My brain is borken

I think I know why this book is taking so long to write. This morning, I spent half an hour rewriting one sentence. The finished sentence is: “The hard ache of missing Rowan had intensified, day by day, since they’d parted.” Not really worth the time investment, as I’m sure you’ll notice. But it started out life as: “She missed Rowan terribly since they’d been apart.” Now I don’t hate adverbs, but the one in that sentence (“terribly”) was propping up a weak-ish verb (“missed”), so I was casting about for a good verb that meant “missed terribly” and couldn’t find one. So I sat here with my eyes closed and imagined missing my own daughter (picture lady in dressing gown, eyes screwed tight, trying to imagine child isn’t in next bedroom). Then I got the idea of an ache, but not a soft sort of bruising or tender ache. Kind of like swallowing around a stone. So I did the whole “stone in her heart” thing but it seemed a bit overused (by me), so then I just put the words “hard ache” together and liked them. So had to rearrange the sentence.

Then I realised I needed to signal to the reader (who hasn’t been in this character’s viewpoint for a while) that the reason she’s missing Rowan so much is that some time has passed. At first I wrote “in the week since…” But again, it was too literal or something. So I tried “moment by moment”. God help me, I’ll admit it, I even tried “moment by agonising moment” but that seemed to go against what I was really trying to say, which was that it hurt but she was getting by. Also, talking in moments meant I could have been suggesting only a few hours had passed. So then I came up with “day by day” and I liked that. It indicates enough time passing, and it has a lovely rhythm and a stoked energy without the hysteria of “day after day”. Also, the parenthetical commas make it sit just outside the sentence, and emphasise the idea and the rhythm neatly.

So then I just had to organise the parts of the sentence so that they fit together without being too complex, because I don’t want the reader to stumble on the sentence. That is, for all the work I put into it, the sentence should really be invisible, imparting a brief impression perhaps, then disappearing behind the next sentence. Finally, I changed “been apart” to “parted”, just on the old advice that if the verb “to be” is anywhere in a sentence you should see if you can get rid of it. I’m still not sure on that, though. “Apart” is actually a more elegant word, so I might change it back when I have another spare half hour.

I must stress that I don’t do this with every sentence, but I do like to nail the emotional lives of my characters. I guess I could just keep writing, finish the damn book, and fix it in the edit; but sometimes if the sentence works okay (“She missed Rowan terribly since they’d been apart”) you might not notice it in the edit. There’s nothing wrong with that sentence; there’s nothing missing from it. But if I hadn’t spent the time on it, there’d be a tiny sliver of shininess lost from the story forever.

So, yeah, expect the book no time soon.

The future of… well, everything…

So, I completely rooted my back.* I would like to be able to say that I did it in a glamorous extreme-sport way: perhaps heli-skiing or white-water rafting. But, no, I did it through hours upon hours of doing what I’m doing right now: sitting at a computer writing. Okay, so I’m a writer, both here and at the uni. But I don’t think it was writing novels and research papers that did this to me. I think what did this to me was the expectation that I must keep up with all this newfangled technology.

For the last 9 days, I haven’t been on the computer except once a day to check for important emails. And I’ve got to say, it’s been bliss. The endless stream of Facebook notifications dried up. I simply ignored the vast amounts of email that come through the various email lists and RSS feeds I am on. I picked up the phone and spoke to my bestie rather than Skyping her (she’s well, thanks for asking). If I wanted a cup of tea, I went downstairs and made it myself rather than instant messaging my husband (okay, that’s a lie; I just shouted for him to make me tea: it was classy). Oh me, oh my, it was bliss! There have been days in the past where I’ve been sitting at my desk at uni, trying to write a paper, and all I can hear is a symphony of beeps and buzzes as everything notifies me it’s arriving: Thunderbird, Skype, Google Talk, texts or emails on my Blackberry. Insanity. My attention is so divided. I start a thought and don’t finish it. So this week has been quiet, and I’ve felt a strange calm creep over me. If I see an email on a list come through, I don’t feel the urge immediately to wade in and offer my opinion on everything.

I recognise the irony of saying all this on a blog, and this is the strange impasse I have reached. There is so much that is good about the way that we connect with each other now. I love that I have found old friends on Facebook. From a purely practical perspective, the interwebz allows me to promote myself and build a market as a writer. I love doing writers’ races and being in constant dialogue with my writing friends: my bestie, my manuscript group, my stablemates at the literary agency, and so on: writers can feel isolated at times. But writing used to be different for me. It was quieter. It was early in the morning, with nobody around and a hot cup of tea. It was a special place I went alone. And then I just handed it over to my agent and got on with the next one. I am going to say, definitively, that the day my writing computer got hooked up to the interwebz, was the day my productivity dropped. I write in a distracted way now. I can’t seem to focus anymore. I’m too busy being a writer to write properly.

The wonderful thing about any kind of illness or injury is that it gives you an opportunity to take stock, and I realise that I really have to think about how I write. I don’t have a great deal of willpower (though I stopped biting my nails this year for the first time in my life–yayz!); so saying I will try to use Web 2.0 technology “moderately” may not work for me. Also, I don’t want to be one of those writers who only blogs or appears on Facebook when I have something to sell my “friends”. But at the same time, I’ve always found it borderline uncomfortable posting my opinions in public as though I think they’re all that. Besides, I should be using that energy on my novel, which, it must be said, is getting written very slowly. My agent told me recently that she’s seen a noticeable drop in the quality of manuscripts submitted to her since the advent and mass uptake of Web 2.0 technology. I can imagine why: our writing is spread too thin, just as we are.

Over the coming weeks, in the limited bursts I can actually sit at the computer, I’m going to try and find that still pool that I used to write in. I miss it. I’m not ignoring you, I’m just going to stop ignoring me.


*Note: please don’t send me suggestions of ways to fix my back. I’m seeing a great health professional and I’m very happy with the progress.

Is it work, or is it play?

I can’t figure out if writing is my job or my hobby. Putting aside the money, this is one issue that continues to confound me. When I’m not writing, or it’s hard, and the deadline is approaching, and I’d really just rather be on the couch reading a novel, it feels like a job: I have to be organised, keep regular hours, meet goals, etc. And a bloody hard job, too. I’d often rather go in to work at uni; at least there I know what to do and when to do it.

But when the writing is flowing, or I’m sitting in a cafe roughing out scene ideas, or I find a particular piece of research that sparks off a chain of great ideas, then it’s a hobby. Something I do to relax, to have fun, to recreate.

Why does it matter if it’s a job or a hobby? Well, it’s the whole life-balance thing. I subscribe wholly to the theory that a rewarding and happy life comes from loving well, working well, and playing well.  Loving, that’s easy (though I did coin a new term for how one feels living with small children: demorexhaustalised). Working, I do plenty of that and it’s interesting and rewarding. But playing? Is that my writing time, or my meagre 5 hours or so a week of World of Warcraft? If it’s the latter, then I’m out of balance. If it’s the former, then I win life.

So is the answer to play more MMORPGs?* Or is it to stop all this pointless blogging and write a bit more?

Field of Clouds is past 5000 words as of today. My writing buddy has proclaimed that it’s not the pile of utter shite I fear it is, so I guess I just put my head down and keep going. At the moment, it doesn’t much feel like fun. But, as always, that’s subject to change without notice. The only way out is through.

* Massively multi-player online role playing games (or “many men online role playing as girls”)

Writing is so fucking easy

I don’t know what I’m thinking, putting the words “easy” “hard” and “fucking” so prominently on my blog. Given that, when I check my stats, the phrase most commonly googled to hit my site is “my head hurts”, perhaps it could work well in my favour to have all that profanity for search engines to crawl over.

I’ve been sitting here this morning writing. Ooh, feels so good! The whole Mount Doom thing has gone away, and thank you for all of your concerned Sam-like comments (though I should stress I was never seriously worried… was I?). All I can say is, when you’re lying in the gutter, even the kerb can seem a long way up.

As always, the only way to solve any writing problem is to write. That’s it. The only solution you’ll ever need, forever and ever, amen. Sometimes it feels like you’re stuck outside the story, and it’s all going on in there but you just can’t get in. Your characters are partying down, listening to doof-doof music (which you can hear faintly), possibly wearing tropicana-coloured eighties clothes, and drinking their vodka with red lemonade; all the while laughing at you. While you’re outside and it’s dark and cold and drizzling slightly but in a miserable way, not in a nice way. Like, it’s getting in your shoes. And you know you could get into the damn party if only you knew the secret password.

Well, the secret password is any combination of words as long as there are 500. If you can write 500 words, even if they are absolute shite, you will be in the party. I’m not saying that the party-goers will necessarily behave when you get in (and they may insist on keeping their turquoise bubble skirts on), but at least you’re in and you can start trying to boss them around.

Warning: they don’t always behave.

My head hurts… no, really

I’ve been plagued by constant headaches for four weeks. My doctor assures me they are most likely “tension headaches”. What could I be tense about?

I have started both stories. I have planned the first few chapters of each, done a little research, and written an opening paragraph for each. Here are the first drafts (subject to change at whim):

Blood. It smelled like the promise of something thrilling, as much as it smelled like the thrumming end of the adventure. It smelled like her father when he came home from battle, even though he had bathed before he took her in his arms. Still the metal tang of it lingered in his hair and beard, and, as she smashed her skinny, child’s body against his thundering chest in welcome, he smelled to her only of good things.


Beattie Blaxland had dreams. Big dreams. Fashions and fabrics, riches and respect. In her bed, rolled out on the floor of her parents’ room in their finger-chilling tenement flat, she imagined in vivid, yearning detail a future version of herself: poised, proud, almost regal. She had never imagined—nor believed it possible—that she would find herself pregnant to her married lover at the age of only eighteen.

Apart from the fact that they both start with “B”, they don’t really have much in common, do they? So far it’s not hard work because I’m not really taking it seriously. My friend, writer Grace Dugan, who is studying medicine, showed me how to find my “blind spot”. You hold your index finger in front of you and look straight ahead. Then, as you move your finger outwards, you eventually hit an area that your eye can’t see. Your finger disappears. Well, that’s where all my writing problems are at the moment, safely tucked away in my blind spot. It’s quite nice; like being drunk on champagne. Quite nice except for the headaches, that is.

Physician, heal thyself*

I have taught so many wonderful writing students over the years, and I always seem to know the answers to their problems (sometimes they don’t listen to my solutions… at first). So it embarrasses me greatly to admit that I’ve been struggling with my own writing for close to six months now. Dr Kim can’ t even diagnose herself, let alone write an appropriate prescription. I don’t know what brought it on. Perhaps it was publishing book #20 Gold Dust. A milestone–like those milestone birthdays–making me take stock.

The problem is, I have a surfeit of Really Good Ideas. And because I write across so many genres now, I don’t know quite where to throw my energy. Fab idea for children’s book time-travelling series. Cool idea for Brisbane goth YA novel. Desperate keen to write a chicklit all-girl band story. But I’ve narrowed it down to two:

An adult historical fantasy novel, working title “The Garden of the Mad King”, set in an alternative version of Anglo-Saxon England, about five daughters of a tribal warlord and the different paths they take when their father grows too ill to rule.


A Kimberley Freeman saga, working title “The Field of Clouds”, about a poor immigrant woman in Tasmania in the 1920s who goes about creating a fashion empire; and her grand-daughter in the present–fleeing a broken relationship and career in London–who inherits her grandmother’s house and all her hidden secrets.

I really can’t decide which one first. On the one hand, the fantasy novel speaks to my soul on so many levels. Get back to the magic, Kim, it says. But the work involved is huuuuge, and there’s 2 books in there I just know it (though trying to deny it to self). On the other hand, the Kimberley Freeman beckons like a crisp new beach-read novel. Let’s have fun, it says Let’s lie on the beach and get lost in it!  Frocks! Shoes! Glamour! (Though, admittedly, hard to type on the beach).

There are other pros and cons to both, some involving contractual obligations, some involving the ongoing viability of my membership to the SF community, some involving how tired I always am because my children wake before six every morning.

But the solution made itself clear to me just the other night. I know it sounds like madness, but listen to this.

I’m going to write… BOTH! Yes, I’m going to write the first chapter of each over the next few weeks. Then if I still can’t choose, I’ll write the second chapter of each. And so on. I’ve always sworn I couldn’t write two books at once, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And I do have the luxury of both a well-paying part-time job and a stay of execution on an imminent deadline.

Of course, it could all be a disaster and, if it is, you’ll hear it here first. But I think the most important thing of all is that I write something. I get very grumpy if I’m not writing and if that was you I shouted at when you took my spot at Toowong Village car park last week I’m very sorry. But I did have my blinker on first.

Wish me luck.


* my favourite version of this line is the one in the movie Barton Fink when two men come across the beheaded corpse of a doctor: “Physician, heal thyself.” “Good luck with no f**kin’ head.”