May. 14th, 2013 08:18 am
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The Grunge Novel got its first rejection letter yesterday. (Well, rejection email.)

That's fine. Rejection is part of the process.

The bit that's depressing me is the reason for the rejection. The book alternates between teenagers starting a band in the early 90s, and the band reuniting in the present. And the editor felt teens wouldn't be interested in reading about old people.

Which is precisely my concern with the book. And I can't help feeling if I send it to any other YA publishers they'll say exactly the same thing. The only way to fix that is to write a completely different book.

Which I'm doing. But, after a breezy start, the new novel has hit a bad patch. I don't know what I'm doing, and I'm questioning whether its worth doing anyway. It's like I've been skipping along a sunny path, and suddenly I'm lost in a dark forest, it's raining, and I realised I forgot to pack toilet paper.

And my back pain flared up again last week, because I was writing in the State Library. I love writing in the State Library. I get more work done there in an hour that I do in two or three at home. But their desks are terrible for my back. So I've had to give up any hope of ever writing there again.

Moan grumble complain.

I know, I know: no one's making me do this. And there are people with much worse problems than these. I'm just venting. Yesterday knocks you down. Today you climb back back up and keep going. The alternative is lying in the mud feeling sorry for yourself.

A friend has offered to give the Grunge Novel to one of the editors at his publishers. That's something. Even if they turn it down, they might be interested in seeing the next thing I write.

Which means I better write it.

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In March 2010, we went and saw The Paradise Motel play a reunion show. The next day, I was sick as a dog, and I wrote five thousand words of a new novel. It was about ghosts, and grunge music, and whether friendship is stronger than death.

I finished writing that novel last week.

Yesterday, I submitted it to the Ampersand Project.

People congratulate me, when I tell them that. They say it must feel great.

I smile wanly and nod. Because I have many feelings about finishing the book, and "great" is not how I'd sum them up.

I feel pleased, obviously. And relieved. And exhausted. And fretful -- it's an odd sort of book. I can imagine even if publishers like it, they might turn it down because it doesn't really fit properly into a marketable category.

And I can't stop thinking I could make the book so much better, if only I'd sit down and rewrite the whole damn thing from scratch.

Maybe I could. The book has certainly improved with every redraft. But there is a law of diminishing returns, and the amount of time and effort I'd need to improve the book significantly would be better spent writing something new.

So I'm not touching this manuscript again until a publisher pays me to do so.

It's time go write something new.

Thanks to everyone who's offered advice and encouragement along the way. I appreciate it. And special thanks to A., for putting up with a grumpy writer all these years.

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The shortlist for the Text Prize has been announced. Congratulations to the five authors on it.

My name is not on the list. Which is fine. Re-reading my MS I can understand why not. The competition is stiff - over 300 entries - and my book  is a) kind of weird and b) really needs this third draft.

So. Back to it. I have other leads I can follow up. But first I need to get this draft done.

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I'm at that point in my novel redraft where I'm convinced the whole thing is shit, and the only way to fix it is with cleansing fire.

This is inevitable. I always feel like this about my work.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead describes how the jackal-headed god Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased to find out if they are worthy of entering the afterlife.

When people say writing is hard, they don't mean it's hard like carrying bricks all day, or working in a sweatshop. They mean it's hard like having your heart weighed to find out if you are worthy.

Writers write because we think writing is important. And by extension, the quality of our writing directly determines the quality of ourselves as human beings.

Sure, we get that it's not what you do that makes you special, it's who you are, who you love, how well you live your life, blah blah blah.

But in our heart of secret hearts we know the truth: the thing that makes our lives meaningful is our ability to write. And every word on the page is another rib peeled back, exposing our hearts for the world to reach in, squeeze, and judge our worthiness.

So there's no pressure or anything.

I wish I could be Zen about this. I wish I could be calm and diligent and serene. But I can't. Every time is the same: wild hope followed by crushing despair and back again.

And this, I suspect, is where true discipline lies. It is not in being a monk, unperturbed by all feeling. It is in feeling the ridiculous highs and the hadopelagic lows, and then continuing to work regardless.

The goal is not to walk through the fire without burning. The goal is to be burnt to ashes, and keep walking.

Okay. Whinge over. Back to it.

Draft Three

Jul. 1st, 2011 11:00 am
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Today's the first of July. Which means today I start Draft Three of the novel.

I wasted ten years trying to write my first novel. What actually happened was I wrote the first 20,000 words, got stuck, deleted everything, and started again from scratch.

And then I did that FIVE MORE TIMES.

That's ten years of my life as a writer I'll never get back.

So with this novel I had a plan. Three drafts. Each with a specific focus, and a list of things I wasn't going to worry about. And each with a specific end point: producing something that I can SHOW other people.

My breakdown was this:


Dig up the ideas, get them down on the page. Don't worry about style. Don't worry about plot. Just get the raw ideas down. This draft was like a painter's rough sketch -- all about the mood and the possibilities. The details would come later.

Draft One took about three months to write. Only one person ever read it.

Because it was a mess. But it was an interesting mess. A mess with possibility. Which is where Draft Two came in.


For Draft Two, I took all the rough, raw material from the first draft, and beat it with a sledgehammer until it formed a coherent plot.

This draft was all about the plot. If I had to write a clumsy sentence to get a scene moving, I'd write a clumsy sentence. Style can be fixed in draft three.

Draft Two took about 10 months to finish.

It was hard work. Mostly because I'm an overambitious idiot and decided to write a plot that alternates between the present and the past. Except I wrote all the past storyline first, then all the present storyline, then had to play chronological Tetris to make the two storylines fit together.

Hint: Don't do this. Save yourself the headache. Start at the beginning, and write forwards from there.

I gave Draft Three to lots of people. I wanted a wide sampling of feedback to see which reported problems were actual problems, and which where just the reader's personal preferences.

(I also wanted lots of people to tell me my book was wonderful and therefore I'm a worthwhile human being. But I'm a writer. We are inherently insecure like that.)

I received lots of great feedback. Two or three big problems were reported by pretty much all readers. And I learnt that everywhere I thought I was being subtle or understated, I was actually just being confusing. This is good to know. And so now I'm embarking on...


Draft Three is where I a) smooth off all the plot-bricks so they sit snugly together, b) polish the prose so that it's exciting to read and c) fix all the damn typos.

I'll get a friend or two to proofread it when it's done. But mostly, Draft Three is about producing the manuscript that I will send out to publishers.

I'm hoping it will take about a month.

I'm hoping it will take about a month because the Text Prize is announced at the end of July, and I entered the second draft of my novel into it.

I don't expect to win. Entering was more about having a big, immovable deadline that I had to meet, and the subsequent feeling of progress when I did. But the moment I know that I didn't win, I want to send my book out to other publishers.

And then I start writing the next one.
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Hi! I'm still alive. Just neck deep in the Emerging Writers' Festival and loving every second of it.

Too busy to blog, but I'm twittering like crazy. Half the EWF happens on Twitter.

Point form update:
  • Running Melbourne by Dusk for the Festival, a flash-fiction meets photography meets urban fantasy online storytelling project. Read! Comment! Submit! We had a story from Aurealis winner Kirstyn McDermott go up today. Very pleased.
  • EWF Town Hall conference was inspiring and thought provoking.
  • Jel got invited to TweetUp at the NGV Austrlia gallery, for a private tour of the new Indigenous art exhibition of Western Desert paintings.
  • We joined the NGV, meaning we're members now of the Zoo, the Museum and the Gallery.
  • I'm supposed to be on leave, but have to keep going back to work because of the organisational review.
  • Behind on both Doctor Who and Game of Thrones.
  • A drunken night at the festival club, and I end up starring on Straight Men Kissing.
And then there's this:

Proof it actually got sent #ewf11 on Twitpic

I mailed my novel off to the Text Prize yesterday.

I doubt it will win. It's too niche and too similar to the novel that won in 2009. But it's sent in. Complete strangers will be reading my novel. I have achieved at least that much.

Okay. Got to run.

If you're any kind of writer, you should seriously consider attending the Emerging Writers Festival. It is amazing. And for two years running they've had Scottish guests whose accents will make you swoon.
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Emailed the Second Draft of the novel out to readers for comments last night.

It's out there now. It's not just vapourware. I feel both pleased and drained.

To celebrate, I've been listening to Mick Harvey's Sketches from the Book of the Dead.

I posted previously about how we saw his excellent CD launch on Saturday night. The synchronicity between his album and my novel hasn't escaped me. Both are about memory. Both are about the dead.

The stand out track on the album for me so far is "The Ballard of Jay Givens", about the suicide of the best friend of Harvey's father.

Here-- a little present for you, on this wet Melbourne morning:

Mick Harvey - The Ballad of Jay Givens by Mute UK

I keep thinking of changes I want to make to the novel. Finishing the second draft means I can finally see what it is, as opposed to what I thought it might be. This is good. This means I can strip away everything that doesn't belong, and strengthen everything that does.

I'll start the third draft in July. I have the Emerging Writers Festival and Continuum to get through first.

Hm. I really should post about them.

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This is how it begins - a cold night, the wind violent in the trees.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival has started. A. is once more working evening shifts, and I am a comedy festival bachelor once again.

Normally I would fill these empty evenings by going comedy crazy. I think I saw 23 shows last year. I went through this year's programme and wrote down 14 shows I wanted to see, plus another nine maybes. And then...

... And then I changed my mind.

Money's been a bit tight recently and I just can't afford to blow a few hundred dollars on shows. So I've made a list. Just five shows. That's all. Five shows. I promise.

They are:
  1. Ben Pobjie's Funeral
  2. Claudia O'Doherty - What is Soil Erosion?
  3. Dave Bloustien - A Complete History of Western Philosophy
  4. DeAnne Smith - About Freakin' Time
  5. Lawrence Leung Wants a Jetpack
Plus the three freebies I'm seeing on Saturday, courtesy of Patrick O'Duffy.

Plus Daniel Kitson. We bought tickets for him months ago, so he doesn't count.

But that is all.

I'm planning to use my lonely, empty evenings to finish my book. I wanted to have it done by the end of March, but work has been a shit, I've been sick, and I've been spending a lot of time and energy and money trying to fix the problems with my feet*. So it didn't happen.

Easter, though. I'm finishing this book by Easter. Or I'm taking my laptop out the back and burning it.

*I'm not kidding about the feet thing.

I went to podiatrist about two months ago to try and fix my plantar fasciitis. He's helped a lot, but he told me some of my problems were caused by my skeletal structure and I should go and see an osteopath. So I did. The osteopath has helped a lot, but he said some of my problems were caused by poor core muscle strength, and I should go take Pilates lessons. Which I have.

And it's good. But I have a horrible feeling that this is going to end with someone telling me my problems are caused by late–stage Western capitalism, and I should go join a socialist revolution.
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Printed the Grunge novel out last week. Going through it with a red pen. Beginning to feel like I've started a land war in Asia, armed with nothing but a pocketknife and a printout from Google maps.

Next time, David, when you do a structural redraft, have a decent plan. Sure, they built Gothic cathedrals with nothing more than whimsy and some rules of thumb. But you're no stone mason. You're a computer nerd. So act like one: creative draft is bottom-up design, structural draft is top-down.

Lots of work to do. There's a month until the deadline for the Scribe competition. Think I'll make it. But I don't think I'll be able to get a draft out to people for comments before then.

So, the current plan is: submit to competition. Send out to readers for comments. And then not think about it for at least a month, while I read books and see movies and get drunk with friends.

My to-read pile is getting ridiculous. The ghost of Sir Edmund Hillary turned up yesterday, strapping on phantom crampons.

Oh, and we went the Wheeler Centre last night, and listened to Max Barry talk about a mix tape of music he listens to while writing. Fun. And yes: I promptly went home and wrote up my own list.

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Speaking as we were of Dogs in Space...

Looking some stuff up. Found a bunch of links I wanted to record. These are all about 10 years too early for my novel, But I thought [ profile] a_carnal_mink might be interested.

Dave Graney's website has stories from people remembering the Melbourne underground music scene in the early 80s.

A PDF of a conference paper about the Melbourne Punk Scene:

Not even vaguely historical, but some nice photos: "a homage to an old Melbourne music venue called The Crystal Ballroom"

Herald-Sun about the closing of the Tote, but includes a quick history of how the live music scene in Melbourne started with the end of the six-o'clock swill:

sharplittleteeth: (Default)
Tuesday night, in my after-work writing stint at the library, I had to draw a diagram of my main character to keep track of her tattoos.

Last night I was writing about heroin.

Grungy realism? Or trying too hard? You be the judge.

And soon. Very soon. I think I'm on track for my writing project plan. I might even be a little ahead of schedule. But I don't want to say that too loud, in case the gods read my blog and pwn me for hubris.

*sacrifices goat just in case*

The second draft feels like it's going well, like the book is deeper and richer and more powerful because of it. Of course, I won't really know how it's going until I print the thing out and read over it again. I suspect I'll be wincing at how many times I repeat the same phrase or description. But that's what third drafts are for.

I wanted to write a post about the story-telling in Masterchef, the way they used editing to create characters, and describe little arcs for them, and the way it almost blew up in their faces when the "Klutzy Youth" character made it all the way to the finals.

But I can't. Brain too full of novel. Sorry.

*scurries back in to the darkness*

sharplittleteeth: (Default)
Still plugging away at the second draft of The Grunge Novel.

I've set a new deadline to finish it: Scribe Publications are having a competition for unpublished manuscripts by authors over the age of 35. Entries close September 15.

I'm not sure my book is really up their alley. But deadlines are good. They keep you focused.

To combat the "oh god, this revision is never going to end" feeling I've been having lately, I've decided to apply some basic project management techniques.


I've been making edits and changes as they occur to me. Which explains why I feel like the task is endless.

Let's try a better approach. I've written out a list of things that I know I need to change or fix. It's 8 items long. Some of those items are quite big (rewriting entire chapters, for example).

But it's a list. It's manageable. I can see what sort of progress I'm making.


Finish my list of 8 edits:now - Sun 8 August 8
(3 weeks)
Print and read over:Mon 9 August - Sun 15 August
(1 week)
Send to friends for comments:Mon 16 August
(2 weeks reading period)
Accept comments, make final revisions:Mon 30 August - Sun 5 September
(2 weeks)
Submit to competition:Mon 6 September

That's a tight timetable, but achievable. The biggest doubt I have about it is will friends be able to read and comment on an 80,000 word manuscript in only two weeks?

You will notice, however, I've allowed a one week slip period, if this project runs into trouble.


This is the important bit. I have quite a few social and entertainment events on in the next month or two. I need to block out time for writing as well. I know that I can't write at home: there are too many distractions.

But I can take my laptop to the library for an hour after work each night. And there are large blocks of Saturday and Sundays I have free.

So. That's the plan.

Creative work can feel very nebulous and unending. Having a plan makes me feel better, having concrete things I know I need to do.

Although Step 4 is currently to collapse into quivering heap, loudly swearing I'll never write another thing in my life.

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Anyone here ever driven from Canberra to Sydney? What's the first big landmark that you see that tells you "yep, you're in Sydney now"?

I've only ever flown.
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Watched the First Tuesday book Club last night. It actually made me a bit depressed.

Rob Hirst was one of the guests, the old drummer for Midnight Oil. He wrote a book several years ago called Willie's Bar & Grill, about the Oil's tour of America just after 9/11.

He talked about the book he's reading at the moment, Mark Seymour's biography of the Hunters & Collectors, Thirteen Tonne Theory.

I need to read both those books. Partly because they both sound great. And partly because they sound like essential background reading for my Grunge Novel.

Except -- and here's the first reason the book show made me depressed -- I have a foot high stack of books to read, and I never seem to find time to read any of them.

The second reason I felt down: who would want to read a novel about a made-up band, written by someone who was never even in one, when you can read books about real rock bands written by real rockers?

I'm feeling down about the novel anyway. I took the last two weeks off to try and finish the second draft. The first week was a waste -- my brain was too fried from work. The second week I made progress, but nowhere near enough to finish it. I feel like swift-footed Achilles chasing Zeno's tortoise - always covering ground, but never able to close the gap. And that was the last big chunk of time I'll be able to dedicate to the book for at least several months.

Waa waa, David. You might find it easier to write if you unstapled your hand from your forehead.

Anyway: thinking about Thirteen Tonne Theory and real versus fictional rock bands led me to a conclusion, a Thirteen Tonne Corollary, as it were:

My book is fiction. So be fiction. Play to fiction's strengths. Do the things that Hirst's and Seymour's books can't, chained down as they are to the dull real world.

In practice? This means stop pretending your book is some high-brow arty magic realist Work of Literature, and put more creepy ghost shit in.

Yes. I know this should be obvious. But simplicity is hard work. Ask a Zen master.

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Long weekend = making progress on the second draft.

"Redrafting" here currently means "deleting huge swathes and rewriting them". But it's all good. The rewrites have plot and direction. The book is tighter for it. More focused. Better.

Occasionally I come across a passage that I love and want to keep, even though I know it doesn't fit.

So here's my writer's tip for the day: I cut those sections and paste them into a second file, a sort of offcuts and spare parts collection. Logically, I know anything that goes into that file is for the knackers yard. But emotionally, it lets me kid myself that I might re-use that bit of much-loved prose one day, just as soon as I find the right home for it.

Writing: it's all lies, self-deception and making things up.
: )


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