Heartbreak and hope of a young writer

I wear a few hats as a writer. As well as spending a couple of days a week on my current novel, I also work as an eLiteracy Consultant, and a Writer-in-Residence in high school. But it is the latter of these that I’m finding the most rewarding.

I convene a writers’ group. It’s not your ordinary run-of-the-mill sort of writers’ group where authors work together to develop their manuscripts.  This particular group comprises a dozen disengaged young men, in lieu of their usual year ten classes.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the post I wrote after my first session with the group. I came away that day wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself into. I’d wondered if I’d be able to manage their behaviours, or if I’d want to. Then after another few sessions, I’d wondered if it was even worth their while attending the group, given that their literacy levels were pretty basic and at this stage of their schooling they probably weren’t going to improve much.

A few months on and this twice-weekly writers’ group—though no less challenging, has been the most insightful, rewarding and beneficial experience a writer of young adult fiction could have.  I’ve seen past their macho boofiness and into the souls of boys pretending (but not quite managing) to be men, so I’m not frightened or intimidated by them as I was that first day. I was wrong to think that they would not benefit from the group or that I would be wasting my time working with them. So wrong.

The boys are writing. The technical aspects of their writing are not there; they can barely spell, have a limited understanding of grammar, have never read a complete book, and have little concept of narrative. But they are—as I am—learning so much more about constructing text than where to put the comma or how to match the verb and antecedent.

They are writing about life and truth as they know it. For me, a writer of young adult fiction, it’s a fabulous glimpse into the psyche of a teenage boy, in very real terms. Something seems to happen in the space between the swearing and rough-housing and noise and bluster, to when they actually put pen to paper. They write about their thoughts and feelings, and their perceptions of the world as they know it. And it’s honest. And real. And it takes my breath away.

It makes me laugh, and sometimes cry. It always gives me an insight into how these boys interpret the world around them. And today it hurt. Today a sixteen-year-old boy, previously drowning in sullen resentment and repressed anger, wrote about the loss of his mate to suicide. He wrote about regret and guilt and what he could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done if he hadn’t been so selfish in the friendship. He wrote about an argument they’d had “over trivial bullshit,” after which they had not talked for two weeks before the mate died. And he wrote about how bad it made him feel and how easily he thought he could’ve stopped it.

This young man’s life has been changed. Irrevocably. In a few short weeks he grew from boy to man. Tragic circumstances were the catalyst that reinforced his own mortality, that made him recognise and dismiss the banalities of life; writers’ group the space in which he chose to share his thoughts and feelings about it. He had told no one. He didn’t want to talk about it. But he wrote about it. In writers’ group.

And I’m glad he did. Because it created the space for him to be told that it wasn't his fault, that his friend had been depressed, that he'd been dealing with demons from his past, and that it's completely normal for friends to argue and that it doesn't normally result in suicide.

Writing had provided this young man with an effective means of communicating his pain when he couldn't get the words out any other way. And it didn't matter one bit about the spelling and grammar.

Inspiration or insomnia?

I woke up at 2:00 this morning, suddenly alert. From the depths of my dreams into my startled (and sleepy) consciousness poured forth a succession of plot points, character traits, scenes and scenarios for my next novel. Frantic to get them down on paper before the bubble popped and they disappeared into the ether, I scrambled around in the darkness looking for the pen and notebook I keep in my bedside table in case of such occurrences.

Fellow authors might consider this a breakthrough, and it is, kind of. Problem was, these wonderful flashes of inspiration, though very welcome, were for a new, as yet unplotted, novel. Another project altogether!

I just want to finish the one I’m working on now. But this particular project has ground to an agonising halt. A week of being in the zone with words flowing continuously, whether I was at the computer or not, stopped. Just stopped. As quickly and easily as it started. And now it’s like pulling teeth to get a paragraph a day down. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong, these flashes of inspiration in the middle of the night are welcome, I just need to find a way to make sure they’re about the right novel!

Are you ‘in the zone’?

I’m in the zone. And I’m loving it! A fabulous five thousand words down today.

For the uninitiated being ‘in the zone’ is a condition for which all writers yearn. It is often elusive, and sometimes hidden behind a solid wall, impossible to conjure. It’s that time when inspiration, motivation, and circumstance all converge to create a synergy so powerful that it drives the manuscript forward using the writer merely as a conduit.

It’s an awesome space to be in. Ideas flow through the fingers to the keyboard like water over a waterfall and everything else falls into insignificance. It becomes all that there is in that time, that place. When I’m in that space hours pass as easily as minutes and if it were not for the physical requirement to take in and release food and drink, and eventually sleep, I’d sit in front of my computer indefinitely.

Being in the zone this time around comes after months of writing through a thick fog. Every word extracted through a veil of frustration.  I’d write a hundred words and delete ninety-nine. Rewrite and delete again. Edit, delete, rewrite, over and over and over again. It was painful.

I was lucky to write one thousand words a month these past few months, so to sit down today and pen five thousand words in one day (as well as write two book reviews) is wonderful. I want to yell to the world, ‘I’m ba-ack!’ But I’ll just settle for this blog post.

Adapt or die

The publishing industry is changing. Rapidly. Sales of eReaders are tripling every year, and competition between the available readers is stepping up. The impending sales battle between the new Kindle Fire and the Noble Nook Colour is attraction attention, meanwhile the price of eReaders―industry leaders as well as generic brands and android devices―has dropped significantly, making them accessible to a broader range of consumer.

Sales of tablets such as the iPad are increasing exponentially and are set to rival those of eReaders in the next few years. While the primary form of reading on the tablets at the moment is newspapers, I don’t think it will too long before we see a parallel increase in ebook sales.

This is good news for authors. Well, mostly. It’s good news for those authors who choose to publish their work themselves, electronically. Perhaps not so good news for authors who enter into publishing deals with mainstream publishers who write electronic rights into the contract, returning very little in royalties to the author. I recently learned of an author whose publisher threatened to sue for breach of contract because she had an anthology of short stories published as an eBook. Of course they had no basis for this because the anthology was published before she signed the contract. They terminated her contract instead.

I recently wrote about the need for literary agents to adapt their practice in order to survive the changing nature of the publishing environment, but the rapidity with which change is happening means publishers also need to be very wary. As in, adapt or die. When I published my novel Fake Profile as an eBook, I earned more in royalties in the first few months than a colleague published by a mainstream publisher did in his first year. It wasn't because I sold more copies, I didn’t. It was because I received a much bigger slice of the royalty pie.

It’s food for thought.