Jun 16, 2013

Online Writing Workshop - Created By Writers For Writers

What better way to kick-start my horrendously neglected blog than to convey what I did this week that what would kindle the creative juices even in dear old Lazarus - had he the inclination to write to begin with, that is.

However, before I elaborate on what was sheer joy for my creative spirit, allow me a moment to impart some facts re the above photo of the fabulous four.

(1) Yes, you are seeing right, that does read, 'watch this workshop for free.' And (2) no you're not being lured into the bliss of some writers lucid dream. I actually was listening to advice from bestselling authors live online from the comforts of home. And, before you think you've got the subject matter down with a mere glance at the said photo, let me assure you that the magic and sheer genius of this workshop was most definitely in the detail. So read on dear reader - read on.

Vanessa O'Loughlin

The fact that it was orchestrated by the effervescent Vanessa O'Loughlin, founder of both The Inkwell Group & the Irish national online writing resources magazine Writing.ie assured me that this was the beginning of something new and innovative.

Vanessa - a regular presenter at literary festivals around the country including The Dublin Book Festival , Waterford Writers Festival, The Dalkey Book Festival, Boyne Writers Festival and the Mountains to Sea Festival giving her own comprehensive and inspirational Getting Published workshops, never does anything by halves. 

Paul Carson
The morning session opened with Paul Carson who is classified not only as the master of medical thrillers by the Irish Times, but also the John Grisham of medical fiction by the Sunday Independent, was first to have his brains picked for those golden nuggets of information that every writer waits on with abated breath.

A Doctor by profession, who sat through endless inquests purely for the purpose of research, depicts the lengths international bestselling authors go to in the name of producing prose worthy of such acclaim. If one learned nothing else from the entire workshop, that in-itself was priceless insight for would-be authors of the dedication required in the research field alone.

However, not only did Paul answer questions posed by the lucky panel of five aspiring writers in the studio but the entire process was an interactive online workshop which meant questions were posed via Twitter from all over the world.

Sinead Moriarity

Next to the table was Sinead Moriarity who's breathtaking eight novel, This Child of Mine, is accredited with the storytelling genius of Jodi Picoult and the compassion and humour of Marian Keyes - an incredible feat by any standards, and Monica Mcirney who's book, Lola's Secret, was shortlisted for the General Fiction Book of the Year in the 2012 Australian Book Industry Awards - to name but one of her writing accolades.

I mean seriously, for writers starting out to have access to authors of this caliber is simply phenomenal.

There were several great writing exercises during the day which sparked some genius prose form both the live panel and online viewers. Personally, I loved the response from the opening lines challenge. For example, Annmaire Miles tweeted - Finished. She had done what she came to do. But victory fooled her into thinking the journey back would be straightforward.
What a cracker of an opening. I can assure you it is tough enough to hit the opening running under pressure but to post one under 140 characters via Twitter is nothing short of amazing.

A hidden benefit of the live interaction perhaps - one had no choice but to keep the opening short and to the point. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, a new writing exercise has just been unearthed from amongst my musings...

And if that wasn't enough, the task also sparked comments on Twitter, like - Serious talent at Write Pop Fiction , workshop, those opening lines were fantastic! Fab audience... from the wonderful, Roisin Peddle.

A later exercise was based on the above mind-map and involved the central theme of a girl gone missing and the list of questions linked to the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.

Who was she? Why had she disappeared? What happened? Who knows? Why aren't they telling? Who gains from her disappearance? How is she found? Conclusion and resolution.

There are several reasons this kind of exercise is invaluable.
(1) The list of questions sparks the curiosity of the creative that lies within us all to find answers to questions posed, and (2) once the participants read aloud their individual take on the same list of questions it obliterates the notion that anyone can steal your story.

Well, we writers types can get a tad paranoid about our precious plots. I can almost see the obsessed writer scuttling through the streets in the dark of night, raincoat tied at the waist - flowing hat pulled down over her eyes as she endeavors to deliver to her agent the manuscript she has crushed to her chest. Heaven forbid she post it - if there was a strike at the sorting area it could end up anywhere, and as for emails - glory-no. Those internet things are constantly hacked. There's no story of hers ending up on Wikileaks...

A touch exaggerated, perhaps, but you get my drift, or if you don't, let me put it to you this way. Basically, it helps to calm the overactive mind to see five people with the same list of questions all craft entirely different scenarios.

And, mentioning the number five, I simply must give a serious shout out to Kevin, Grainne, Marian, Deirdre and Amy - the five brave participants in the studio for the day. It takes absolute guts, and then some, to read your totally unedited work aloud, not only during a live broadcasting but in front of international best selling authors.

Vanessa drew the workshop to a close titillating our palate for more by extracting one more little gem form each of the authors

Paul Carson drove home his point of how vital those opening lines are with a very visual reminder - "Opening lines must grab your reader by the throat."

Sinead Moriarity   drawing on her own wonderful experience, advised us to, "Make characters likable and keep going no matter what."

Moniac Mcinerney

And Monica Mcinerney  suggested we, "Read read read - write write write - edit edit edit."

Add the above to Vanessa's  three little words - "Writing is rewriting." and you have quotable tweets if ever I read them.

Having cleared my calendar for the day and stayed the course from 10AM to 4AM with the workshop, would I change anything? The creative in me accustomed to constantly tweaking my work would suggest shorter writing exercises and more interaction with the online viewers during tea/coffee breaks.

As for the seagulls vying to be heard and the helicopter crossing at an inapt time - those are the little bits of magic great novels are made of, and for me it made the whole experience real.

And to think that this was just the pilot exercise with a view to ironing out teething problems, what can one say but congrats to all involved and roll on the next one.

Interactive Online Writing Workshops  created by writers for writers - the mind boggles as I wonder where in the stratosphere the creative mind will take us next.

With a smile
Ita x

Jul 13, 2010

Spilled Tea - Laptop Died - I Cried!

Yes, it happened – I spilled tea on my, relatively new, and very expensive laptop. I couldn’t believe it. I was always so careful. And from the time my daughter was old enough to tap her tiny fingers on the keypad I have preached about the importance of never having liquid of any sort near the computer. I was stunned, speechless, and that’s a rear happening for me I can assure you.

So what did I do? What did I learn? What did it teach me – for I do believe most things happen in our lives to teach us something; my default thinking I’m proud to say after 20+ years of watching the Oprah show.

Well, the first thing I did when I recovered my vocals was screech. And, I hate to admit it, but the second thing I did was spew a litany of unrepeatable profanities as I saved and closed files at record speed.

The stench of burning wires was unreal. My adorable little silver box of technology suddenly reminded
me of  Old-Sparky on Death Row in Stephen King's  book, "The Green Mile" only it was my ass frying along with it. Once I had it unplugged, I yanked it off its stand and turned it upside down while open in an attempt to let the tea drain out of it. Quote – I did say in an attempt – nothing came out.

I tried a blast of the hair dryer, on the cool setting mind you, I didn't want to fry it any worse that it already was. More tears, and a few words no good honest Irish Catholic girl would ever want her father to hear her say. Finally, I sat in the chair horrified at the sight before me and thanked God and every Saint known to mankind, that I had backed up my work the night before.

I wasn't just tired the previous night, I was shattered. It is nothing short of a miracle that I plugged in Click-Free to let it do it’s job before collapsing into bed. No, you don't have to copy or paste, or do anything with it other than plug it in and wait for it to backup – but when you are out of your face with tiredness after a long day at the computer it’s very easy to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Boy was I glad I hadn't left till tomorrow what I could do that day, as that wonderful saying goes.

The second thing I learned was NEVER EVER go anywhere near a laptop with liquid of any sort. You would think I would have known that after preaching for years to my daughter but…
Now don’t get me wrong here – it’s not like I was stupid enough to sit down to have a cuppa beside my laptop – oh no, far from it.

I suffer horrendously with sciatica; a burning sensation down my legs and it gets particularly bad when I am sitting, so I get up every hour or so and stretch my limbs. On this occasion, I decided to get a cuppa and read a chapter while pacing the floor slowly. It was either that or lie flat on my back on the floor, and whilst I often write that way, it’s quite difficult to drink tea in that position. Anyway, with tea in hand I reached across the laptop to get my glasses. I staggered, caught my toe in the base of the chair, and splash…..

Now if ever I needed proof that I am addicted to my writing, that writing is my oxygen, by golly I got it when my laptop fired. The fear of loosing my work consumed me. I knew I had backed up but I had never actually tried to replace work from my backup to know if it was working properly.

My fingernails got the works – the dog got yelled at – sleep eluded me, copious quantities of tea and coffee was consumed and my daughter was blessed she was away until my fingers were back on the keypad. Basically, normality only resumed on discovering my files were safe.

So my dear people – learn from my mistake and make sure you are ten foot away from the computer when you have the cuppa in your hand, and Back-Up, Back-Up Back-Up your work daily.

With a smile

Jul 1, 2010

Why Pay For A Professional Critique

Why pay a professional to critique your work – why not just get a very honest friend or family member who is capable of being objective to do it for you?

I’ll tell you why – without meaning to offend anyone, they are not lightly to know what to look for in the processional sense of what you as the writer need in a critique.

Yes, they will spot some major error in your writing, which is great – like the following little beauty a friend spotted in my writing recently.

“…when I woke earlier with Mison howling!”

Obviously, I wasn’t howling with the dog, though anything is possible during a full moon phase where I am concerned, but in this instance, that wasn’t what I meant.

I doubled laughing when she pointed it out to me. Oh, the difference an “’s” can make within a sentence. It obviously should have read, “…when I woke earlier with Mison’s howling, or, when Mison’s howling woke me.”

But, in my defence, because the writer knows the story in their head it is hard to spot the foul-ups, blunders, errors or inconsistencies that will be apparent to someone reading the story for the first time. Thus, it’s great to have fresh eyes to check things over for you.

If you have a friend capable of proofreading your work and giving you an un-biased opinion, you are blessed. But note, I did say review, (as in look over) not critique your work – there is a world of difference.

When you need a piece reviewed, in the sense of proofreading for typo’s, grammar, and punctuation, by all means go to sharp eyed friend who is on the button in such matters – but when it comes to getting your work critiqued you need to find a professional that you are comfortable working with.

There are many critiquing services available to writers but I consider myself privileged to be a member of the phenomenal Inkwell Writers @ http://www.inkwellwriters.ie/whose founder, Vanessa, not only runs fantastic writing workshops by Best Selling authors, but also offers a wide array of services for writers at every stage, and provides a critiquing service of the highest standard.

And if you attend the Inkwell workshops, you are even lightly to meet the Best Selling author in person – it’s a win-win situation for all writers no matter what stage you are at in the craft.

I chose Best Selling author Tracy Culleton @http://www.inkwellwriters.ie/Critique-Service.html#TracyCulleton2 from the panel at Inkwell, and with the butterflies doing a fine rendition of River Dance Re-visited in the pit of my stomach, I bunged off my chosen segment for critiquing by email.

The level of professionalism with which Tracy analyzed my work was second-to- none. Not only did I get an honest in-depth line-by-line appraisal of my work, but her suggestions to improve my work were astounding, and her encouragement heart-warming.

The praise and encouragement are important for more reasons than the obvious boost to ones ego that one might expect. Yes, we all need a boost to our ego from time to time. Writing can be a lonely experience where rejection batters the ego, and if that’s not bad enough, we beat ourselves up at times; comparing our work to the best – which is always going to fall flat, but with our professional editing head screwed firmly in place – the praise in the critique plays an entirely different role.

In the editing mode, you use the comments like, "excellent - deep in POV here very vivid and powerful and the right side of purple prose Very good ‘timeline’ here making it clear whats happening when vivid description, and excellent use of back story ah! There’s the needed locator, nice work  great use of strong verbs love this Para, etc," and study what you did in those sections that earned you this response from a Best Selling author, and then use that knowledge to improve the rest of your ms.

Thus, an in-depth critique by a professional highlighting the positive with the negative is actually all positive and worth ten times what you paid for it when you are in either editing mode, or study mode.

At the end of the day, as regards ego, if you want to be a published author – you need to leave your ego on the shelf during the critiquing process. Critiquing is about improving your ms, learning, and moving closer to being published, and nothing else.

To conclude:
Unless they work in the profession, your friends are not qualified to give you the in-depth analysis you need to put your work forward as a polished ms for publication.
What you need is a professional analysis like the one I received through the Inkwell services, which will improve your ms a thousand fold.

With a smile
Ita x

Jun 18, 2010

Writing With The Door Open

The open door!

Ok, in the last post I talked about writing with the door closed – bliss, painless, no judgement from anyone – not even your inner critique, if you’re very lucky.

With the door closed, your work is not open to an onslaught of the judgment from your critiques. But in the second draft, you are preparing to show your manuscript to whomever will be critiquing it, therefore the second draft needs to be written with the door open.

The magnificent book, “On Writing” by Stephen King, describes writing the first draft with the door closed and the second with the door open brilliantly. If you haven’t read that book I highly recommend you do. In an ideal world it should be compulsory for anyone putting pen to paper or finger to keypad to study that Stephen's book.

Opening that door can be a painful process. Opening the door means that you, the author, are open to criticism. Opening that door means many great lines will be slaughtered by the delete button. Lines that you thought were brilliant in the first draft suddenly wither beneath the scrutiny of the second draft.

And if they don’t disappear with the help of the delete button, you can be sure that they will after you receive some critiquing process.

At the end of the day, if you are serious about being published, then you are going to have to write the second draft with the door open and know that in time you must hand your baby over to the critiques, no matter who they are.

It is said that to write a book one must have determination for the First draft. An eye for detail in the 2nd. True creativity in the 3rd. Ability to distance yourself in the 4th. And last, but by no means least – a bloody thick skin for the 5th.

And that’s if you’re lucky enough to get there in just 5 drafts.

To conclude then – there comes a time one must open the door and just let go.

With a smile

Ita x

Jun 7, 2010

Writing With The Door Cloosed.

Stephan King, in his amazing book “On Writing” said that we must write first with the door closed before writing with the door open.

As a writer battling with Dyslexia, I would like to elaborate on that a little more.

For now, I will focus on writing with the door closed and cover writing with the door open in the next post.

What the great King of writing is referring to keeping ones writing clear from the opinion of others when it is not developed enough for even your closest friends to cast an eye upon. Unless you are a very-polished writer - the first drafts are usually little more than a creative scribble of the story outline. Remember - the first drafts are just the seeds of what will eventually be a great novel.

It would be ludicrous to take a friend out into the garden and say, “look at the fantastic seed I’ve sown that will be a magnificent oak tree in a few years,” and yet, without realizing it, that’s exactly what we do with our book if we produce it for the opinions of others during early drafts.

The first draft is for creativity and creativity only. And the first draft is definitely NOT the place for the intellectual left side of the brain to throw in it’s sixpence worth.

This is where I ran into trouble. I allowed the intellectual left side of the brain to edit every word the creative side was trying to relay, as I was writing it. I combed over every line, every paragraph, constantly looking for mistakes. I now realized I did this because of my neurosis over being dyslexic.

Can you imagine the dilemma – the conversation – the craziness of it as right brain and left-brain both tried simultaneously to control of the work at hand?

I was paralyzing my creative flow by being obsessed that there would be mistakes that I would not spot.

This led me to realize that it’s not just other people we need to keep the door shut on while working our first drafts – it’s also our critical mind we needs to be shut out.

How can do we do this?

I now have the following little statement carved on timber and placed where I can see it at all times.

“First Draft: Don’t get it right - Get it written!”

This helps me focus on allowing the creative energy flow and leave the critical intellectual side of the brain until the editing drafts, which is where it belongs.

With a smile
Ita x

Mar 15, 2010

So You Think You Have Nothing To Write About!

So You Think You Have Nothing To Write About – Think Again!

I hate negativity, I really do, and I make no apologies for avoiding negative people like the plague. When I see the black cloud descending, I leg-it!
But as much as I hate negativity in other people, I absolutely loath it in myself. And, as a writer, I found that negativity – the daemon it is – has the audacity to voice its unwanted opinions about my chosen profession from time to time.

On one particular occasion, the detrimental whispers were suggesting that I had nothing to write about. Imagine – me – the mouth of the south with nothing to say! I think not!
But it serves to prove just how powerful the voice of negativity can be when it gets a hold. Indeed, if you give the infernal wagon an inch and it will run a 26mile marathon on you. Within seconds, I had an appalling list of detrimental thoughts throwing in their sixpence worth:

What was I going to write about? Who was I to think I had anything worth saying to anyone? What had I done in my life that was worth talking about? Where were my ideas for articles, books, columns, going to come from?
And it went on, and on, and on. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, then fear rose its ugly head to say hello – plunging me into a downward spiral of misery and despair.

It stopped me dead in my tracks, but thankfully, I had experience with the said daemon.

I have learned that when negative carp starts I need to devise a plan, and rapidly, otherwise I end up in the YO-OH-ME mode. Yo-oh-me leaves me, all alone in my canoe, (metaphorically speaking) the weight of the world firmly planted on my shoulders as I row down the Amazon through a dense fog singing yo-oh-me, yo-oh-me: its haunting echo lasting longer than my image as I disappear into the mist with no hope of ever returning.

I went for a walk to rid myself of the despondency that was settling in.

20 minutes later - eureka – I would write a list, a HUGE list of things that had happened to me in my life. Draw from the University of Life was my plan. Excitement replaced negativity as I realized writing down endless things I had experienced in my life would have a double whammy. One, it was going to kick the notion that I was ever going to run out of things to write about firmly in the butt, and two, I could use it when I was editing. Yes, I said editing, I'll explain in a minute.

The List - Things I can write about:
Being a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a lover, a teenager, giving birth, post natal depression, pmt, christenings, communions, conformations, debs, weddings, grief, betrayal, first day at work, playschools, primary school – to third level, football, sons, daughters, dyslexia, buying a house, building a house, decorating, housework, painting, writing, eating disorders, weight watchers, exercise, living in the country, trips to the city, holidays, faith, shopping, fear, mothers day, fathers day, flowers, my love of candles and music, etc, etc, etc.

Then I broke my list down into particular memories under each heading. I now have a folder on my laptop where I write memories and ideas for stories, and it’s growing all the time. This also helps to keep the head clear. And not only that – when I am editing, I look at each chapter and at the list to where I experienced something similar in my life – connect with the emotions I felt at the time and then rewrite from the heart. When you write from the heart it’s far more powerful!

I highly recommend everyone spend time developing a list for when negativity, or writers block, comes knocking on the door!

With a smile

Ita x