After a sad week I’ve set aside the tissue box and pulled myself up by my bootstraps, thanks in no small part to the rush of sympathy and consolation offered so generously by family and friends. There will always be a small, grey, fur-shaped hole in my heart, but I know that in time the pain will subside and I’ll just be left with happy memories of Bentley and our time together.
My restoration was given a massive boost yesterday when I plunged back into literary waters and attended my very first writer’s workshop. For a couple of year’s I’ve been a member of Writing NSW, a centre where would-be authors can come together for inspiration, professional development and solidarity, but living in Narooma I’ve had little chance to partake of the array of writerly support on offer.
As I finish pruning and polishing my manuscript, I know that I’m going to have to get to grips with the realities of publishing and the gurus all say that finding and fraternising with a tribe of like-minded compatriots is of significant benefit. So I signed myself up for a one-day course on Writing Women’s Fiction.
Writing NSW is housed in a lovely old home in the grounds of what was formerly Sydney’s largest lunatic asylum, the Callan Park Hospital for the Insane. I’m sure I’m not the first to observe that there is a certain irony in this location – many might suggest that aspiring writers are mad, or at least seriously deluded, when they decide to take on the arduous and challenging journey towards publication.
Far from feeling deluded, the moment I passed through the doors I was enfolded in an atmosphere of camaraderie and possibility and realised I was in for a treat.
The workshop was led by Dianne Blacklock, a highly successful Australian women’s fiction writer with an impressive ten books under her belt. I liked her at once – she was funny, frank and full of fascinating insights into what makes women’s fiction work and I scribbled furiously trying to capture her words of wisdom.
We ranged through the hot trends in today’s publishing market, explored character development and plot formation, contemplated the mysteries of dialogue and examined the do’s and don’ts of opening lines and rousing finales. It was wonderful to hear how the other workshop participants have tackled these challenges and to share stories from the trenches about the many different approaches writers take to navigating the creative process.
I particularly enjoyed the session on writing sex scenes. Without going into detail, writing the sex scene in my book was one of my most difficult moments. I really wrestled with it. I knew I didn’t want to mention throbbing members and nipples like bullets, but I also knew I had to create something compelling, exciting and magical. Dianne captured this dilemma and its potential resolution in one pithy slide (my notes below). I hope I have met the criteria with my ‘close the door’ solution.
I was less comfortable with Dianne’s continued exhortations to resist the urge to reach for flowery and complicated language and instead stick to plain, familiar words. That fact that I’ve used the word exhortations in the previous sentence is probably is a case in point …
My ruthless editor friend, Rachel, said much the same thing to me many a time during the drafting of my book, and saved her most scathing criticism for my use of the word susurrus. I love that word! And for describing the sound of waves lapping the shore I am firmly of the view that it can’t be matched. However, I am now sadly convinced that it will have to go, along with many other gorgeous embellishments in my current draft. I love the word susurrus, but I love the idea of being published even more, so I am going to have to take a cold hard look at my manuscript and deflower it mercilessly.
Another point that Dianne stressed was the classic ‘less is more’. What she was talking about was the clinical removal of extraneous scenes/characters/dialogue/descriptions/sentences that don’t add either to character development or the plot. Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, described this in a literary maxim that is now so famous it’s known as Chekhov’s Gun.
We’ve all heard of ‘less is more’, but applying the knife to your lovingly crafted creation is not so easy. That said, I’m girding my loins, sharpening my scalpel and planning for major surgery next weekend.
By the end of the day I was inspired, excited and galvanised. And I’m particularly grateful for Dianne’s generosity in agreeing to take a look at the opening of my book and to offer me some feedback. Thanks Dianne!
Dianne says that getting published is a combination of luck, discipline and talent. I think I’ve proved my cred in the discipline department, and if my beta readers are to be believed then I may be permitted to claim a small modicum of talent. Here’s hoping the luck runs my way as I approach the knee-trembling reality of sending my manuscript out into the real world …