my writing process
In reviewing posts, I found these questions from the audience at the launch of The Bracelet in Burnie in 2014. They were at the end of an exuberant post from that event. I thought they could use another airing – people ask good questions.
Question and Answer time at the launch of The Bracelet, 2014
Q – Did you have a plan?
A – No. I felt like Dr Frankenstein sometimes, stitching together these pieces that I had written sporadically over the two years to make a whole thing. I had a starting point, an idea for the structure, sort of, and a collection of characters.
Q – What would you do differently next time?
A – Investigate a program called Scrivener. It’s supposed to be brilliant at helping novelists to keep their stuff organised.
Q – What is your next project?
A – It’s a non-fiction work. In May 1945, a training accident at an Army base just outside Wagga in NSW blew 26 young men to pieces. Two days later they were buried in the local military cemetery. It is still the largest military funeral on home soil, but until recently, even the local population was largely oblivious to it. It had been forgotten except by the families of the men. Each of these 26 was only ‘important’ because they were 26. If it had been 19 men killed, it would not be a record and it would be different, perhaps. But each of the 26 left behind a particular shaped hole in their families. And the families are still coping with that gap in their lives. So the book is a way to honour them and acknowledge their grief.
Q – What was the balance of the work your editor did with you – the balance between addressing the commas and the big picture issues?
A – I am fortunate to have a gifted reader in my wife, so she actually did a great deal of the big picture stuff before Kate got to see the manuscript. There were many issues of consistency because of the way I wrote it, in bits and pieces. So I’d ask Mary Ann to read a sequence and she’d provide some feedback about what did or didn’t work for her. Then, as it started to come together, she pointed out the inconsistencies.
I sent the first draft up to James Moloney but her only got through about 90 pages. His response to me was ‘It’s called The Bracelet, but the bracelet appears briefly then disappears for the next 90 pages. That’s a problem.’ So I had to go back to it and do a whole lot of rewriting.
By the time Kate saw the whole work, it had already undergone much revision and ironing out of the wrinkles. Kate, however, also picked up on some big picture issues, such as the beginning, which she thought just did not work. What was the beginning now appears at about page 60 and the present opening sequence was made up entirely.
The new went though the novel line by line. She questioned the punctuation, some of the wording, the images used – everything. A great deal was left unchanged, but I had to justify, to myself as well as to Kate, much that remained unchanged.
Q – What were some of the pieces that you really liked that got edited out?
A – The opening. Even though it appears later in the book in a revised form, it is changed. And there is a section that has a series of letters in it. In the original, there were twice as many, but it was too slow, so I cut them back sharply to keep the momentum of the story going.
Q –What was the problem with the beginning?
A – I was trying to be clever. I wanted to create the echo-effect, a frame for the novel, so that it begins and ends with the same sort of scene, even, the same scene. Very literary, but it didn’t work in this novel. Mary Ann had tried to tell me this much earlier but I didn’t want to hear it. By the time Kate was telling me I had had enough and was ready to concede.
Q –Is there a worry that the editor can have too much say?
A – Yes. A ‘bad editor’ will try to shape a work according to their own ideals. But a ‘good editor’ will point out what does not work, in their view, and there might be a discussion of that and alternatives, and the writer then goes off and deals with it. That’s how the present beginning sequence came to be.
I used to think there was one author, the one whose name appears on the front cover. Not so anymore – it is a collaborative effort. Yes, it is my concept, my drafting, but there has been so much given by others that I really do see it as more a collaborative effort now. Writers need editors.
Q – When you were writing the novel, did you ever sit down to write have nothing happen?
A – Yes. But I couldn’t afford to just sit there and watch the scenery. Sometimes I was not in the right headspace to write the next thing that needs to be written. That was one of the good things about writing the novel in bits and pieces.
There was always research to do if I got really stuck.
But often I could attend to other things, non-creative things like editing, organising files, attending to correspondence, transcribing sections I had written in longhand, etc.
What I found usually happened then was that my headspace would change and I could go on and do some of the creative work.
One of the really liberating insights from the process that came after a while was that so much of what I write gets tossed out. Partly, perhaps, that is because I often need to write myself in to a story or a character rather than make it up in my head first, then write it down. I’d have done it pretty tough if I’d been writing in Jane Austen’s era, or Charles Dickens’ office, working with nibs and ink bottles and loose sheets of paper.
Q – Did you ever want to give up?
A – Yes. The knockbacks, or even worse – the no replies, were hard to take sometimes. To lift my spirits early on a friend told me that no-one can count themselves a real writer until they’ve had 29 rejections. (It actually worked for me!) Then there were the occasions when the sheer enormity of the task left to do – even to finish the first draft – would get me right down.
I had an idea for an opening line for a new novel.
As I tried to follow it with other lines, I kept changing what I’d written, what I wrote as I wrote it – a constant revising of what I had put outside my head. As I’d done many times in the past, I queried the merits of being able to so easily alter a draft in process, and questioned whether I oughtn’t write with a biro on paper instead. It might limit this incessant reviewing and allow my mind to roam freer. But maybe I just need to learn to type properly.
Amidst the musings, it occurred to me that I could retrace the changes I’d made to a few lines as I went along. So I tapped back the Undo button repeatedly until I got back to the start, copying each version as I went. (Something I could not do with a paper version!)
Why? read more …
Hi. A belated welcome to the New Year to you. Today feels like I have come back to work after a holiday – a bit rusty and reluctant, but already starting to fire up. The link is to a part of the draft that was cut from the final manuscript. Writing about a subject brings that subject close to me; I interact with it, get to know it, and it usually becomes personal. Writing ‘The Kapooka Tragedy’, reconnected me with my own grief.
At the library readings, someone usually asks me what my connection with the Kapooka Tragedy is, whether one of my relatives was in or near the dugout. It is a question about motivation. It is a question I spent much time internally poring over in the throes of trying to work out a workable approach to the book. This article, Article_KT – Why Me , is a window on my thinking in 2012/13. It is an excerpt from my last assignment for the Masters.
Have a good day.
Hi. This is the first of a series of articles backgrounding the writing of The Kapooka Tragedy. Some of this material comes from the initial drafts of the book; some comes from assignments I did to complete my Masters degree. Some I just wrote for this. The aim is to illuminate some of my writing process.
The first article is a detailed look at my motivations. The draft for this article came out of early attempts to both orientate the reader and explain why the work is important to me. At this point, I had decided against writing fiction and was struggling to create an approach that would make sense and draw readers in. The thread for the book was going to be my own journey into the history.
Follow this link: Article – Why Did I Write About This?
At least if you put the bum in the seat, if something goes off in my head, I’m ready!
Two friends from my days of the classroom have created TasRes Art and Technology which, in their words:
offers a unique residential retreat on Tasmania’s beautiful North West coast for artists, writers, journalists, art curators, researchers, digital film makers, photographers, textile artists, dancers and educators who want to improve their digital design skills to promote their own work and learn how to incorporate cutting-edge digital technology into their art. (http://tasres.com)
They invited me to talk at their first weekend residency in Stanley. I was to be the self-published writer exhibit, dispensing wisdom from my hard-won experience, or something of that ilk. So long as they didn’t mind there being more experience than wisdom, I was game.
That was two months ago. There was still the caveat, ‘if we get the numbers’. They got the numbers. I didn’t start to get nervous until this afternoon, but nervous I was. Thankfully, the final hours of the First Test against India in Adelaide kept my mind off my own butterflies.
Stanley is a special place, a great situation for a weekend like this. As writers, they were a diverse group. I was relieved that the topic was my experience of self-publishing, not writing historical fiction. Time evaporated and we were soon off to dinner where the conversations continued.
What I did not get to say …
- Rejection is a bit of badge of honour among writers, and artists generally. There is a saying that you can’t count yourself a real writer until you’ve collected 29 rejection slips. In this day and age of not-so-mannered rejection, I reckon Enduring Silence counts for two slips.
For the book launch, I asked Kate, my friend and editor, to say a few words about the writing process from her editor’s perspective. With less than 24 hours to the launch, a crisis in her extended family meant she would not make it … so she wrote a letter instead. Mary Ann read it out. It is worth a wider audience, so I have posted it below.
A little background: Kate has decades of experience in the publishing world under a number of different hats. She is also a poet. Put the two together and the girl’s eye for detail and for what is or isn’t working is very keen indeed. Before my final push to find a publisher for ‘The Bracelet’, Kate offered her assistance. I find it difficult to say what exactly she did, but we worked through the novel piece by tiny piece for nearly four months and the final effect was that the writing was elevated to another level.
Anyway, I am deeply grateful for Kate’s experience, her persistence and her friendship. Here’s what she wrote:
This is not any kind of a ‘Dear John’ letter, because we’re not finished, but just beginning – at least, I hope you’ll be delighted to have me murder your commas again when your new book is ready for Torture By She Who Must Be Endured. read more …
I am passionate about writing and literature. They have figured large in my life for nearly forty years. But it was not always so.
Life was fairly uncomplicated for this quiet boy from the bush until I sort of ‘woke up’ during my final year at school – woke up to the world ‘out there’ and to the one inside. Who knows what brings on this change? It suddenly dawns that life is immensely complicated. Questions become important.
Then I accidentally bumped into Writing. read more …