I have adopted the following four women as my mentors. They don’t know it yet, but when they read this they will nod and laugh and when they do that they will through magic be my mentors. Since I became a regular Twitterer and blogger I was drawn to these women. They write books. They do what I want to do. Through sheer hard work and determination, they have followed their passion. So, I thought to get myself motivated I would go to the women who inspire me – to get a virtual kick up my backside. To remind myself I can do it. I also wanted to, in my own small way, help promote four unique female voices in Australian literature. Four strong women. Four great writers.
I sent them all the same questions – these are their responses, in their own words, their own styles. They made me laugh and when I read Kylie Ladd’s explanation of why she loves writing, I even cried. Here goes it, a few words from my mentors…
The biggest misconception about being a writer: I have three –
1) Writing chick-lit is easy
2) You’ll earn a fortune (!)
3) Once you achieve publication, you’ll continue being published. NO! You’re only as good as your last book.
What was your longest stretch of writer’s block and how to did you overcome it? I don’t think I’ve had writer’s block – I tend to think of that as an ongoing ailment.
However, I often have feelings of ‘blah’ and malaise. These feelings generally coincide with bleak patches in my personal life and/or when tackling difficult/emotional scenes where I can’t quite get a handle on my characters. (My characters tend to be difficult and petulant.)
The longest stretch has probably been about two weeks. After that, I get bored. I slap myself around and tell me to get over myself. I light a candle, play ‘Defying Gravity’ very loudly, sit down at my computer and force myself to write – ABOUT ANYTHING!
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you when attempting to write your first book? Other than ‘DON’T’? (Thanks, Mum!) Peter Bishop, who was the Creative Director of Varuna for many years, told me not to be in a rush to get published. He said that there were very few overnight sensations and that, in the long run, they often stumbled. He told me the average time taken from starting writing a manuscript to publication was ten years.
After I picked myself up off the floor, he continued with ‘during that time you’ll go through highs and lows, develop your craft, and if you’re really serious, you’ll have a strong body of work to show publishers when the time is right.’
Interestingly, it took me eight years of absolute toil to get a contract and ten years before my first novel, Lucy Springer Gets Even (Lucy Bounces Back) was published. (But I had another two, What Kate did Next and Claudia’s Big Break, almost ready to go.)
What two words should never be in the same sentence together? There are probably a million, but today I am going with ‘amicable separation’.
Your forced to write your next novel on a deserted island and aside from essential items, including your computer, you can only bring three things with you – what would you bring? Grey Goose Vodka, a solar powered Utopia (dual action, waterproof bunny vibrator), and a change of underwear!
Why do you love writing? Writing gives me the freedom to say and do things with my characters that I’d never dare to in real life. Although sometimes I do test my characters and use their dialogue just to get a reaction. (Should revise this as it gets me into trouble and generally ends in tears!) For my characters though, they can retrieve those situations, make them funny, even life affirming.
When starting out, I have a blank canvas and 85,000 words to fill…I love stream of consciousness mode where I run with whatever I am thinking about…I have no order and no inner filter.
I have characters in my head now, telling me what to do and it can be intense.
I love letting my imagination run amuck and create characters, relationships, and adventures and have them play out in satisfying endings that rarely happen in real life.
Lisa lives in Sydney. Lucy Springer Gets Even (Lucy Bounces Back) (Allen & Unwin, 2009), her first book, was quickly followed by What Kate Did Next (2010).
Lisa’s third novel, Claudia’s Big Break, was published in January 2011. In February, Claudia’s Big Break, was listed in SMH’s Spectrum as one of the Top Ten Australian Best Sellers.
Her fourth novel, tentatively titled Stella Makes Good will be published in January 2012.
You can find out more about Claudia’s Big Break and her other titles, as well as read her sporadic blog, at www.lisaheidke.com You can also follow her on Twitter @lisaheidke
The biggest misconception about being a writer is: That it is a glamorous life!
What was your longest stretch of writer’s block and how to did you overcome it? I don’t recall really having writer’s block. With my novels, I always do chapter breakdowns and character profiles / arcs before I start writing, so if I get stuck on something I simply move onto another chapter and pick up there. I already know the character know the direction the novel is generally moving in, and writing further on then informs me on how to handle the previous issue. Anyway, what’s that quote? “There is no such thing as writer’s block. We are the block we percieve.” I think that is so true.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you when attempting to write your first book? I wrote my first book Sacred Cows 16 years ago and don’t recall asking anyone for advice back then. The best advice I received later was by Linda Jaivin http://www.lindajaivin.com.au/ who said in relation to novels I should ensure that every few pages at least one of senses has been used in detail. I’ve since done workshops with deadly authors like Kathryn Heyman http://www.kathrynheyman.com/ who helped me to understand the importance of using my senses when describing settings and so on.
What two words should never be in the same sentence together? Ok, so I googled this question to see if there was some serious literary rule I should know. I found an article that said that the two words that should never be used in a sentence are ‘Facebook’ and ‘Privacy’. I let you all discuss that amongst yourselves.
For me personally, I want to be a full-time writer and I want to be the best I can be. So, in my world, the two words that should never be in the same sentence are ‘Anita’ and ‘failure’.
You are forced to write your next novel on a deserted island and aside from essential items, including your computer, you can only bring three things with you – what would you bring? 1. My pillows – if I haven’t slept well with my four pillows (one to cuddle) I won’t possibly be able to write my best-selling Island Dreaming novel. 2. Crochet bikini- seeing as it’s deserted it’s probably the only time I’ll be able to wear it and not worry 🙂 3. Endless packet of Tim Tams – does this need explaining? Of course, it won’t help the bikini look but eating chocolate is also part of my writing routine.
Why do you love writing? I love writing because it allows me to be creative while educating and entertaining a range of audiences across genres. Whether I am writing adult novels, kids novels or even travel articles, the research and story development of my works nearly always requires me to have ‘fun’. I often have to suffer for my craft ie travel, shop, eat, dance, meet interesting people and eat a lot of chocolate while writing!
Dr Anita Heiss is a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central NSW, and is an author, poet, satirist and social commentator. Her published works include the adult novels Not Meeting Mr Right, Avoiding Mr Right and Manhattan Dreaming, the historical novel Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937, poetry collection I’m not racist, but… and non-fiction text Dhuuluu-Yala (To Talk Straight) – Publishing Aboriginal Literature. In 2004 she was listed on the Bulletin /Microsoft ‘Smart 100’ and has since won three Deadly Awards for Outstanding Contributions to Literature. She is currently a Director of the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy, a Books in Homes Ambassador, an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador and Patron of South Sydney Youth Services. Anita has been invited to every major writing festival in Australia and has performed her work in America, Canada, France, Spain, Austria, the UK, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Fiji and New Zealand. Anita has made guest appearances on the Einstein Factor, The Late Session, First Tuesday Book Club, The Circle, Living Black and Message Stick. Anita’s latest book is Paris Dreaming (Bantam 2011). www.anitaheiss.com On Twitter she is @anitaheiss
The biggest misconception about being a writer is: The biggest misconception about being a writer is… that it’s in any way glamorous. Not washing your hair for three days because you’re not going anywhere other than school pick up is not glamorous. Three figure royalty cheques are not glamorous. Reviewers writing that they hated your male lead so much they wanted to cut off all his hair and then disfigure his face with the scissors is not glamorous. (That was in my first ever review. I cannot believe I am still writing.) Dreading reviews, agonising over sales figures and hating Stephanie Meyer because WTF? She can’t write for peanuts and look at HER sales is not glamorous. Wondering why you can’t even crack an invite to the Emerging Writer’s Festival is, ahem, not glamorous. And really pathetic. Except it’s where I got my big break and I wanted to return in triumph, damnit! Spending all day writing one thousand words and then finding when you re-read them the next day that only about 300 are useable is not glamorous. Also soul destroying.
The thing is though that whenever I’m on Twitter and read Anita Heiss’s tweets being a writer does sound glamorous. The parties! The travel! The media coverage! I am clearly doing something wrong, but it would be even less glamorous to admit that.
What was your longest stretch of writer’s block and how to did you overcome it? I have never had writer’s block! Don’t hate me. For one, I started writing fiction when my children were both still at home all day… I didn’t have the time to have writer’s block. If I got 20 minutes while Playschool was on I had to use it. Even now, when they’re both at school, I don’t struggle in that regard. Sometimes a tricky idea or sentence will tie me down for 15 minutes or so, and that’s agony (I’m not the sort of writer who can go on regardless – I need to have the road behind me rolled and sealed before I break new ground), but because I am such a planner (Lisa will say freak) I always know what I’m going to write each day, the rough territory I have to traverse. I like that – being able to see the horizon gives me the courage to strike out.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you when attempting to write your first book? I never told anyone, including my husband, that I was writing my first novel – or my second or third (which was the first one I had published). I couldn’t bear the idea of failing miserably and having to admit it! Therefore I’ve never had any advice thrown at me, but if I had to give any it would be simply this: sit down. The most important part of being a writer is showing up; is staying there, bum on seat and fingers on keys until the job is done. I’ve been writing seriously (that is, for publication, for pay) for almost 12 years now, and I’m only just beginning to have days where I feel like I have some idea of what I’m doing. Talent is important, but persistence should never, ever be under-rated.
What two words should never be in the same sentence together? Two words: Non-alcoholic wine. Invalid password. No swimming. Moist panties (that last line is just to make @annieb25 squirm.)
You are forced to write your next novel on a deserted island and aside from essential items, including your computer, you can only bring three things with you – what would you bring? If I was a nice person I’d say my husband and two kids, Declan and Cameron. But no way! I’m there to write a novel, and Declan would just want me to watch him surfing, Cameron would take over my laptop to play Moshi Monsters and Craig would keep suggesting I be Ginger to his Professor. My very favourite things in this world apart from writing and my family are reading, swimming and the beach, so this one’s easy – I’d take some sunscreen, my bikini and a fully-stocked, solar-powered Kindle. Bliss! And, hey, if I’ve got my laptop I can Skype my family every day. OK, maybe once a week. Month.
Why do you love writing? I don’t always love writing. Sometimes I HATE writing. Quite often I wish I’d been a hairdresser instead, or a bank teller, except then I’d have to get out of my pyjamas and leave the house. Some days I think everything that I’ve written is utter, unmitigated crap – that I have no clue and no hope. But then, just occasionally, I string some words together and they click. They feel right; they nestle, gleaming, alongside each other like pearls on a necklace. Getting a sentence or a metaphor or even a paragraph just right is the most wonderful feeling in the word… somehow expressing with words precisely what you see in your mind, what you feel in your heart. My second novel, Last Summer, comes out in July. Over the last three months I’ve read it through four times as part of editing and proofing. And, you know, I’m quite proud of it. Most of it. But in those 92,000 words there are precisely three sentences that glow for me; that I got right; that lit me up every single time I read them, no matter how sick of the damn book I was. That’s why I write, why I love writing – for those three sentences. For those rare moments when you absolutely nail it.
Kyle Ladd has written about parenting, jury service, the World Cup, egg donation, the Edinburgh Festival, the prefrontal cortex and losing her religion, but all people ever ask her about are her infidelity books. Her second novel (fourth book), Last Summer, will be published by Allen and Unwin in July, and is available for preorder now through Booktopia. Hint. And you can also follow her on twitter @kylie_ladd
The biggest misconception about being a writer is? I think people assume that writers are private creatures who sit in isolation and pound away at their computers in self-imposed solitude. In my experience, writers are extremely social and crave company and recognition. Oh, and we drink a lot, too.
What was your longest stretch of writer’s block and how to did you overcome it? Eighteen months. I didn’t write a word for eighteen months after my sister died three weeks before my youngest child was born. It was hideous. I honestly thought I’d never write again. I felt like a part of me had died too. Then I stumbled onto Twitter. Twitter helped me get my writing mojo back. It changed my life. I love my tweeps and owe them everything.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you when attempting to write your first book? My agent read the first draft of my book and said ‘It’s great, but you need to put more of yourself into it.’ I thought… MORE? It was hard, because I felt vulnerable at times putting so much personal stuff into the book, but in the end, it was the key to making it work.
What two words should never be in the same sentence together?
You know, I came up with all sorts of disgusting combinations of words involving bodily secretions and colours, but in the end the most offensive pair of words I could think of was ‘perfect children’.
Your forced to write your next book on a deserted island and aside from essential items, including your computer, you can only bring three things with you – what would you bring? Okay, I’m assuming my computer will contain pictures and movies of my kids, so I will say: Several warm socks. I can’t bear to have cold feet. I sleep in socks even on the hottest summer nights. There is no way I could function without them.
My coffee machine. I become blind and twitchy without coffee. I couldn’t negotiate a QWERTY keyboard without coffee. I’d lie helpless and foetal under a palm tree until I was rescued.
Dental floss. Can you imagine anything more awful than being stuck on a desert island with coconut in your teeth and not being able to get it out???
Why do you love writing? You know how people love going to the gym? Or eating chocolate cake? Or having sex? That’s how I feel about writing. I feel agitated when I haven’t done it for a while, I crave it, I become transported when I’m doing it, and I feel a bit high when I’ve finished. It’s my drug. Always has been.
Kerri Sackville is a writer, blogger and mother of three. She has written extensively for mainstream media and parenting magazines, and is a regular contributor to the hugely successful website Mamamia. Her popular blog, Life And Other Crises, details the daily dramas of her life as a 40-something wife, mum, friend, bunny-wrangler and owner of an improbably white house. Kerri’s first book When My Husband Does The Dishes…A Memoir Of Marriage And Motherhood is being released in May 2011 by Random House Australia. Kerri is an avid reader and obsessive Twitterer, and in her free time enjoys eating Nutella, drinking caffeine with friends, and lying very still on the couch. She can be found on Twitter @kerrisackville
Thanks so much Lisa, Anita, Kylie and Kerri xx