Tag Archives: inspiration

Literary Speed Dating

Did you know such thing even existed? No, it’s not authors dating authors, although maybe that’s not a bad idea either. It’s an event organised by an author society, where about a dozen publishers get to hear 3-minute pitches from writers that want to traditionally publish their books. I’ve known about the one organised by Australian Society of Authors for years now, but it has always sold out in a matter of days if not hours. This year, however, I get to go!

How did I do it? As usual, with dogged persistence. When I missed out last year, I went ahead and put a recurring reminder into my calendar to check the website for the next year’s announcement. Because I was told it would happen “early next year,” the reminder started on 1 January and repeated every day until now. I kept checking the website and was starting to lose hope when voila! There was the announcement and the web form. I tried to submit it a couple of times, but it didn’t work. When I called them, the staff member was in shock because she did not know it was already published on the web, it was supposed to get her approval or something. She took my credit card details (the event costs $50 AUD) and after much begging from me, sent me an email confirming that yes, I’m in.

So yay! On 24 June I get to finally meet those elusive publishers who so far managed to hide behind their assistants and template rejection letters. I have four months to finish my new book and to plan my assault. Me thinks I will be pitching not only the story, but myself too – the doggedly persistent author of not one, but three books. Gimme a contract for three novels over two years! I will deliver!

I will be posting about my experience, of course, and whether the event was worth the $50 (plus the membership with Writers Victoria). If you live in Australia, you may want to put a reminder in your calendar for next January or get onto the waiting list. If you live elsewhere, contact your local author society to see if they are doing something similar, or suggest that they do.

I know it’s a long time away, but the deadline got me even more energized to continue writing, and that alone is worth the fifty bucks. So far I’d managed between 800 and 1,100 words per day over the first three days, and that’s after long, hard days at work. let’s just see what happens over the weekend.

Hope you are well and that the Muse has visited you too, if not in the shower, then maybe in your dreams, or in the long boring meeting. Whenever it is, invite her in.

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I have a dream. Again…

Look who’s back! “Who dis?” I hear you say, and yes, you have every right to forget me – I’ve been gone for three months. In cybertime, that’s like a generation. I’m sure new Twitter stars have managed to rise and implode since then, but I wouldn’t have known. I was too busy getting married and starting my new job.

Speaking of getting married – look at this happy couple!

registry-steps   walking-in-cbd   nighttime-in-cbd-2

You almost can’t tell that it was 39 degrees Celsius, which is just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit…crazy, but that’s the January in Melbourne for ya! I know that some of you can’t feel your toes right now, but trust me – you wouldn’t want to feel like you are cooking alive, either.

And yes, I’ve been at my new awesome job for almost three months, and yes, it’s incredibly demanding, but enough excuses already. I want to tell you about a wonderful thing that happened yesterday.

I came home late, as usual. Good thing that Josh cooks, because if not, I’d be surviving on tuna cans and stale bread. Early to rise and late home from work makes Ana one tired woman. So tired that a mere thought of sitting down to finish that third book or even write a new blog post creates involuntary spasms in my legs, which usually results in a couch faceplant, supplemented with trash TV. Every now and then I would also feel intense regret that the writing dream is over, and then pass out to start the early-to-rise cycle all over again. Sounds familiar? Yeah, it sucks.

I’ve tried beating myself up, writing daily plans, and setting up a reward system, but nothing was working. That is, until yesterday. I was in the shower, trying to wash off the daily stress, when I sort of spaced out. I was fantasizing about how my life could be different, when a story idea came to me, as vivid and real as one of those hallucinations I had when I was high on opiates in the hospital bed. When I came to, the bathroom was full of steam and my mind was full of plot twists, characters, and whole scenes.

My sister-in-law came over to have dinner and watch “Married at First Sight,” so I had to play hostess for a couple of hours, but all I could think of was the new story. I could not wait for the stupid show to be over, so that I could write down the idea, I was that afraid to lose it. I jumped onto the computer as soon as I could and did not get off the chair until Josh started yelling from the other bedroom that we had to get some sleep. I could not stop thinking about it this morning. I told my sister. She liked it. In fact, her exact words were: “Yep, here we go again!”

Yes, indeed. Here we go. A completely different new novel, a psychological thriller with little comedy, if any. A male protagonist. More character development, although I’m in love with the plot too. And I have a feeling I will be able to spill it onto the page in a couple of months – last night I could barely keep up with typing out the ideas as they were flooding in.

I don’t know what you’ve been up to in the last three months, and sorry again for disappearing, but if you’ve been self-beating and self-hating over a writer’s block, perhaps it’s time to try spacing out in a hot shower. Let me know how you go.

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How to catch a Moby Dick

UPDATE: how truly awful, I didn’t know that Gillon Aitken has died just a couple of days ago. I can’t stop reading about him being “the true gentleman” and “literary giant.” RIP, Mr. Aitken.

If anything, the news gave me the shake I needed – life is short and I better get going. The plan still stands, although I will have to find another literary giant to help make my dreams come true.

ORIGINAL POST: I don’t know why, but after a year and a half of self-publishing game, I am once again dreaming of the elusive white whale of traditional publishing. It could be the exhaustion of all the marketing effort that has gone into promoting my books, or the recent confidence boost from finally nailing a big fat dream job. Suddenly I want to change everything: the pricing strategy, the plot of my third book, the marketing buget. It’s been a big few months and I have all the excuses to take it easy, but I just can’t. I feel like I need to take the writing dream by the collar and shake it until it wakes up and gets going again.

As previously lamented, a couple of years ago I started with an attempt to break into the traditional publishing. That time, I went with “cast the net wide” strategy. I penned about 70 applications and sent them off to American agents and a few big-name publishers. The best reply I got was “it’s funny, but we don’t know if there’s an audience for it.” It felt like a whole lotta effort for nothing and it felt like my dream of being a published author was dying. That’s when I decided to give it a great big shake by self publishing my first two books.

Now the dream once again feels like its flatlining, and I need to shock it back to life. I’m thinking adreanline. I’m thinking a big dream, hence the Moby Dick. This time, I won’t cast my net wide, instead zeroing in on one big target. Here he is:

gillon

Yes, the literary agent of Helen Fielding. And why the hell not? As soon as I had this insane/brilliant idea, I fired off an email to Gillon asking if he’d be interested in having Isa Maxwell series republished with a traditional publisher. The way I figured, he’d probably say no. This is where my strategy will differ from the previous salmon-like application spawning.

I shall not take no for an answer. I will not move onto another agent until I am absolutely sure that I have bothered Mr. Aitken enough to at least have a look at Shizzle, Inc. Here’s my multi-step plan of ever-increasing pestering:

  1. Send an email (already done).
  2. Send copies of physical books.
  3. Contact other agents in the same agency asking how to get to him.
  4. Find him on social media and fire off @ messages until he figures out how to block me.
  5. Start an online petition of “Mr. Aitken, please read Shizzle, Inc!”
  6. Start a website http://www.mraitkenpleasereadshizzleinc.com and publicise it on social media.
  7. TBD. Something viral, preferably.

The way I figured, what do I have to lose? Okay, so I may eventually piss him off, but is that really worse than him not knowing who I am? On the bright side, what if he finds all this nonsense hilarious and decides to check on who the hell is this mad woman Spoke? Stranger things have happened.

Anyway, that’s the plan. If you have any crazy suggestions for the mad woman Spoke, let me know. Cause I’m doing this!

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Spreadsheets are the writer’s best friends

Well, maybe they are just this writer’s. Somehow, no matter what problem or challenge I’m facing, my first thought always turns to Excel. (Hmm, “Excel”…subliminal messaging? Or truth in advertising?)

Maybe it’s that whole idea of breaking a major problem into its component parts and tackling them one at a time. Maybe it’s tapping into the brain’s reward system, as I did last year, when watching the trend line of “actual words written” motivated me to finish the first draft of Shizzle, Inc. Or, most likely, it’s the fact that without a spreadsheet, or at least a to-do list, I would completely forget what I’m supposed to do or what I’ve already done…

Wait…what was I talking about?

To illustrate, here’s one of my “writer’s little helpers”, the word count tracking spreadsheet:

Shizzle word count log

You can see that the “actual” line is a bit jagged, and occasionally dips below the target, but all is well that ends well – and in this case I got what I wanted exactly when I wanted it – the draft was finished on the day the spreadsheet predicted that it would be.

The latest one is helping me track my progress towards landing a literary agent. Oh, I forgot to mention in my last post that in addition to everything else going wrong, my agent and I parted ways in a sort of messy divorce. So I’m back to square one in terms of plans on how to publish Shizzle, Inc. A depressing thought that only a tracking spreadsheet can fix. So here it is:

Selling Shizzle

It’s really simple. Paradoxically for a die-hard optimist, I expect to be rejected by agents. A lot. Let’s say 99 times out of 100. A simple logic would then dictate that in order to get one agent to believe into a future success of my totally rad first attempt at writing a novel, I will have to submit it to at least 100 agents.

As the spreadsheet shows, so far I’m up to 34 actual submissions. As an easy visualisation tool, the light grey shaded cells show all the agents to whom I’ve sent a query, and the more depressing dark grey ones, with strikethrough font, show the ones that sent a rejection letter or ignored me long enough to indicate a “no cigar” outcome.

So far my spreadsheets got me what I wanted, when I wanted it – 85,000 words in less than three months, and an apartment in about the same time frame. I will be very, very surprised if after 100 submissions I will not hook a single fish…er, agent. I’m not worried, though – if that happens, Miss Fix-it will make a spreadsheet on how to self-publish her “widely rejected” and “ignored by the best” debut.

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Worst writer’s block and best excuses for it, ever!

I can’t believe that my last post was nearly a year ago! Before you write me off as just another wannabe without stamina and staying power, let me rattle off the reasons why. They are all really good excuses…

Since there are so many of them, and because my mind is warped by years of project management and corporate reporting, I shall present them in this easy to read, unemotional dot-point format:

1. Literally two weeks after my last post, I broke up with a boyfriend of five years. That by itself is a pretty good excuse to forgo writing for a while in favour of drinking cheap wine while wearing pyjamas, eating Cheetos, and watching endless reruns of the “Big Bang Theory”, but then…

2. The next day I turned 41. Turning anything 40+ is pretty traumatic under any circumstances, but it’s even worse when you are newly single.

3. And, as it turns out, it’s even worse when you are homeless. In the weeks prior, my home sweet home was repeatedly invaded by swarms of termites, the flying, mating kind. Out of obligation (and disgust), I reported the unwanted subleasers to the landlord. Little did I know that he would return the favour with an official-looking letter requiring me to vacate the premises in 60 days, so that the floors could be torn up and hundreds of litres of poison pumped into the soil below. I had every reason to believe he was the cold-heartedest landlord ever, until…

4. I’ve tried to rent a place with my dog. My adorable, miniature, house trained (sort of) Italian Greyhound. The only houses and apartments available to dog owners were complete dumps, the kind where I was sure to descend into depths of post-partum depression. Then it occurred to me, that at 41 I should shape up and buy a place of my own. Except…

5. I had all of 6 weeks to do it. Well, 10 weeks, after my tear-stained emails convinced the landlord to give me a month’s extension. How hard could it be? Apparently not as hard as…

6. The slap in the face I’ve received at work. My pet project, my baby if you will, was taken away from me with “thanks, we got it from here”. I was effectively demoted, although thankfully without loss of pay, which would have made the point #5 above practically impossible.

Let me pause here for a moment and reflect on where I was last April or so. At the rock bottom, ladies and gentlemen! Agh, the flashbacks! The horror…

Thankfully, this is where my alter ego, Miss Fix-it, stepped in to clean up the mess. Ok, so Miss Fix-it did have an occasional cry about it, but that was not all she did. She also:

1. Viewed over 50 apartments for sale in about a month. I still have the spreadsheet to prove that it was not just a cheap wine-induced nightmare.

2. Bid at three auctions and made two offers, including signing a deposit check with a shaky hand. Got outbid and had the check returned, with a mocking, red-hot “cancelled” stamp across its face.

3. After waiting a respectable 3 months, signed up for online dating. Went on a few dates, but mostly got material for a future book, a chicklit number about how hilarious it is to date in your 40s. It really is, if you drink enough.

4. Applied for jobs, so far six. Went to two interviews, but mostly got material for a future book, maybe something motivational, along the lines of “keep trying, even if you get beat by internal candidates” or whatnot.

I’d like to tell you that all those efforts paid off…that I lived happily ever after…funny enough, I can!

I bought an apartment, not the kind I set out to buy (an older, Art Deco with character, drafts, and leaky plumbing). I got a 2-year old place with a wrap-around balcony, floor to ceiling glass, brand new appliances, heating and cooling. I even pulled up the carpet in the living room and polished the concrete floor underneath, so that my dog can piss anywhere she pleases. It’s small, but it’s oh-so-me.

I also found a new boyfriend. Sorry, fiance – he surprised me right before Christmas! He is also not at all what I expected (a middle-aged man with a couple of kids, baggage and beginnings of a beer belly, who would watch TV and drink stubbies while I made dinner). He is gorgeous, fit, kind, and well-adjusted. He also gets up early every day and makes breakfast. Every single day. He is now in the kitchen, making dinner. Unreal…

The only thing that’s still not completely and utterly perfect is my job. But I’m not worried about it – Miss Fix-it is working on it. She also got a spreadsheet going of all the US agents that have received and will receive “Shizzle, Inc” submissions, but I’ll save it for another post.

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First steps

I didn’t know how hard it would be to sit down in front of a blank page, to start writing, not knowing if anyone would ever read a single word…or worse, thinking that if someone actually did find and read my stories, they would say things like “Wow. What a load of crap!”

Of course, there are much harder and scarier things out there. Like parachuting (which is not worth the risk, I mean, really not worth it). And actually, I have written fiction before (if  first chapters of a half-dozen unfinished novels count).  But I have never published or even posted anything in the cyberspace, for everyone to see and comment. Those first chapters of unfinished bestsellers are my personal treasures and secrets, my own fool’s gold.

But, you have to start sometime, somewhere, and for me it is today. Because I want to finish a novel, and because I want for others to read it. Because I want to get better at writing. Because I hope that in a multi-billion world there will be a few (a million?) that would one day close my book (or put down a Kindle) and say “Wow. What else did she write?” Now, that’s a dream worth the risk.

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