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GUEST BLOG: NATASHA LESTER, author of What is Left Over, After

Why does inspiration never strike at a time when I can write it down?

I blame my children for this – they’ll end up blaming me for almost everything when they’re older so I might as well get in first. Except that, in this case, it’s true.

 Having recently had the luxury of nearly a whole week to do nothing but write, courtesy of my lovely husband who subjected himself full time to the 3 cherubs, I have discovered that I get the best ideas in the most uninspiring places. Places where there are no pens. And even if there were, it would be impossible to write anything down.

 The first day inspiration struck in the shower. I was washing my face and the solution to a major plot problem that had been niggling me for months suddenly and perfectly appeared. Short of inscribing myself with shampoo, there was no way to make a note of the idea. But I’ve learned that if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it later. So I had to chant it in my head – Dan gets run over, Dan gets run over – while I jumped out and dried myself. My mental monologue was interspersed with shouted directions at the children: ‘Your headband’s in the doll’s cradle’ – Dan gets run over – ‘Your shoes are in the fridge’ (don’t ask) – Dan gets run over. I’m just lucky that, when I got to my study, I didn’t end up writing in my notebook: Dan runs over a doll with the fridge.

The next day we were at the Disney Live concert surrounded by a million mini Cinderellas and my two year old needed to go to the toilet. While I was holding her on the toilet seat, more inspiration struck. This time a brilliant plot twist that I knew would make the book impossible to put down at the critical halfway mark. ‘Please hurry, darling,’ I begged, desperate to get out of there and back to my notebook and pen. ‘But Mummy,’ she piped up, ‘I shouldn’t rush. I need to get it all out.’ Of course my oft-repeated advice, which was never remembered if she was in the middle of jumping on the trampoline, was thrown back at me the one time when rushing would have been very welcome.

 The day after that, the ideas came while I was driving on the freeway. No way to jot things down at one hundred kilometres an hour and I’m sure it wasn’t quite the emergency that the stopping lanes were designed to accommodate.

 Later, I realised that the reason I keep finding inspiration in unlikely places is because they are quiet places, places where the kids are either absent or silent – shower, toilet, car.

 I wonder whether this means that the ideas are there all the time but I just don’t hear them, drowned out as they are by the four year old yelling at the two year old, ‘She took my Barbie,’ and the baby delighting in his new found ability to shout Mum-mum-mum at the top of his voice.

 So my New Year’s Resolution is this: to somehow build a quiet moment into every day. The girls received a cubbyhouse for Christmas so perhaps I need to rig up some kind of lock on it – not to lock them in but as a place for me to hide! I know I won’t be lucky enough to dream up a new story idea, solve a plot problem or come up with an unexpected twist in every quiet moment, but the important thing is, I’ll be ready, pen and paper in hand, if the ideas do choose to come.

Natasha Lester lives in Western Australia and is the author of What is Left Over, After, winner of the TAG Hungerford Prize, published in 2010 by Fremantle Press. Check out her website, www.natashalester.com.au, or visit her blog, While the Kids are Sleeping.

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On pursuing publication

Book pages 1This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 9th April 2010

I was recently asked advice on how to become a published writer.

Here’s my take on what it takes:

Originality
In general, the more original your concept, the better. But originality must still be able to be placed within the market. Sometimes what’s original to one person can be just a bit too way out to the next reader, so don’t go too far. Alternatively, you may want to follow a trend – vampires, anyone? – but you still need an original take on it. And you need to get the timing right, so the market isn’t oversaturated by the time you finish your book.

Determination
You have to really want to succeed, be prepared for knockbacks, not get bogged down in them but use them to make you stronger.

Stamina
First of all to finish the book. An enormous feat. Then to go over and over it yourself, figuring out how you can make it better. Then to allow other people to do the same.

Enthusiasm
To learn from those who have been there. Listen to published writers. They can give you so many ideas, and to hear them talk is often inspirational. No one begins life as a published writer, they were all once in unpublished shoes, without exception. Read lots of books. They all have something to inspire you – even if it’s only, ‘I could do better than this!’

Listening skills
Listen to critique. While it’s great to wholly believe in what you have written, it’s also good to remember that your readers might just have a point. Try to look dispassionately at your writing, and pay particular attention if you hear the same comment more than once, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Insight
Put yourself in a busy publisher’s shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? I can guarantee you that it will usually be the one sent with a bit of razzmatazz from an agent. So then perhaps you should find an agent. If you decide to go this route, put yourself in their shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? The one that’s double-line spaced, interestingly presented, with a quick-to-grasp concept. And a covering letter that stands out. From someone who phoned or emailed first with a great, succinct pitch (although do check what type of contact each agent prefers before doing this)? Or the single-spaced scruffy sheaf of papers, appended to a meandering cover letter, from a person they’ve never heard of or from. I know which I would choose.

And finally: Passion
For the written word. For writing for writing’s sake, not just for publishing’s sake. Because that joy and commitment will be immediately recognisable to the reader, and there is little more compelling than that.