To celebrate the launch of the upcoming “Read Like A Girl” campaign (#RLaG), I was asked to film a quick clip saying why I think it’s so important for girls to read. Here’s my answer. (And, just to add, I think it’s important for EVERYONE to read, not just girls!!)
Over the last year I’ve presented a number of writing workshops, and something I’m asked over and over again by budding authors is this: “How do I get what’s in my head out onto a page?”
I’ve always found this a fascinating question, because for me, it just happens, and very little thought process goes into making it so. But given the regularity of this question, I know that’s not the case for everyone. Much like writer’s block, this is a very real conundrum for a number of people, so I want to offer my advice in the hope that it might encourage some people.
The way I see it, there are three (main) things that can help turn your imagined-stories into written-stories:
First up, just like when it comes to writer’s block, we need to accept that writing is not always rainbows and butterflies; sometimes it’s purely a result of self-discipline. For me, writing is a complete joy 90% of the time , but 10% of the time it’s just plain hard work. There’s no easy way to say it: sometimes you just have to make yourself write—even if the result of that isn’t very ‘good’. It might be a total mess of words on a page, it might not even make sense. But if that idea in your head is ever going to get out of your head, then you need to start somewhere. Listen to the wisdom from Lao Tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The same goes for writing: A story of a hundred thousand words begins with a single letter.
Secondly, gain a fresh perspective. Go for a walk, spend some time amongst nature, head to the beach, visit a friend—just get out of your house or office or wherever you’re normally confined with your laptop, and see what the rest of the world is doing. Experiencing a new environment will give you a boost of energy and get those endorphins running (even more so if you actually do something active like exercising), and it’ll clear the cobwebs from your mind enough that you’ll have more clarity when you sit down to write again.
Lastly, sometimes it helps to see your story play out like a movie across your mind, or like a script that a director would be following. If that’s the case, then write it down as it comes to you—words, impressions, sounds, sights, smells, whatever it is that you’re experiencing. Even if you just bullet-point your notes down, you can then go back and do these wonderful things call “fleshing out” and “editing”. (Authors everywhere rejoice at the power of these two writerly gems.) This final point kind of merges in with the first point, that being just to start writing. Because if you don’t start, you won’t start. (Sheer genius, right there.)
There are heaps of other things that can help, and it all depends on the kind of personality you have (for instance, some people might not be good in nature and you’d instead benefit from watching a television show, while others might be inspired from reading a wonderful book—both methods of which can also help with generalised writer’s block). But all in all, the most important thing is to find out what works for you—and to just start doing it.
To finish, I personally think the main reason writers struggle to get ideas out of their heads and onto pages is because they just don’t think they have the ability to harness words well enough to capture the entire “perfect” vision of their story. As writers, we are our own worst critics, and sometimes that can stop us in our tracks and keep us from trying to begin with. This makes me sad, because there are so many people out there with such incredible stories inside of them, but they don’t believe in themselves enough to have a crack at actually writing those stories. But my rebuttal to the argument of “I’m not a good enough writer yet” is simply this: “How will you ever become a “good enough” writer if you don’t take a risk and just start writing?”
You’ll never know if you never try. So dust off those writing caps, folks, and ignore the mess of where you might begin.
… Just begin.
One of the most common questions I get asked is how I come up with the names for the books in The Medoran Chronicles… and also if those names have any specific meaning. When I was away at NatCon last week, I decided to film my answer! Check it out below!
I started my vlogging series today – Q&A With An Author – and my first video is now available for viewing!
In the vlog, I answer what my book plans are after The Medoran Chronicles, but (for some reason) I can’t get the YouTube video to link straight here this time. So if you have a spare four minutes and want to have a watch, you’ll have to click on this link:
I’ll upload the next video in a couple of days, with me answering a question about which characters I loved writing the most!
I had so much fun vlogging the other day that I’m thinking I’ll do a series of shorter videos in a kind of “Q&A” theme. Sort of like “Q&A With An Author” – the author being me!
SO… If you have any questions you think would be interesting for me to answer via vlog, then hit me up in the comments below! It could be anything regarding The Medoran Chronicles (Akarnae, Raelia, or the rest of the books in the series – but I won’t reveal spoilers!)… to other upcoming projects… to writing questions in general… to books I’m reading or have read or loved etc… Or really, ANY question that might be fun to answer!!
(Though, let’s avoid all mentions of orange juice, okay? I learned my lesson in my previous vlogging adventure! *Awkward laugh*)
Writing a book—or anything—is a funny thing, mostly because no two authors have the same technique. Sure, there are a number of processes we all cover in order for a novel to come together, but how we go about them is where it all can get interesting. But to narrow down an extremely lengthy topic, I’ll be discussing three different processes I believe all writers have to consider in order to get from the first page to the last. And those processes are planning, writing, and editing.
I’ll be honest here: I always tell people that I suck at plotting. And in my mind, this is true. I’m definitely a pantser (aka, someone who writes by the seat of their pants and has no idea what might come with each new sentence). But that said, even though I’m not the kind of writer who can sit down and plot out every single moment that will be happening in the book, I do have to have some idea of the direction I want the novel to go in. There is, at the very least, a vague plan.
Think of it like going for a car ride. I’m not talking about those trips where you know you’re heading to the beach or the shops or your grandmother’s house. I’m talking about the random, “I have no idea where I’m going but I’m just gonna go for a drive and see where I end up” drives. Has anyone ever done that? If so, and even if not, I’m hoping you’ll be able to see with this metaphor that, unless something unexpected and untoward happens, regardless of the fact that you have no idea where you’re going to go once you sit behind the wheel, you have a starting place and an ending place. You start at home (or wherever your car is parked), and you’ll end up back there once you’re done. Or, you’ll end up somewhere else, but along the way during your drive, you’ll figure out where that is because, ultimately, you can’t live in your car forever. You’ll need to eat and sleep and shower and, well, live outside of your vehicle.
So, my point is, you might decide to turn right out of your driveway or you might turn left, you might head to the mountains, to the river, to desert, to the snow, to your friend’s house, to the library, to nowhere at all… but whatever you do, you’ll experience it as you go, and when the time comes to find shelter, you’ll either head home or you’ll end your car ride somewhere else. But, again, you’ll always have a start point, and you’ll always finish with an end point.
This is how I write (most of the time). I’ll always have a starting point and I’ll always have an ending point. There will also generally be a few things I want to experience along the way—like how with Akarnae I knew I wanted there to be a kind of magic that wasn’t ‘normal’ magic (including a very special library!), I knew I wanted there to be kickass classes like Combat, I knew I wanted my antagonist to be charismatic and strangely likeable but also very clearly not good, and I knew—I absolutely knew—that the romantic elements of the story would be built up over time in the Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley kind of way, rather than any kind of insta-love that detracted (and distracted) from the overall adventure of the plot. These were all things I knew I wanted, but I had no idea how they were actually going to come about. To keep with the car metaphor, they were what I had to discover during my ‘drive’. I knew how Akarnae would open—a girl stepping through a doorway and becoming stranded in a fantasy world—and I knew vaguely what would take up most of her time—she would attend a school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts and face all kinds of challenges along the way—and I knew where it would all end (this I’m not sharing here, because, well, SPOILER ALERT!)… but the rest was a mystery to me until it unfolded at my fingertips.
BUT…. For me, planning isn’t just something that happens at the beginning of the novel writing stage. It continues throughout the entirety of writing the book. That’s likely because, as I just mentioned, I don’t really plot very much, and certainly not scene-by-scene. So if I suddenly find my protagonist in the middle of an Archery class, since I’m not exactly Katniss Everdeen or Robin Hood and I have no idea how to shoot an arrow let alone string a bow, that’s when I have to open up my internet browser and research, research, research.
For the record, this happens a lot. And again for the record, I’d definitely be one of those people who gets raised eyebrows and unending interrogations if the law enforcement were to suddenly demand to see my internet browsing history. Poisons, explosive devices, sword fighting? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Because Google is integral in helping to bring a novel to life and making something that is, essentially, a fantasy into something that comes across as reality.
World building and character development are also a huge part of the planning phase, but since, again, I’m a pantser, these two very much tend to come out for me in the second stage, the writing stage…
I love the writing stage of creating a novel. It’s where I get to submerge myself in fantasy worlds full of exciting characters for entire periods of time. Developing these characters and building these worlds is one of the most incredible aspects of being an author, I believe, and seeing them come together—and, especially, the end result—is nothing short of beautiful.
Over the last few months alone I’ve travelled all over Australia and presented multiple workshops and masterclasses specifically tasked with teaching about ‘World Building and Character Development’, so I’m deliberately not going to discuss either of those topics anymore in this ‘writing’ segment here. BUT I’m sure I’ll be giving more of these workshops/masterclasses in 2016, so if that’s something you’re interested in checking out, keep an eye on my events page to see where I’ll be headed and when.
I will say that a huge part of the writing process for me is very much discovering the voice of my protagonist—of my main character—because that voice will often set the theme of the novel. Alex, my protagonist in Akarnae, is kinda kickass, but she’s also extremely real. For anyone who has read book one, you’ll know that she’s thrown into a number of challenging situations and she doesn’t always come out so well on the other end. (…*cough* Like her first ever Combat class *cough*…) But the beauty of Alex is that no matter how many times she falls—literally and figuratively—she doesn’t give up.
I’m saying all this because, if I had gone with a shy, anxious, sweet, vulnerable girl, there is no way I could carry her through the events that my protagonist has and will continue to face over the course of five books.
I also have another book I’ve written where my main character is practically imprisoned by fear to the point that she can barely function—and that novel is very much about the development of that girl to the point that she can find an inner strength to… do what needs to be done. For this book, there is no way that an Alex-like (mentally and physically strong) character could play the lead. It just wouldn’t work for the story to make sense.
So characterisation is important, and the voice of the character in particular in order to drive the story to where it is going.
(I say all that with the caveat that it is also super important to show the development of characters over the course of time. Alex certainly doesn’t start out as kickass; indeed, I’ve written three of the books in her series so far and while she definitely has moments of kickassery, by the end of book three—with two books still to go—she’s still very much real, very much liable to make mistakes, very much an uncertain teenager at times, and very much needing help from those stronger, smarter and more experienced than her… And yet, she also isn’t the lost and confused girl who first stepped through that doorway into Medora. She’s learnt a lot—not the least of which is to fight for what is important to her.)
I’ve just realised this post is getting crazy-long, so I’m going to skip a whole heap of stuff in the ‘writing’ segment and jump to answer Jenna’s specific question (also part of this segment), since that was the main point of this post. She asked, “… how do you know how long to make each chapter, and how do you know when your chapter is finished?”
The short answer is, I don’t have any idea!
As for the long answer, it’s going to sound a little whimsical, but to be honest, I just kind of feel it. It’s like… Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, right? There’s a story arc, following from the introduction right through to discovering the conflict and then leading to the climax before (sometimes) smoothing out at the ending. Well, I kind of feel as if each chapter has its own arc, of sorts. Something has to happen, otherwise it’s just wasted and needless words, and what does happen has to be leading onwards. Driving onwards. Like the car metaphor from earlier, you push down on the accelerator because you want to go somewhere, but you also know that if you don’t push enough, you won’t get there fast enough, but if you push too hard, you could end up missing something important along the journey. (Not to mention, have an accident or end up with a speeding ticket.)
All of that holds true for me for chapter length—and I guess like when you’re learning how to drive, it takes time and practice to figure out just how much pressure is needed to get the right level of acceleration.
It also doesn’t help that there aren’t exactly any rules for this sort of thing. As my own personal rule, I tend to keep my chapters between 3000-6000 words each (closer to 3000, which is approximately 10 double-spaced pages), but again, that differs from book to book. I do like to be consistent, so I won’t have like a 500 word chapter followed by a 5000 word chapter… but there are plenty of incredible authors who do exactly that, and they do it well. So, as I mentioned, there are no specific rules. Which is why I think I have to stick with my whimsical answer of just ‘feeling’ it. (I hope that helps, Jenna!).
There’s so much more that I could say about the ‘writing’ stage, but I’m going to jump onto the final process instead.
Really, the subtitle here says it all. Editing. The ‘E’ word. A lot of writers dread—and sometimes even hate—editing. I kind of love it. (And by ‘kind of’, there’s no ‘kind of’ about it—I just love it, full stop.)
Don’t get me wrong here—editing hurts. Especially when you get your manuscript back from an editor or proofreader and all you see are the red lines and notes freaking everywhere. But you have to push on past the stinging pain and the screaming internal monologue of, “SOOOO MUCH RED!!!!! I SUCK AT WRITING!!!!!! NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO LIKE THIS PIECE OF CRAP!!!!!! I’M NEVER WRITING ANOTHER BOOK AGAIN!!!!!!” (And, for the record, every writer has this internal monologue at some stage!!). Because once you push past all that, take a good, deep breath, and actually start making the suggested changes, you begin to realise just how much better off your manuscript is for the editing.
But ignoring the wonders of professional editing for a moment, it’s super important that before you ever get to that stage, you edit your own work—over and over again. A piece of advice I would give any writer, and particularly aspiring authors who are seeking agents or publishers, is to edit, edit, and edit as much as you need to, until you get to the place where you literally can’t make it any better without help. And don’t do this halfheartedly. Send your ms out to reader friends or teachers or find an online critique group or beta readers or whatever—because the more eyes you let see your work before you send it to an agent/publisher, the more feedback you’ll receive that will help you make improvements in your editing stages. But make sure you give it to honest readers, because if they’re not willing to give you a proper critique, then it’s just a waste of both their time and yours.
Okie dokie! There are a gazillion more things I could say on all three of these processes, from planning to writing to editing, but I think I’ve given enough for a broad overview of how I personally create novels. Or, at least the basics. As always, I’m happy to answer questions, so feel free to comment below or shoot me through an email (or hit me up on any other social media) if there’s anything specifically that you’d like to know regarding any of this. I am elbows deep in writing at the moment so please allow me a little grace time-wise with my responses, but I’ll always endeavour to reply as quickly as I can!
To end, I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas—I personally had a fantastic day with my family that included waaaaaay too much food, after which I passed out on the couch and, unable to move from the waking-food-coma I was in, watched a five hour unplanned marathon of Cake Wars (Christmas special). I should be totally ashamed to say I didn’t move an inch in those five hours, but has anyone ever seen that show before? I hadn’t even heard of it, yet I was completely mesmerised by how creative they all were!!! It was like I couldn’t stop watching—some kind of compulsion kept me glued to the couch and to the screen just so I could see what icing magic they came up with next! And in my defence, my mother watched all five hours with me, so at least I wasn’t being a weirdo on my own. (Love you, Mum!)
A few months ago I was asked by the Gold Coast Bulletin to come up with a list of writing tips that they could publish in their newspaper. I really wanted to include those tips in a blog post back then too, but the Bulletin asked me to wait until they’d published them first, which is fair enough. I’d pretty much forgotten about it, but this week my wonderful publicist tracked down the link for the whole article that they wrote up on me back in May in the aftermath of Supanova, which means I can now share my tips with you all!
Feel free to share the above tips if you find them helpful at all. And if you want to read the whole article (it’s an entire page, which is so cool!), you can do so by clicking on this link to find a screenshot JPEG of it here: Gold Coast Bulletin. (I’m seriously chuffed that they called me “Queensland’s darling of fantasy writing” – how lovely!)
That’s all for now. I hope the tips come in handy for any fellow writers reading this – whether you’re aspiring, emerging, or seasoned! Be encouraged!
I’m deep in writing mode at the moment but I don’t want to neglect this blog, so here’s a quick post from a segment I was recently asked to do for LitPick called ‘Six Minutes With An Author’. To be honest, I’m not sure about the ‘six minutes’ part – whether that’s how long it’s meant to take to read (it doesn’t), or if that’s how long it should have taken me to answer the questions (also incorrect)… In fact, I think it’s simply because there were six questions in total. But regardless of the reason, I had fun with the interview and want to share it with you!
You can find the entire article by clicking here, or you can continue reading below for my answers to their questions…
SIX MINUTES WITH LYNETTE NONI:
Today LitPick is joined by young Australian author Lynette Noni! Lynette is the author of AKARNAE, the first book of five in the YA fantasy series, The Medoran Chronicles! Lynette is a lover of chocolate and Disney, but not necessarily in that order!
How did you get started writing?
I started writing about five years ago, just after I finished my university degree. The YA market was booming at that time and while I was reading some wonderful books, I was hungry for a particular story that I just couldn’t find anywhere. So, on a random whim, I guess I just decided to try and write the book I wanted to read. AKARNAE was a result of that.
Who influenced you?
No one specifically influenced me. It was more that I was searching for a story that had all my favourite elements rolled into one wondrous book. I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I thought, “Why not see if I can create it?”
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
I love reading – especially the YA genre. There are just so many possibilities in it! But a few things I consistently appreciate are a good, strong protagonist (not a wallflower!), some awesome and lovable secondary characters, and a beautiful world that I can escape into (and never want to leave).
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
As cliché as it sounds, if writing is something you’re passionate about, then never give up! The publishing industry is extremely challenging to break into, and it’s so very subjective. You will likely face rejection, so you have to decide whether it’s worth it or not. If it is, then don’t give up hope, because all it takes is one ‘yes’ for your dreams to come true – and I’m living proof of that!
Where is your favorite place to write?
At home, in comfy clothes, with total silence (because I get distracted too easily).
What else would you like to tell us?
Writing is a wonderful and terrifying responsibility. As an author, I have the tremendous honour of creating beauty and sharing it with people of all ages, all over the world. So, to my readers, I’d just like to say thank you for trusting me with your time—and maybe even your heart—and for connecting with my stories and characters in ways I never dreamed possible.
Lynette, thank you for joining LitPick for six minutes! We’re looking forward to the next four books in the series!
Well, that was fun, right? Just a reminder for anyone interested, AKARNAE, is now available from all good bookstores Australia-wide or with free international shipping from www.akarnae.com – you can also check out the first few chapters for free on that site too! (And it’s also available as an e-book from all the usual online retailers.)
I had to write a feature article for work the other day discussing the difference between motivation and willpower—especially when it comes to achieving personal goals. My research went pretty deep (since it had to be an intelligent-sounding write-up, as opposed to my usual blah-blah-blah-life-is-sunshine-and-daisies perspective), and a lot of what I unearthed fascinated me. I mean, most of it wasn’t anything I didn’t already know since I had to study a lot of that sort of thing as part my Human Behaviour degree, but it was still really interesting to look into it all again. And it was especially cool to look at it from a author’s perspective now, and apply it all to writing. So I figured it’d be cool to share some of what I discovered with other fellow writers—that being you!
I’m not going to make this some deeply introspective, philosophical, or even intellectual (gasp!) blog post, since anyone who has followed me for a while knows I like to keep things pretty casual and bubbly here… Plus, I’ve already completed the ‘smart’-sounding article for work and I don’t want to, like, plagiarise myself. (Can I even do that?)… But I still want to pull a couple of elements out of it to discuss from a writing POV. Actually, pretty much what I want to talk about comes from where I wrote this:
In his article titled, Should I Get Motivated Or Use Willpower? The Ultimate Guide For Taking Action When You Don’t Feel Like It, Stephen Guise says, “At times, you can conjure up the motivation to be fit or write 5,000 words, but other times, you will end up taking a nap, watching TV, or drinking beer instead.” He goes on to say that for lasting change to occur, it’s not motivation, but habits that help make or break success… habits that lead to actions, which are a direct result of willpower.
To nutshell it, I discovered through my research that motivation is the warm-and-fuzzies that get us feeling like doing something, while willpower is what makes us do something even when we’re not in the mood. For any writers out there, I’m sure there have been times where you just haven’t felt like writing. That doesn’t mean you don’t love writing—it just means you’re not feeling it for whatever reason. Like, for me, I’m personally one of those people who, at any given time, is solely in reading-mode or writing-mode. If I’m in reading-mode, I’ll easily devour between 5-10 books in a week (depending on how big they are and how much of a social life I want to have outside of work hours… so yeah, probably closer to 10 books, haha). BUT the catch is, when I’m in a hard-core reading mode like that, I simply can’t write much. I just can’t do it. Then the exact opposite happens when I’m in writing-mode. I can sit my backside down for 14 hours straight and throw out 10,000+ words in a day—a day—but I can’t for the life of me connect with reading any other story that’s not the one I’m writing during that time.
So, when I’m writing, I can’t read. And when I’m reading, I can’t write. Not effectively, anyway. I mean, sure, there are exceptions… But that’s the general rule. I’m not motivated—depending on what ‘mode’ I’m in.
That’s… uh… kinda getting off track for my point here. Oops. What I’m (ineffectively) trying to say is, when I’m not motivated to write, sometimes I just have to make myself write. Do you know how many books are out there in the world? There are definitely enough that I could easily stay in reading-mode forever (and then some) – but that would mean I’d never get back into writing-mode, which would be super craptastic for my dreams of becoming a full-time author. And let’s face it, I’m pretty sure my publishers would kill me if I didn’t deliver on the rest of the books in my series. That would definitely be all kinds of awkward. So, as you can imagine, I can’t always wait to feel motivated in order to write. Sometimes I just have to rely on good, old, faithful willpower—which I believe is the foundation underpinning healthy writing habits.
Here’s a good example… I was on a panel at an author event on the Gold Coast last week and one of the other panellists mentioned that every day she has a schedule that she sticks to, rain, hail or shine. Every day she gets up and goes for a walk on the beach (for physical and mental health) and then she does her odd jobs and housework etc. all in the morning, but at the stroke of twelve o’clock (midday) she sits her butt down and writes until 5pm. Every single day she commits those 5 uninterrupted hours to writing. She has a scheduled writing habit that has been conditioned in her, not from motivation, but simply by her willpower to write—regardless of whether she’s ‘feeling it’.
As for me, I can’t do what she does. I can’t stick to 5 hours at a specific time—because when I get on a roll, I just don’t stop (thus the 14 hours and 10,000+ words p/day). But I do totally respect what she does. And in my own way, I use my own version of that—when I have to. Meaning, at the times when I’m feeling wholly unmotivated, I’ll just make myself open up a WORD document and write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes the result is awful and I end up feeding it to my imaginary dragon (aka my PC’s recycle bin). But it doesn’t matter if it sucks, because once I start writing, inevitably, sooner or later, something worth reading will come out. As Louis L’Amour says, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” I mean, seriously. How good is that quote?
But anyway… I guess all I’m trying to say here is, it’s awesome when we feel motivated and excited and totally inspired to write the novel that we’re certain is going to change the world… But sometimes we still need to remember that we don’t need to feel motivated in order to write. So, for all the writers reading this, I want to encourage you to channel your willpower and start writing out of habit, not just when you’re ‘feeling it’. Who knows what may come from it!