Category Archives: Development

Best Job In The World

The news is full of the guy who won the contest for the “Best Job In The World” – as a caretaker of a tropical island, which was a brilliant PR campaign by the Queensland Tourist Board, by the way.

Talk of the Nation, on NPR, is doing a call-in show, asking people what their ‘best job in the world’ would be.

I know what my dream job is. And it doesn’t take a huge investment of money or equipment. The only barrier to entry is to carve out time and energy and discipline and self-confidence.

Off I go, then…

Fighting It

So, I wrote a children’s book. It’s a short, 6000 word chapter type book, like one of thos series books that early readers hoover up. My idea was to write a series of them.

The first one went really well, and I think part of it was the simplicity. I used a published book as a model and worked out how many chapters there should be, and how many words in each. Then I wrote until I was close to the word count, put in a few cliff-hangers at chapter ends, a climax near the end, and then wrapped things up.

(It still needs some polishing, but it’s basically there).

So now I’m writing the second one and it is giving me bother. As I’m getting to know the characters better, I’m straying from the format I had set up, and wondering if I should let this book become more complex, which would make it for more advanced readers.

So I’m letting it meander. And I’m stalling every time I sit down to write.

I’m getting to know the characters better and I’m enjoying writing what I’m writing, but I think it’s time to take it back to the original set up.

I’m also struggling with the setting of the book. I’m not sure where, geographically, to put it. If it’s a shorter book I’m not sure it matters all that much: at 6,000 words there’s not an awful lot of room for location-specific descriptions or dialect.

OK. I think that’s decided it: take this one back to the shorter format, and keep the more complex stuff for that other series I have in mind.

Hmmm, back to the drawing board.

(Incidentally, I wish I had a drawing board. I learned to write on a sloped desk and have never entirely adjusted to horizontal surfaces… However, I’m typing this story, so…)

UPDATE 4/4/09
: I’ve just gone back in and reworked the first few paragraphs. MUCH happier :) I still like some of what I had written (some of the stuff that has to go), but this is much more the book I’m trying to write. Yay.

Working Writers – Scalzi and The Big Idea

I really like reading interviews with writers about how they sat down and wrote their latest book/story etc.

I don’t so much like interviews where the interviewer gets all “I want to win a creative-non-fiction writing award so let me describe the sound of the gravel crunching under my feet as I walk up the path to the writer’s secluded retreat on the campus of some university where they scratch out a meager living writing the kind of prose that makes the average person smack themselves on the forehead and say ‘I’m not buying that!'”

So I tend to like inteviews BY writers with working writers who are churning out book after book, story after story, publishing them, moving on, interacting with their fans and other people in their space.

I also like what is known as ‘genre’ fiction: mysteries, sci-fi, historical fiction, more mysteries.

So I suppose it should come as no shock that I was pleased to find The Big Idea column on John Scalzi’s site where he interviews other writers about how they wrote their latest book. (Scalzi is a Hugo Award winning writer, amongst other things, and a popular blogger).

I suspect this is his way of sidestepping the first question writers always get asked (“Where do you get your ideas?”). He asks other writers to answer the question, and they do. Because it’s being asked by another writer and not a lazy journalist, what you get are thoughtful answers in story form (not a brush-off like “I get them from the idea subscription service in Ohio”, a line that most successful writers have a version of, up their sleeves).

And these people are real people who have had all kinds of jobs and have had to fit their writing in around them.

Just what I need to hear.

Writing Challenges

Had some ideas for an entertaining blog entry last night, but when I sat down to write this morning, it all came out flat.

So far this morning I’ve stumbled down to the kitchen, stood blinking in the darkness wondering where I was and what I was doing, grabbed two cups and some milk, made coffee, put sausages on to cook, showered, dressed, coached Boy1 through getting dressed, talked about a book with him, fed two boys both sausages and cereal, taken them to school, talked to Boy2’s teacher, nodded and smiled at lots of parents and children, listened to a news story about Bernie Madoff and his victims followed by a wildly inapproprate tale of a 3rd grade snack Ponzi scheme (way to trivialize, NPR), had a couple of lectures about my various shortcomings (some internal, some external), discussed plans for the day, talked about strategies for keeping Boy1 out of Big Trouble, made more coffee, made herbal tea and, in the midst of that tried to sit down and write.

I know it’s not much in comparison to some people’s mornings but I list this as an illustration to myself that I actually had have quite a lot running through this little brain of mine this morning. Maybe I should get off it’s back and stop berating it for not immediately being able to jump back into that funny place it was in last night after it had had some theta waves from repetitive household duties, and a whole day to reflect on things.

[Hmm. I heard an article on the radio about a study that showed how few things our brains can be asked to hold before we start to exhibit signs of stress, which affects memory and other functions. Here‘s an article, although not the one I was thinking of.]

I know that one day (if I’m spared, as the wee old ladies used to say) I’ll be able to wake up and grab a pen and start writing straight away, and no-one will demand anything of me. I know that I’ll be able to stay up all night writing if the mood takes me to start at 11 PM (which it often does) with no need to drag myself out of bed at 7 and cook sausages. And this will suit my writing self very nicely.

But, considering all the things that will have to change in my life to get me to that point, I’m not in much of a rush to get there.

So, when do you feel most creative? And does it fit in with your current lifestyle?

"My Writing Life" by Olivander

Creative Challenges

"My Writing Life" by OlivanderCreative Challenges are great for shaking up the routine, forcing you to be creative every day or every week, and flexing those imagination muscles.

What is a creative challenge?

National Novel Writer’s Month is probably the most ambitious and famous creative challenge: write a novel in a month (November). The idea is to force yourself to create and silence the inner critic by putting a time-limit on things.

Other creative challenge might stipulate that you create every day, or on a certain day of the week or the month. Maybe you share it, maybe it’s private. It might involve public accountability (posting online) or it could work on the honour system. Sometimes there are forums, sometimes events, and sometimes it’s just something you commit to.

Tips for Taking Part

  • Decide on your own version of the rules before you start – if you miss a day of a monthly challenge, can you forgive yourself? Do you have to make it up? Do you quit?
  • Revise your rules as you go along – these challenges are meant to help you foster creativity, not become a chore. If, half way through, you realise it’s not working, or you’ve already got what you need, you can change your rules or drop out. If you need to be more strict, make more strict rules.
  • Do connect with other people taking part –  they can inspire you, keep you honest, and cure some of the isolation artists often feel
  • Don’t get sucked into too much online chatter – the point of this creative challenge is to free you to create more, not find another place you can waste time
  • Make it a priority – most of these challenges take commitment for a small amount of time. (NaNoWriMo takes  up a lot of time but only for a month. Project 365 commits you to a daily creative act for a year, but it can be as little as a few seconds a day.) Make the most of the challenge by making it a priority. You might have to drop something else during the challenge. (That’s why it’s called a challenge). If you have to skip your daily Simpsons rerun to free up half and hour for creativity, is that too high a price?

Here are a few creative challanges, but please comment with details of others you have heard about.

For Writers


One of my first and favourite creative challenge sites. Write 100 words a day for a month. No more, no less. It is surprisingly challenging, doesn’t take up great wodges of time, and still keeps you on the look out for inspiration every day.

National Novel Writing Month

The big daddy of writing challenges: write a 50,000 words novel in November. Why November? Because the originators thought it was a good idea to do this in a month with a long weekend built in. (I might have voted for one with a holiday that didn’t have lots of social obligations – Memorial Day, perhaps, or President’s Day – but I guess they were young and unmarried at the time).

NaBloPoMo – National Blog Posting Month

Like NaNoWriMo, this challenges writers. This time it’s a blog post a day. You can join the network at or just post in your own blog. Each month has a theme and you can email the creator to be added to each month’s blog roll. I found some good blog friends by browsing the blogroll one month.

Script Frenzy

Write 100 pages of scripted material during April. This one has sponsors and prizes.

Writers’ Weekly Quarterly 24 hr Short Story Contest

Write a short story on a given topic in 24 hrs. This contest has a $5 (US) entry fee and takes place every quarter. First prize is $300. Limited to 500 participants and it usually fills up. The next one is April 24, 2010.

For Visual Artists

Illustration Friday

This was probably the first creative challenge I was aware of online, and I’d guess it has been running for at least a decade. They provide a weekly word/theme, you illustrate and send them a thumbnail and a link to your illustration. There are forums and interviews and lots of great art to look at.

Project 365

Take a picture every day. Photography site Photojojo has this article to help.

A Photo A Day

This one is actually a mailing list and a blog, with a picture chosen by the editors every day, but you can submit yours and keep your fingers crossed.

Art Every Day

Inspired by NaNoWriMo, Leah Piken Kolidas decided to declare November Art Every Day month for artists. She has a nice Rules (That Were Made To Be Broken) section, which appeals to me. Join her!

For Musicians

The RPM Challenge -Record an album in 28 days, just because you can.

(Write and) record an album of original music in February. 10 tracks or 35 minutes of music. The creators say (and I agree) “Don’t wait for inspiration – taking action puts you in a position to get inspired… February will come and go whether you’ve joined in or not, but do you really want to be left out? ”

General Creativity

The “Create Every Day” Challenge

Choose your creative outlet, use (or ignore) the monthly theme, browse the work of other participants, listed in the sidebar. From the site: “This is a low pressure challenge, with the idea of bringing more creativity into our lives. I will not be the creativity police. I hope that we can all find ways, simple and grand to express our creative selves. Have fun with it!”

New Story

I know, I know, you’ve got to finish stories as well as start them, but I couldn’t help starting a new story this morning.

I blame Debbie, who asked me yesterday how my writing was going, and Russell T. Davis whose “The Writer’s Tale” I’m reading at the moment. It’s full of the joys and angst of writing. It reminds me of the horrible work-part in the middle, but also of the satisfaction that comes when things start to come together.

Also, I think this is a story I can really tell. Fun.

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Writing Buzz

I woke early this morning, sure I had heard my doorbell.

Of course, it wasn’t.

But, since I was up, I decided I might as well finish off a bit of work that was looming over me, tapping me on the shoulder at inconvenient times and whispering “what about me? You know I’m due soon, right?”

So I wrote it.

Then I did a bit more.

And now I’m happy.

All before my first cup of coffee.

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Me & My Brain – a dangerous combination

Well there’s a lesson for you.

I love being able to be online whenever I want, but today I was not.

I took G to his Pee Wee Sports class and spent part of the time alone in the Y’s beautiful, airy foyer, just me and my notebook.

Then I drove G somewhere else, and he fell asleep. So I pulled over, and pulled out my notebook while he napped.

Now I have a list of 12 new writing projects that I could work on and am mostly excited about.

Just need to find the time to do the writing…

On The Other Hand…

I’ve spend the morning reaching out to old colleagues and clients to ask for testimonials about my work. It’s fun and I’ve already had one nibble about new work from a contact.

I’ve been westling with what kind of writing I should be spending my new-found free time pursuing. Part of me really wants to give creative writing a try, because that is so well regarded and I admire the talent of the storyteller so much. Part of me understands that I’m good at (and more practiced in) writing non-fiction.

I’ve been taking a course of teleclasses about business copywriting, which I has earned me some money in the past and which I’m leaning towards. But part of me is accusing myself of selling out, abandoning my creative writing dreams.

Then again, I also know that when I’m busy I’m happy, and when I’m happy I’m more productive in all aspects of my life. I know how much I enjoy learning about business, and talking to business people who are good at what they do. I find it fascinating and energizing (if that’s a word). And I enjoy crafting the words that help someone understand a thing, a concept, a product, a service.

And where am I going to find characters and scenarios and realistic voices if not out in the real world? That can only help my creative writing more than sitting alone in my room, surely?

So I’ve decided to both have my cake and eat it. Pursue business writing and keep plugging away at my stories for my own amusement* on the side.

*Because I’ve also noticed that when I write to amuse myself, all of my writing gets better.