Writers’ blur…

Something doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what it is. I’m not sure whether something is missing, or I’ve forgotten something. Did something happen to which I should’ve responded, or even noticed? Confusion is squirming behind a veil at the edge of my consciousness at the moment. I know it’s there but I can’t reach it. Can’t see it. Can’t fix it or make it go away.

I think maybe I’m just a little disoriented. It happens sometimes when I’m writing. I get so totally engrossed in the reality I’m creating in my narrative that perspectives blur and it takes a bit of time to remember which reality is which.

It wasn’t so bad when I was writing fantasy adventure for young people. Those worlds were a little easier to distinguish between. But it’s different now.

It’s always a huge relief to hear other writers talk about the way their characters speak to them; the solitary conversations while they’re walking the dog, or driving, or shopping, or lying in bed unable to sleep. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who conducts entire conversations in my head, or with imaginary companions. The concern that I may be teetering on the edge of sanity is mitigated after such revelations.

I know that these ‘voices in my head’ would, under any other circumstances probably be great cause for alarm. But at the moment I just want to know how the 17-year-old boy (key character in my current novel) is going to respond to the situation he is currently facing, without confusing his reactions with those of my young housemate, or my friend’s kid, or that kid I taught all those years ago.

Our characters are often compilations of people we know, or have known. Elements of many combine to create a realistic representation of the emotions, actions and reactions, that make someone human. Fallible. Vulnerable. Real.

It’s when you start calling the people around you by the names of the characters you’re creating that you start getting the raised eyebrow. Who am I talking to?

It’s particularly chilling at the moment because I’m writing crime. I know people like this. People capable of these horrible things. I’ve talked to them, worked with them, had coffee with them. Now I’m not saying that these particular people have committed such atrocities, but I bet they’ve thought about it. Sends shivers down my spine.

Where was I? Oh yeah… something strange is going on…

Franklin Foibles

Yesterday the shortlist for Miles Franklin Award was announced. I have been following the ensuing discussions on Twitter (#milesfranklin) with interest. Seems not everyone (hardly anyone actually) is happy with the selectors. The shortlist is just that―short. Only three titles made it onto the list this year. And what seems to be creating the controversy is the fact that the authors are all male and all writing about rural Australia.

Analyses about why this is so began almost immediately and is continuing today. Some are quite interesting and deserve to be read. Jo Case on the Kill your Darlings blog, gives an interesting perspective on gender and literature (what she calls the ‘sausagefest problem’). Bite the Book talks about the Australian Voice in Fiction, disputing the judges comments that Australia is best represented by the past and the outback, and is male. Angela Meyer at Literary Minded said a similar thing when she reported the announcement, and the Wheeler Centre talks about both of these. None of the writers or commentators are critiquing the quality of the works chosen, they all acknowledge they are works of excellence. Rather, they are offering an analysis  (as they did for the 2010 award) of why, when there is such a variety of excellent female writers, that males continue to dominate.

I had a look at the lists of winners over the past fifty or so years, and it is interesting reading indeed. There have been two women winners in the past ten years, four in the past twenty. Only twelve women the past fifty years have won the award ― and of these, twice it was shared with a man.

I can’t help remembering the plaque that hangs in the foyer of Franklin Public School in Tumut honouring Miles Franklin HERself. You see, Stella Maria Sarah Franklin was born near Tumut in New South Wales in 1879. The plaque at Franklin Public School (named for the writer) gives a little of her story. It has been a few years now, since I was standing in the foyer reading the plaque, but I seem to recall something about Stella writing under the pseudonym Miles because, being a female, it was hard to be taken seriously as a writer in Australia in that era.

Perhaps not much has changed…?

Funding for Writers

Last night I attended an information session on funding for writers. It was held at the NSW Writers’ Centre but the Australia Council for the Arts  conducted the seminar. The session outlined the Literature funding structure of the Arts Council and went through the variety of opportunities that exist for writers to apply for to fund new work and inter-disciplinary projects.

The Arts Council supports writers from their very beginnings with ArtStart grants targeting recent graduates (within the last three years) of a Creative Arts degree, including Creative Writing. These grants are designed to assist writers set themselves up as professional practitioners in their creative field. They are open for submissions twice a year.

The next area of interest is the Emerging Writer category. Paradoxically, you need to have at least one publication under your belt before being considered ‘emerging’ and in turn, be eligible for this category. Nevertheless, the advice given was to meticulously record everything you have ever had published, though to be a serious contender it needs to be published in a National context or in a peer-reviewed publication.

A Developing Writer will have two to four publications and an Established Writer will have five or more books published. As well as these funding opportunities there are a number of residencies writer can apply for funding to attend.

It was all good information and is found on the Arts Council website. There were a few disgruntled comments from frustrated writers who have not yet been published, or have formal qualifications in Creative Writing, but overall, people were happy to have exposure to this kind of information.

It’s good to know that on some level, the government some support to writers in this way, minimal though it may be.

Rejection. Really?

Rejection is a terrible thing. Nobody wants or likes it. It feels awful, and it’s very easy for the self-esteem to take a battering because of it. Yet authors put themselves out there repeatedly, knowing that rejection is inevitable. I have never heard of a first time author having a manuscript accepted and published at the first submission.

Every author needs to find a way to make rejection an accepted part of their journey to publication, without allowing it to impact on their sense of self. I wonder how many manuscripts we would never have seen had their authors not been able to move beyond the initial sting of rejection.

Creativity is inherently personal, irrespective of the medium. Visual artists, musicians, composers, creative writers, sculptors, singers, poets, etc, all draw upon the very essence of their being to interpret the world around them. They use all their senses to embed an essential part of themselves into their work for the pleasure of others. Of course it’s personal.

And when that letter comes saying: ‘sorry, your work doesn’t suit us because…,’ it is difficult not to feel affronted and affected.

Stephen King in his book On Writing talks about the thirty rejection letters he received for his first novel Carrie, and how he kept a ‘rejection board’ near his desk where he hung his collection of rejection slips.

There’s a lot to be said for this approach to writing (once you move past the urge to shred your manuscript or slap the rejecting publisher). It’s about building resilience. Each one of those slips means you are serious about being published, and with each slip you draw one step closer. The slips mean you have entered the industry and you will be marked and scarred like authors before you and authors yet to come.

The trick is not to allow the marks and scars to overwhelm you. Writing is a very subjective thing. What is appealing or ‘suitable for our list’ will vary greatly from one publisher to another, one reader to another.

What now?

Writing the novel is the easy part. It’s what happens next that drives many authors to despair. It’s a changing world out there and by all accounts it seems the book reading public is shrinking. The publishing industry is responding to this by selecting fewer manuscripts to publish and promote―or so the media would have us think. But is this really the case?

Anecdotally, it has always been difficult to find a mainstream publisher as a first time novelist. It’s the chicken and the egg scenario; can’t get a publisher until you have an agent, can’t get an agent until you find a publisher. So what hope is there for someone who has completed their first manuscript and wants to get it out there?

Contrary to the belief that the technological revolution has reduced publication opportunities for emerging authors, I think we now have more options than did our predecessors. Now some say that electronic communication marks the downfall of tradition means of literary pursuits, but I have a differing view. Electronic communication has simply diversified the options available to budding writers, whether they are hobby or career writers.

We no longer have to tear our hair out chasing mainstream publishers down to convince them that our work is the next best thing! If sitting on the slush pile is not the way you want to go, there are now plenty of other options.

Self-publishing has always been an option, but it is only available to those who can afford it. It doesn’t come cheap. Nevertheless, it is still an option. But these days, it is not the only one.

Blogging is a great way to begin to get your work in the public domain. It is no or low-cost, easy to do and immediately puts your work out there. It is a great way to test the waters of public consumption.

E-Publishing is available to anyone anywhere. You don’t need a publisher to do it for you. There are, as with blogging, free programs you can use to publish your book online. You just need a PDF document to begin with. You can choose book cover designs and format it using the free templates available. Or there are e-publishers who will do it all for you for a percentage of the sales, but you still end up with a greater percentage of royalties.

Twitter is a means by which you can promote your own work, whether it be an electronic book or a blog.

If your work sells it will attract attention. If you can cite the amount of downloads and/or sales you have made, it may very well be picked up by a mainstream publisher in the long run anyway. If not, well, you still have the benefit of gauging realistically, how viable your work is.