creativity, writing

wise words wednesday

Words © jen thomas (avisionofwords)

The best time for planning a book is
while you’re doing the dishes.
– Agatha Christie

Or while washing your hair, or taking a road trip, or sitting solo in a cafe sipping coffee… these are the times when my imagination begins to spark and the world-building plans start to form. The only problem is, I can’t take a notebook into the shower.

When does the planning fever strike you?


There are no new (story) ideas in the world


Discovering a book that is suspiciously like the story you are trying to write, down to the protagonist having the same name as your character, is almost enough to put you off writing.

Or at least, to make you question whether you are just a book-reading regurgitation machine rather than a legitimate words person.

This is the second time (this year) the universe has delivered me this lesson. In January, I was all set to scribble away at my amazing, ingenious, unique story idea and thought to do a bit of research to see if anyone else could have possibly written anything like it already.

Yes. Yes, they had.

The same genius idea, the same unique plot line, the same set of characters, all there for the world to read. I was put off, to say the least, at having to scrap all the exciting material I’d been working on because someone else had beaten me to the publishers.

When I wised up and caught sight of Austin Kleon’s ‘Steal Like and Artist’ on my bookshelf, I was humbly reminded that there really are no new ideas in the world. Sure, I thought I’d come up with something unique and worthy, but so have millions (nay, billions) of other literary lovers around the globe.

This is the lesson the universe has delivered. Did it have to happen to me twice in a matter of months?

Yes. Yes, it did.

Just now, I browsed for ‘urban fantasy for adults (not YA)’ to get a better idea of existing stories, and I came across a few interesting titles I’d never heard of. And there it was again, the universe slapping me in the face with a story idea that is somewhat similar to my new story, and a character with a name somewhat similar to my own protagonist. Somewhat. That’s better than exactly. I may be getting somewhere.

It is going to take more time and practise for my ‘unique’ and ‘genius’ work to not simply be a regurgitation of everything I’ve absorbed over my forty year life span. How easy it is to forget that lesson. Instead of throwing my stack of papers into the shredder like I may have done last time (writers are also known to have tantrums apparently) I am going to rename my protagonist and look closely at how to add a fresh take on a story idea that may have been done before, and will no doubt be done again and again.


Real life Writing Groups – yes or no?

“I think I need to join a writing group.”

These words were spoken aloud once. Recently, in fact. To my husband.

You may know where I’m going with this, all you isolated writers out there. I was suffering from what I like to call “writer loneliness,” which I’m certain is a real thing, and surely it affects words-people everywhere in their early stages of writing. Doesn’t it?

I had just been hit with an idea better than any other writing idea I’d had before, and poor husband was at my mercy.

It was his expression that did it. The same expression I probably give him when he starts hyperventilating over V8 Supercars. I’m excited ‘for him’ but would rather he go find a car enthusiast support group, or phone a friend than expect any intelligible response from me about lap times and other car thingys.

I guess that’s what I need too; not a car enthusiast support group, but a connection with other like-minded words persons who are in the same early stages as I am, so we can geek out together..

I have an idea for a first novel and, as I scribble down notes and character sketches,  I find myself in that horrible, ‘Am I doing it right?’ phase where I just need a bit of reassurance – a bit of a group hug.

Scratch that last bit – what I really want is a glimpse into other people’s early phases and some interaction about it. You know, what blogging used to be really good for.

After reading this rather blunt insight on writing groups, and from my own experiences at weekend workshops, I’m less inclined to run to my nearest community centre on a week night when really… loneliness is a general unpleasant part of life that can steep into many facets, including our hobbies and interests. Finding like-minds is crucial, no doubt, but the right type of interaction for your personality, timeframe, accessibility and all those other things, is also something to consider.

Maybe I’m being too closed-minded about it – there may be some great online writing communities just waiting to be found. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I’ll forge on, sans writer’s group for now. There are plenty of podcasts about fiction writing that have caught my attention (more on that next time).


‘So you want to be a writer’ podcast

Image: So you want to be a writer (podcast)

What a find! I’m only up to episode 3 of this podcast for writers (and readers) and while it’s tempting to jump straight to the latest episode, I’m going to take my time with this one.

Image: So you want to be a writer podcast

There are so many reasons I’m loving this podcast:

1. It’s Australian 
Go us! It’s great to hear local voices talking about people, places and events in my own timezone. It feels more accessible than some other podcasts I listen to regularly, because I don’t have a hope in hell of visiting a Waterstones any time soon, or any of the other lovely sounding bookshops and events that are geographically so far away. Did you know that Melbourne is a UNESCO City of Literature? Which basically means there are so many events down here that could warrant their own podcasts (and I’m surprised there aren’t more).

2. It’s run by two intelligent, passionate writing professionals
Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait share similar opinions and experiences in writing and publishing, and they love to explore their differences; that’s what makes their conversations so interesting.

3. It is run by women
As an extension on point 2, I love listening to women in the industry talk about their experiences and their craft, and not just from an interviewee perspective. When you hear a voice (or see a person) that represents something you aspire to, you feel less invisible and are more likely to go forth and be heard yourself.

4. They talk about other stuff – sometimes.
I’m only three episodes in, but so far they’ve covered other very relevant issues in the world like coffee, typewriters and reading habits. They do cover everything remotely relevant to the creative writing life and interview some amazing writers in their Writer in Residence segment.

If you’ve been looking for a podcast that covers all writerly things, you should take a listen to this one. And naturally, if there are podcasts I need to know about, please leave me a note.

books, writing

For readers and writers: the Melbourne Writers Festival


If you’re a reader, or a writer, who happens to live in the vicinity of Melbourne, then this event needs no introduction.

The 2014 MWF begins tonight with Helen Garner providing the Opening Night Address. Alas, my festival experience doesn’t start until tomorrow. I’m giddy with anticipation, as I know my mind (and my trusty old notebook) will be overwhelmed with story ideas by the end of the day.

This is my fourth visit to the Festival, and every year something magical happens. I sit there quietly in the audience and listen to an authors describe their writing process, their inspiration, and how their characters were born. And by the end of the talk I feel slightly changed.

I’m sure this harks back to the ‘olden’ days of sitting around in a circle, captivated by tales from the mouth of the storyteller in the middle. Oral storytelling is a little bit dead these days, so it’s nice to revive it for a while at a festival like this.

Now to the talks that I’ll be attending tomorrow (let the giddiness begin):

  • a conversation with Hannah Kent of Burial Rights
  • a discussion about the power of reading to change lives, and the downsides of a life without books
  • a look into selfie culture and the new book The Life of I: the new culture of narcissism
  • the hidden secrets of the museums and galleries, archives and private collections that fuel Stephen Fry’s QI
  • a conversation about love, obsession and desire in literature between American novelist Meg Wolitzer and Emily Bitto

And that is just the first day.


Choose your own writing distraction

Someone just asked me, “Why aren’t you on Facebook?”

I quoted Eric from Entourage, when Vince asked him the same thing, “Because I’m an adult.”

The truth is, I don’t want another distraction.

Twitter doesn’t distract me in the same way. I find it stimulates ideas and sends me to strange new places where I can learn things. And I find that I want to grab a notebook and start writing.

Pinterest? Now that’s a black hole of distraction. I love it, but sometimes I need to have a rescue ladder handy.

Someone said recently, “Whatever it is you’re doing right now could be time spent writing.”

Now there’s a guilt-inducing statement. It’s true. Instead of blogging, I could be jotting down ideas for a scene right now. Instead I’m writing about things that distract me from writing. Vicious cycle.

I have made progress on the studies though. This weekend, I powered through two projects – a feature article on ‘snail mail revival,’ and a research essay on copyright. Two different topics and writing styles, and around 5,000 words in all if you don’t include the thousand-or-so words that didn’t make the cut.

The only way I could prevent myself from clicking over to check a quick email or get swallowed up in a Pinterest binge was was to say to myself, repeatedly, “I want to write this article / essay.” It works. You just have to remind yourself what you want to be doing, and check in to see if you are actually doing it.