedback (repeatedly), before you send any out. For help check out:

Hope this helps. 

If you can add more tips, please do so via the comments.



Sunday, 1 July 2012

What To Write?

Write what you care about and understand. Writers should never try to outguess the marketplace in search of a salable idea; the simple truth is that all good books will eventually find a publisher if the writer tries hard enough, and a central secret to writing a good book is to write one that people like you will enjoy.
Richard North Patterson

Only write from your own passion, your own truth. That's the only thing you really know about, and anything else leads you away from the pulse.
Marianne Williamson

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.
Francis Bacon

You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft—then you can add all the genius you like.
Phyllis A. Whitney

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my book: Seventeen Summers. It's free!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

It’s All Down To Luck: But What’s Luck?

Over the years I’ve heard many people attribute the achievements of others to 'luck'. Often with a note of jealousy or resentment in their voice.

I once knew a man, who used to work as a buyer for a large department store. He told the story of a new buyer who had accidentally placed a pre-winter sized (very large) order for umbrellas with an overseas supplier in the spring, and for several weeks after was a laughing stock in the buyers' department. Not to mention in danger of losing his job.

That was, until the summer turned out to be one of the stormiest and wettest on record. And cargo ships delivering subsequent orders to other Sydney stores were delayed by the weather.

When the buyer later received an award for his his 'astute insight into the market', a colleague commented that it was all down to luck. His boss, overhearing the remark, replied, "Give me a lucky buyer any day."

This is one example of luck. But more often I think it works slightly differently. Typically, I believe 'luck' is derived from a combination of factors, which we help determine or create.

I came across this post on Writer Unboxed and it got me thinking about a quote I read recently. (If you follow me on Twitter, or read this blog regularly, you’ll know I'm fond of quotes.)

I’ll apologise in advance because I can’t remember where I saw this, and therefore I can’t attribute it. I’m not even sure exactly how it went, but the gist of it was something like this: “Luck is the coming together of preparation and opportunity.”

On reflection, what I took away from this quote and reading the post, was that preparation (on a material, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual level) combined with a willingness to try new things, even if they frighten us (especially if they frighten us), is key to getting 'luck' on our side and achieving anything we personally consider worthwhile in life.

So all the best of luck.

And, keep writing!

If you found this interesting please share it with your Twitter followers and Facebook friends.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

More (Online) Creative Writing Resources

Top 100 Creative Writing Blogs

I came across this site recently. As it says on the tin, it contains links to 100 Creative Writing Blogs -- I'm not sure I would categorise them as the top 100 out there, but you be the judge.

Even though this was posted in 2009, most of the links are active and the blogs (I visited) are regularly updated. A number of them I've seen recommended elsewhere and a few I've listed in my 'Useful Links For Writers'.

There seems to something for everyone here, regardless of your level of experience and the type of writing you enjoy.

On the site the blogs are categorised and there is a brief description of each; I've included the first five categories below and links for each blog, and in cases where a blog has been moved, a new link. Some links I've omitted because they are dead or the site lacked relevant content.

Here they are:

Aspiring Authors
Published Authors
Improving Your Craft

When I have time, I'll check out the rest of the links and post them as well. The category headings are below.

Grammar and Editing
Getting Published
Genre Focused
Fiction Writing

Hope you find this useful.

Keep writing!

Desiderata (Wikipedia Version)

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let not this blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy. 

Max Ehrmann

I found this copy of the Desiderata here.

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my book: Seventeen Summers. It's free!

Saturday, 9 June 2012


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

                               Rudyard Kipling

Friday, 8 June 2012

Novel Writing: the "Snowflake Method"

Useful Writing Resources

One useful and illuminating site I first came across a few years ago, was Randy Ingermanson's

At the time I didn't have a clue about how to begin writing a novel. (And truth be told, I'm still learning every time I sit down to read or write.)

But what I struggled with most, was how to actually structure a novel (in terms of plot, chapters, scenes, character development, narrative point of view etc.) so that all the parts worked in synchronisation, to tell a memorable story, worthy of several hours of a reader's life.

This was one of the earliest resources I found online that offered up a blueprint for making order out of the seemingly chaotic task of writing my first novel.

And while Mr Ingersmanson does charge for some of his resources, a number of them are free (and quite useful).

On that note I have included links to the free resources below.

They are:
As an afterthought, if you enjoyed this, you might like to take a look at my novel: SEVENTEEN SUMMERS.

Keep writing!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Another Hemingway Quote

"All good books are alike in that they are truer
than if they had really happened, and after you
are finished reading one you will feel that
all that happened to you and afterwards
it all belongs to you: the good and
the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse
and sorrow, the people and the
places and how the weather
was. If you can get so
that you can give that
to people, then you
are a writer."

Hemingway - By-Line; "Old Newsman Writes: A Letter from Cuba"; (pg. 184)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Honour The Dreamer

“Our essential mistrust of the dreamer leads us to cripple him or her with restrictions of all sorts. We seem not to understand that the basic wealth of our country - wealth and emotional health - comes from our creative spirit. Even [...] with statistics that prove that our movies, music, television shows, and inventions are our biggest exports in real dollar terms, we still honor the money-counters and money-changers above the inventors and dreamers, who give them something to count and change.”

- Erica Jong
May 1991

Monday, 4 June 2012


As we travel along our life's path we encounter many obstacles and impediments to our progress;

as we learn to negotiate the twists and turns, we become more adept at dealing with the difficult times and the periods of confusion.

It is only through facing these challenges, head-on, that any progress can be made.

By that I mean, in dealing with the various crises that arise, we learn about life; what it is, and more importantly, what it is not.

At the same time we learn about ourselves, both who we are and who we may become. 

There are many people who will try to answer these questions for us, each with their own motivation for doing so. 

But we must resist falling into the moulds that others have cast for us, and endeavour to find out for ourselves who we are and what our place is in the world;

the answer to this question is different for each of us and it is often a painful and distressing process to address it. 

But address it we must, if we wish to live authentic fulfilling lives, rather than superficial charades.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Creative Writing Tips (Green Ones)

Yesterday I attended one of the best creative writing workshops I've ever been to. It was facilitated by an Irish gentleman named Keith Whelan, a former journalist, current author and creative writing teacher.

Whilst I'd previously come across a number of the suggestions he offered for improved fiction writing, these were some of the most important and practical tips I've seen offered up in one session. And well worth sharing. (At this point I should say I've enhanced them and added further explanation, examples and links for your reading pleasure... you can stop applauding now.)

There is so much information and advice out there when it comes to fiction writing, if you're anything like me when I began this journey a couple of years ago, you're probably finding it hard to sort the gems from the pebbles and bits of broken concrete.

Well, this is a part of my attempt to help.

They appear below in no particular order (well, actually they do, the order he gave them to us in):
  • a memorable and resonant title should emanate from the story itself and be reminiscent of a key theme or moment in the story
  • use detail judiciously and effectively (don't over do it, provide detail as and when a director might use a close up shot)
  • the opening sentence, paragraph and pages of your story should sing like Lady Ga Ga (insert another artist who makes you sit up and listen whenever you hear their voice) and is all most agents, editors and readers will look at before weighing up whether or not they want your book
  • composing a satisfying closing chapter and paragraph (must draw all the strands of the story together and provide an emotionally and intellectually satisfying ending) is essential to bringing your reader back for your next book
  • the beginning and ending of each chapter is very important: I once read you should bring the reader into a scene as late as possible and get them out as early as possible (imagine you're the manager of a B-list celebrity at a paid-to-attend gig); chapter beginnings and endings should sing (ala Lady Ga Ga, again), and link or connect up somehow with the ending preceding them (if a chapter beginning) or the beginning following them (if a chapter ending ...are you dizzy yet?) 
  • use a variety of sentence types in your writing (as a rule of thumb, short to increase pace and tension; long to draw out or dwell on a moment or an action or to create a sense for the reader of being held on to and not let go of); in general, effective fiction writing should contain a variety of sentences in terms of length, structure and sentence beginnings (because variety is the spice... you know how it goes)
  • be aware of repetition -- in terms of motifs (such as the mockingbirds in To Kill A Mockingbird ) be selective and conscious of your choices of what reappears in your story, when and why (Don't repeat lines of dialogue or character ticks unless you are doing it intentionally for effect)
  •  use all five senses in your writing (sight, smell, touch, taste, sound) -- sight and sound are used most commonly whilst the others can often be ignored, just as we use all our senses (all that we have at any rate) to explore and make sense of the world around us, so too it should be in fiction (for an unusual yet interesting read and an example of an author utilising a different sense -- smell -- check out Patrick Suskind's Perfume
  • construct a variety of character types (see Joseph Campbell/Christopher Vogler's archetypes for suggestions) that complement and conflict with one another and give them names that reflect their personality and roles in the story
  • show, don't tell -- for example, describe the character "shifting his weight from foot to foot" or "pressing his fists against the lining of his trouser pockets" or "the beads of sweat rolling down his side" instead of saying he was nervous
  • choose a point of view from which to tell the story (narrative point of view) and stick to it, unless you are writing a novel with alternating narrative points of view (in which case you are probably far more experienced than I am and do not need to be wasting your time reading this list; you've probably got book signings to attend and hefty advance cheques to cash... go on then, stop gloating)
  • incorporating a well developed plot (whether you are a pantser or a plotter) into your novel is essential if you are seeking to develop a readership beyond your immediate family and friends; Joseph Campbell/Christopher Vogler's 'Hero's Journey' model is one structure you might consider for your plot; at the very least (I think) you need a three act structure
  • be prepared to write several drafts (at least) of your project; remember what Hemingway said.
If you found this helpful please share it with your Twitter followers and Facebook friends.

And, keep writing!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A Summer's Day

I am missing summer today. Sydney's weather has been glorious recently, but this morning looks and feels like winter. 

So I'm posting my favourite Shakespearean sonnet (about summer and a lover) and more photograph's from our long summer escape. 



Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: 

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:


Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Keep writing!

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

I've been reading and rereading 'The Hero With A Thousand Faces' for a while now.

Originally I sought it out as a another 'How to...' writing book. I'd read references to it in a variety of places, and heard that George Lucas had borrowed from it the mythical 'Hero's Journey' structure, as a basis for the plot of Star Wars.

I already have Christopher Vogler's 'The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structures For Writers', which is based largely on Campbell's book, and I wanted to read the original work.

Before I go on, I'll outline the stages of the 'journey' as ammended (to suit a narrative structure) and described by Vogler in his book. It is as follows:

Act One                                                 

Ordinary World                                                          
Call to Adventure                                                                                         
Refusal of the Call                                             
Meeting the Mentor
Crossing the First Threshold

Act Two

Tests, Allies, Enemies
Approach to the Inmost Cave


Act Three

The Road Back

Return with the Elixir

Campbell's book has turned out to be a revealing read in many ways.

In addition to providing a fiction writer with an effective template for a narrative structure (Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can't both be wrong), Campbell has also given us ample 'spiritual food' for thought -- or at least directions to the larder.

I'm not sure what your spiritual bent is, but I believe what we write (the stories we tell) is imbued with our deeply held (individual and cultural) beliefs: about life and death (and their respective meanings) and sex and parenting and God and many other things.

Campbell touches on all these and looks at how they are manifest and interwoven in diverse ancient mythologies from all around the world. There are a surprising number of commonalities in these myths and Campbell has gone to great lengths to illustrate them.

He suggests these mythological similarities are evidence that all human beings, in effect, share not only the same fears and questions about life and death, but also a collective subconsciousness, and that we have an intuitive understanding of the nature of our existence (or at least did have). And an awareness of where we have come from and will return to: the 'superconciousness' (you might say: God, or the place from which all life as we know it emanates from and eventually returns to). Campbell draws on a wide variety of ancient mythologies and religious texts and makes a compelling argument. He provides many poignant examples to support his assertions and along the way maps out 'the hero's journey'.

I would like to leave you with a quote that I found both thought provoking and intuitively accurate.

"...the birth, life, and death of the individual may be regarded as a descent into unconsciousness and return. The hero is the one who, while still alive, knows and represents the claims of the superconsciousness which throughout creation is more or less unconscious. The adventure of the hero represents the moment in his life when he achieved illumination -- the nuclear moment when, while still alive, he found and opened the road to the light beyond the dark walls of our living death."

What are your thoughts?

Friday, 18 May 2012

Notes From An Author's Talk

Last night I attended a talk by Australian author Kate Grenville.

She made some interesting points about fiction writing.

I made a note of three of them. Here they are:

  • every novel needs an emotional engine--often this arises from some sort of intrinsic conflict between key characters or from the main character's backstory which somehow propels the narrative forward
  • affective and memorable stories often have tragedy at their core
  • in your novel be sure to balance "dark" passages with "life affirming" passages 

That's all I wrote down.

Keep writing!

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Symbol of Life

This is probably going to read like the musings of a madman, but I'm going to write it anyway.

On my way to the library this morning my eye was drawn to something coin-sized and colourful lying in the road. From a distance it reminded me of an opal broach my grandmother used to wear when I was a child. I waited for the traffic to pass and walked over to check it out.

As I drew closer it looked like a small cluster of ebony rose petals. Blackened blotches streaked with swishes of vivid red and blue.

But it wasn't flower petals.

It was a butterfly.

At first I thought it was dead. But then I saw its legs move. And I picked it up and carried it to the footpath. For a moment I hoped it might have just been stunned. But on closer inspection I realised it was badly injured.

I felt a sense of real sadness looking at this beautiful creature dying in the palm of my hand. And I was torn as to what to do with it.

In the end I thought it best to put it out of its misery.

But afterwards, I felt a stinging sense of grief, which seemed out of all proportion in response to a dead insect. To a butterfly dying in the street...

And then it struck me that this butterfly, so often the symbol of life and how fleeting it is, was significant in many ways. Not the least of which to remind me that all life is like that.

Fragile. Impermanent. Interconnected.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Writing Dreams Anyone?

I just finished reading a really interesting post by Peggy Eddleman on her blog Will Write for Cookies about dreams, titled Z-is-for-ZZZZ-benefits .

It got me thinking about my dream habits and I posted a comment in response which turned into something of a treatise on my dreams.

Here it is:

I rarely remember all of my dreams. But sometimes after I wake, part of the dream stays with me. Usually as an image or a feeling.
My dreams definitely influence my writing. Often after I've finished working on something I'll read it through and think: Where did that come from?

The answer, I believe, is that our stories (or at least elements of them) come from the same place as our dreams: our subconscious or deeper conscious. And through our writing we tap into this, thereby releasing and revealing deeply held feelings, fears or desires, we’re not consciously aware of. Spooky hey? But healthy too, I think.

I keep scraps of paper and a pen next to my bed so I can jot down anything I’m struck by in my sleep. (Hopefully nothing that will leave a bruise.) When I’m working on a novel I get some of my best inspiration and ideas for plot and character development this way.

I read somewhere that life is a dream within a dream, maybe that’s why our dreams resonate so much.

Now I’m off to bed. (-;

ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz   END

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A Novel Approach To High School Discipline

I just read this article posted by Neil Gaiman on his Twitter.

It makes interesting reading for anyone who's a teacher or a parent or ever planning on becoming either.

Actually, you'll probably also find it pretty interesting if you've ever been a high school student.

A New Approach to High School Discipline

Keep writing!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Favourite Poem: Auguries of Innocence

The first stanza of this poem by William Blake is one of my favourite verses of poetry. 

Auguries of Innocence

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

A dove-house fill'd with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro' all its regions.
A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.

A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.

A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm'd for fight
Does the rising sun affright.

Every wolf's and lion's howl
Raises from hell a human soul.

The wild deer, wand'ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misus'd breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher's knife.

The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won't believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever's fright.

He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov'd by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by woman lov'd.

The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider's enmity.
He who torments the chafer's sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.

The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother's grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgement draweth nigh.

He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar's dog and widow's cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.

The gnat that sings his summer's song
Poison gets from slander's tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of envy's foot.

The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist's jealousy.

The prince's robes and beggar's rags
Are toadstools on the miser's bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

The babe is more than swaddling bands;
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;

This is caught by females bright,
And return'd to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar,
Are waves that beat on heaven's shore.

The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Writes revenge in realms of death.
The beggar's rags, fluttering in air,
Does to rags the heavens tear.

The soldier, arm'd with sword and gun,
Palsied strikes the summer's sun.
The poor man's farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric's shore.

One mite wrung from the lab'rer's hands
Shall buy and sell the miser's lands;
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole nation sell and buy.

He who mocks the infant's faith
Shall be mock'd in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne'er get out.

He who respects the infant's faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child's toys and the old man's reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.

The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.

The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar's laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to the armour's iron brace.

When gold and gems adorn the plow,
To peaceful arts shall envy bow.
A riddle, or the cricket's cry,
Is to doubt a fit reply.

The emmet's inch and eagle's mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you please.

If the sun and moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.

The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation's fate.
The harlot's cry from street to street
Shall weave old England's winding-sheet.

The winner's shout, the loser's curse,
Dance before dead England's hearse.

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro' the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.

God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.

By William Blake

Keep writing!