For years your head’s been buzzing with ideas, and your biggest challenge was to find enough hours in the day to explore your characters and their situation and write your novel(s). But what happens when you finish a novel – and there’s nothing new to take its place? No ideas, nothing!It’s a frightening feeling. The question arises: will I ever write again? Will I ever again experience the seduction of entering another world and playing puppet master to my make-believe friends?
I wrote my last novel, an Arthurian-related fantasy titled I, Morgana, as if in a dream. It was something I’d been thinking about for a very long time and, when I finally sat down to it, the words just flowed and it was finished in no time. The mss is now out with publishers, but in the meantime – what? Am I suffering from burn out, is that the problem?
Who knows. For most of this year I’ve been playing around with various ideas – but none of them sing to me. None of them keep me awake at night; the characters I’ve envisaged are not talking to me – perhaps they suspect I’m just not that interested in them?
But I hate not writing; not writing leaves a hole in my day and in my heart. During the year I needed to devise some strategies to cope, and I’d like to share these with you now.
- First of all, I mined the bottom drawer (most of a filing cabinet actually!) for old mss that, for one reason or another, I had abandoned. I’ve had a go at rewriting some of my novels for children, and have sent them out. And out again, on the grounds that I’d rather have them ‘out there’ than sulking in a filing cabinet! So give it a go: you might find some gems lurking among the dross!
- I subscribe to various e-newsletters and belong to numerous writing organisations, so this year I’ve kept an eye out for any opportunities advertised for writers. Again, I’ve resorted to the filing cabinet, rewriting and fluffing up some of my old short stories, writing a couple of new ones, and sending them out to competitions (a Highly Commended came my way); and to various anthologies and magazines (three published in Crock of Charms, two published in ASIM, and one accepted for NSW School Magazine. It’s kept my writing hand in, my writing muscles strong, and there’s nothing like success to boost your confidence and keep you going!
- I had a crack at trying some new genres, using information I’ve collected over the years – in this case for some travel articles, although you could try any genre on any topic that is of interest to you. In my case, whenever I visit somewhere new on holiday I’ve always collected maps, brochures and assorted info just in case I might need it for a setting for one of my stories. This time I used the info, plus new research when necessary, for a series of short pieces (with photographs) that have been published in NSW School Magazine this year under the overall title of ‘Our Asian Adventures’.
- Following on the theme of non-fiction, and at the request of NPWS, I wrote a book about The Little Penguins of Manly, which has now been published, and which is receiving great reviews. Again, a boost to my confidence – and a timely reminder to look around locally for topics that might be of interest for an article, as a basis for a short story, or for a novel. (eg a previous novel for younger children, Wally the Water Dragon, was based on a head-banging dragon that lives in our fishpond. It was published back in 2000.)
- I should also add that another novel, a time-slip fantasy for teenagers set on Norfolk Island, titled A Ring Through Time, was also published this year – after some editing and rewriting last year which obviously paid off as it’s had some wonderful reviews and has just won first prize in the Society of Women Writers biennial book award for junior/YA fiction.
- Taking inspiration from a friend, Beverley George, who is also a brilliant and very successful poet, I’m having a go at composing haiku while on my morning walk through the bush. The practice has sharpened my powers of observation, and honed my writing skills: nothing like having to find the perfect word while keeping to a strict syllabic parameter! And it certainly helps to calm me, to still the negative chatter in my brain, and keep me ‘in the moment.’ It might be rubbish poetry, but no-one else is going to see it, so that’s okay! In fact, what’s truly liberating is that I’m giving myself permission to play, without having to commit to a Great Work of Literary Merit!
- I’ve also spent some time on the other part of being a writer – promotional activities. By that, I mean updating my website, writing this blog (though not as frequently as I should!); establishing a presence on fb, twitter etc; taking part in other online activities aimed at writers and/or readers; going out to schools clubs etc for author talks and workshops, and taking part in and contributing to activities associated with our community of writers, eg at the Writers Centre and the ASA. This is especially worthwhile in terms of giving and receiving support, plus news and information-gathering about what’s going on in the writing world.
- In addition, I’ve attended various courses and attended a variety of conferences in order to widen my skills and broaden my knowledge of even unrelated topics of interest to me (eg Richard III and The Plantagenet Society.) I’ve also joined associations, and become involved in community activities, all of which have helped me keep a balance between work and pleasure.
- Finally, and this goes without saying, the company of family and friends is the best support any writer can have, given that writing is essentially a very lonely occupation.
So, at the end of the year, I can say I have survived not writing a novel – and with quite a lot of writing success under my belt as compensation. Will the muse return? I hope so – in her own good time. Meanwhile I hope that some, if not all of these tips will work for you, and may the muse grace you with her presence in 2014!