Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Happiness is ...

Happiness is walking through your childhood fantasy world.

I was ten years old the first time I read The Lord of the Rings. It caught my imagination as no other book had done before, and few since. I wrote stories set in the world of Middle Earth, using my favourite characters. I forced my uninitiated (and probably bored) friends to play endless games of make-believe where we dressed up as Elvish princesses in my mother’s old dancing petticoats and lamé dresses. I committed many of the poems to memory, and reread obsessively, adoringly.

It’s safe to say that The Lord of the Rings is The Book that started my lifelong love of fantasy, and when the movies came out and – oh miracle of miracles! – they didn’t suck, I fell in love all over again with Aragorn and Sam and the elves and the Riders of Rohan, with the glories of faded Gondor and the sweet green fields of the Shire.

So you can imagine my excitement when I got to walk those green fields and see the Shire FOR REALZ on our New Zealand trip. (Actually, you probably can’t. I was so ridiculously thrilled to be there I didn’t stop grinning like a loon the whole time. Is it shallow to admit it was the highlight of my trip? No offence, New Zealand, you’re beautiful and all, but you can’t compete with the love I bear the Shire. Even though you kind of are the Shire. I know. Don’t try to use logic on me.)

It was a picture-perfect day for a trip to Middle Earth, too. Bright sunshine, beautiful blue sky, absolutely glorious.

Oh, those hobbit holes! They were divine! They had the sweetest little cottage gardens:

Such attention to detail! Each one had unique features: bellpulls, woodpiles, letterboxes, tools left lying around. Some front doors were weathered-looking with faded or peeling paint. Others obviously belonged to houseproud hobbits and were painted bright yellow, red or blue.

Bag End, of course, had a handsome dark green door and stood high on its hill overlooking the rest of Hobbiton. It was very large by hobbit standards – no wonder the Sackville-Bagginses coveted it! – and had thirteen windows, whereas the most any other hobbit hole had was four.

The oak tree on top of it was the only fake tree on site, and boasted over 250,000 fake leaves imported from Taiwan and individually hand-wired on.

The tour was very informative, with lots of inside info about the making of the films. Highly recommended if you’re ever in New Zealand!

Now, if only they’d build a real Lothlorien, my childhood dreams would be fulfilled!

If you could pick any fantasy world to visit in real life, what would it be?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Reproachful software and other motivational writing tips

My new version of Word has this cute little feature. When I open an existing document a message pops up asking if I want to start again from where I stopped last time. It’s quite handy, but if it’s been a while since I’ve worked on the book, that little message can seem more reproachful than helpful.

Welcome back. Pick up where you left off: Thursday? Thursday! But it’s Monday now! Aargh!
Yes, folks, guilt has been motivating Catholics everywhere for over 2,000 years, and it can work for you too. It’s a powerful force. (Though Protestants should not despair, as there’s always the Protestant Work Ethic to fall back on if you can’t manage Catholic Guilt.)

But of course guilt is interdenominational and, ridiculous as it seems, this perky little message from my software does make me try harder not to leave it so long between writing sessions. Pick up where you left off: 2 hours ago? gives me the warm fuzzies and certainly ensures speedier progress.

My constant battle to triumph over the perky “pick-up” feature led me to wonder what other weird things could be motivating. We procrastinators writers are always looking for tips on how to actually, you know … write.

To-do lists are another thing that work for me. What’s so weird about that? you ask. To-do lists are mainstream. Everybody’s doing them.

Very true. Most people have at least tried them, and for the right personality the satisfaction of ticking those suckers off can be highly motivating. What’s weird about them, for me, is that even when the to-do list isn’t writing-related, the sense of achievement I get from ticking off mundane chores makes me feel all accomplished and cheerleady. You wouldn’t think paying bills or organising an in-tray would put anyone in a real yes-you-can-do-it frame of mind, but that’s how it appears to work. Buoyed up by little successes, tackling the revision seems a challenge to be enjoyed rather than something fearsome.

Two key factors with to-do lists:

1)      Keep the items small and do-able. Finish the book is too big a chunk to bite off; it’s more likely to lead to drowning your sorrows than making any progress. Write 5,000 words this week or Revise three scenes is better, and will keep you happily busy at your desk instead of throwing yourself off the nearest cliff in despair at the enormity of the task ahead.

2)      Tackle the thing you’re dreading most first. It’s tempting to leave something difficult or uncomfortable to deal with till last, but then it just hangs over your head, blighting everything else and causing unnecessary stress. Bite the bullet and get it over with, then enjoy the feeling of sweet relief at having it out of the way. Usually, once you do it, it turns out not to be that big a deal anyway, and you wonder why you were so worried about it.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get everything ticked off in the allotted timeframe. You may not have accomplished everything you’d hoped to, but usually just setting those targets means that you’ll accomplish more than you would have without them.

So what about you? Do you have any tips on getting things done?

Monday, 19 August 2013

Elsewhere, on the glorious internet ...

For a beautiful burst of colour, check out Matt's Japanese flower blanket. So gorgeous! I’m making a scarf with this pattern, but so far  my scarf is only six flowers long, so it could be a long while before I get to wear it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to admire his.

Elizabeth Bear on how to move past that stage where your writing is getting "rave rejections", ie I loved this but …

Seth Godin muses on the end of bookstores: Basically, people have too many other amusements to bother with reading, especially when so many have suffered under well-meaning but dull education programs that make reading a chore. “More than once, friends have said, ‘you should be really pleased, I even finished your new book.’ My guess is that no one says that to Laurence Fishburne about his new movie.”

Had to laugh at that, and it’s a valid point, but I don’t believe you can therefore assume reading is dead – only that there might be many more readers if education didn’t insist on foisting “worthy” books on kids. But judging by the kind of books my girls are assigned (eg Uglies by Scott Westerfeld), things have changed a lot even since I was at school, and the future of reading seems pretty healthy.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Three steps forward, two steps back

That’s how revision feels. I’m making progress, I’m making progress … no, wait. Damn.

I’ve been writing and writing and writing, but I’ve also been deleting, deleting, deleting, so the novel’s wordcount has hardly shifted. It’s gone up by about 2,500 words, whereas I could swear I’ve written 10,000 new ones.

It means I’ve had to redefine what progress looks like. My little progress bar over on the side is measuring scenes revised rather than wordcount, so I can see I actually am moving forward, despite how it feels. But I’m so used to wordcount as a measure of progress that the feeling of running on the spot is very hard to shake.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch had an interesting article about how the markers of success in the new world of self-publishing have shifted, but really, “shifting the goalposts” is a pretty universal problem.

Like when you leave fulltime work for fulltime mothering instead. You no longer measure your worth in successful campaigns, reports written, satisfied clients, or whatever business-related units you’re used to. Nobody gives you a promotion or a pay rise when your baby starts solids, or begins sleeping through the night. You have to find new ways of defining a good day or a bad day.

Or when you leave school. Or retire. Or change careers, or relationships. Take up a new sport or hobby. Even find new friends. Situations are always changing, and we have to adjust. No use complaining “but I’ve always done it this way”.

And yet, we are creatures of habit. How many times have I checked my wordcount after adding a whole new section, and felt disappointed that it’s hardly gone up because of all the other words I’ve ripped out? I can tell myself wordcount doesn’t matter till I’m blue in the face; my inner child is too busy throwing tantrums in the corner to listen.

In short: editing painful, progress slow. Guess I’ll just have to send my inner child to the naughty corner and get on with it.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Poncho power!

I know I’m the queen of the unfinished project, but sometimes I actually do finish things, but forget to tell you about them.

Case in point: This time last year I made Drama Duck a poncho. No particular reason, just that I’d seen one on the internet and it looked like fun. And ponchos did seem to be making a comeback, so … In a lightning-fast three weeks, I whipped one up, and she wore it with joy.

But of course, I have two daughters, don’t I – and making something for one and not the other instantly qualifies you for World’s Worst Mother. Sadly for Demon Duck, I have the attention span of a gnat, and once I’ve made something once I want to move on and try something different, not make the same thing all over again.

I did try. I bought the wool of her choice, but there was no more lightning-fast left in the tank. Back at my usual speed-of-molasses I got it probably three-quarters done before spring arrived and it was too hot for ponchos any more.

This year, feeling a little guilty, I got it out again. It only took a couple of hours to finish it off. Fortunately for me she hadn’t moved on from the whole poncho idea in the intervening year. She even requested a matching beanie, as you can see in the photo. (And I wonder if you can guess what her favourite colour is?)

The beanie was fun, and so quick! I can feel a rush of beanie-making coming on …

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Happiness is ...

Happiness is a steaming hot bowl of scrumptious soup on a cold night.

Add a loaf of fresh crusty bread and you have a match made in heaven!

I’ve been making this soup a lot lately. Lots of vegies, beans and pearl barley, so it’s healthy as well as delicious. Great to come home to after standing around in the cold at netball training!

Easy to make, too:

3 carrots, 2 zucchini, 1 onion, half bunch celery, some green beans, all chopped small
10 cups vegie stock and/or water (I use a mix)
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can mixed beans
1½ cups pearl barley
1 tub tomato paste
Herbs (I use basil, oregano, salt, Tuscan seasoning)

Saute the vegies in a big pot for 3-5 minutes, then throw in everything else, bring it to the boil and simmer (with lid on) for an hour.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

Elsewhere, on the glorious internet ...

Have you noticed my little revision progress bar on the right? I’ve actually been working, albeit slowly, which probably explains why there are fewer links this week. Not so much time spent surfing!

Kristine Katherine Rusch talks about the problem of self-discipline, when you are writing with no external deadlines. I could really relate – she said she could spend her entire life reading, and would rather do that than anything else. “No amount of ‘forcing’ myself got me to change my habits. I had to figure out where the problem started, and nip it in the bud.”  

Michael Hicks has good advice on using Twitter effectively for authors (though it’s time-consuming) 

Hugh Howey recounts his amazing two-year ride from unknown self-publisher to bestsellerdom: 

In non-writing news, would you like a flat stomach? Of course you would! Who doesn't? “If you want a flat stomach, the best advice – in conjunction with a sensible diet and regular exercise (of course) – is to get a good night’s sleep.” And then de-stress your life, according to Michelle Bridges.  

And something that the smallest member of our household finds intensely interesting: Who will play the new Doctor Who? The BBC is announcing it tonight (or some time tomorrow, I guess, from an Aussie perspective, seeing as how we’re living in the future compared to just about everyone else).