Agony, ecstasy and letting your writing go

logoAnyone who has ever slaved over a piece of prose or poetry knows the agony of finally admitting that it is ready to be released into the wild, to take its chances amidst the front-runners and also-rans in the publishing world.

As soon as your manuscript has been prised from your hot little hand (or keyboard), you are stricken with doubt: should I have edited it one more time? Did I let it slip from my grasp before it was fully matured, a mere wordy stripling competing with mature authorial oaks?

Ok, ok, enough metaphorical hand wringing, you get the picture – it’s hard to let your baby go and be judged by others. At the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival session we’ll hear from several experienced writers regarding this problem:

Aminatta Forna: born in Glasgow, raised in Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom. She is the award-winning author of  The Devil That Danced On The Water (a memoir of her dissident father and Sierra Leone),  Ancestor Stones (linked short stories set in Sierra Leone), and her new novel The Memory Of Love (a story of friendship, war and obsessive love).

Gail Jones: an Australian author who has won many awards (including the WA Premier’s Award for Fiction, the Age Book Of The year Award, the Adelaide Festival Award For Fiction and many others), been shortlisted for international awards and her fiction has been translated into five languages. She has five novels published – Black Mirror, Sixty Lights, Dreams Of Speaking, Sorry, and her most recent Five Bells.

David Mitchell: an English novelist who has written five novels, Ghostwritten; number9dream; Cloud Atlas; Black Swan Green and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. number9dream and Cloud Atlas were shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001 and 2004 respectively.  He has lived all over the world and has known that he has wanted to be a writer since he was a child. Mitchell has the speech disorder of stammering and has said that he ‘outed’ himself by writing a semi-autobiographical novel, Black Swan Green, that is narrated by a stammering 13 year old.

Tea Obreht: born in the former Yugoslavia, and spent her childhood in Cyprus and Egypt before immigrating to the US. Her short stories have been widely published, and her first novel The Tiger’s Wife was published in 2010.

David Vann: an assistant professor of English at the University of San Francisco, teacheing creative fiction and non-fiction. He is the author of a memoir – A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea, and has had other work appear in many magazines. He has also written two novels – Legend Of A Suicide; and Caribou Island.

Having personally filed many pieces of work into a bottom drawer, never to see the light of day again, and agonised time and again over exactly when a story has been edited for the final time, I’m looking forward to hearing how ‘real’ authors have coped with sending their work out into the world.

The further confessions of a happy snapper

coverYou can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and you can’t turn a poorly composed, badly lit, out of focus photo into an award-winning photo. That doesn’t mean I don’t try.

The libraries‘ computers have Picasa. This free download is so easy to use, and is designed to be a photo sharing tool, however I use its photo editing capabilties as well. These are divided into three categories: ‘Basic fixes’,’ Tuning’ and ‘Effects’.

‘Basic fixes’ allow me to do things like crop, correct red-eye and straighten the horizon. ‘Tuning’ is for changing the amount of shadow and highlight. ‘Effects’ allow me to be a little bit creative. I like using Soft Focus, which blurs the background, while keeping the main focus of the photo sharp. I also enjoy using  Focal B&W. It retains the colour in the centre of the photo, and the background fades to black and white. Picasa is something that you can click around and experiment with. If you need help, find books on Picasa at your library.

If you want a whole lot more than what Picasa has to offer, you might like Photoshop. I had Photoshop on my old computer. I would spend ages cropping and colour correcting my old photos. Then I would turn them into oil paintings.  To get the most of Photoshop, you need a manual. The library has quite a large selection; just make sure you choose one that matches your version.

Remember one thing, you can improve your photo to a certain extent with photo editing and you can have fun with special effects, but sometimes the best thing to do is use delete.

Will you write your novel this year?

coverI’ve just finished Walter Mosley’s This year you’ll write your novel. Spend an hour-and-a-half a day writing, Monday to Sunday, he says. Six hundred to 1200 words, a day, he says. After three months you’ll have the frst draft of your (short) novel, he says.

Sounds good, eh? Then what?

Nine months of  read-re-read, re-write, edit, re-write, hone, scuplt, chop, slash, re-imagine, re-write, edit, read again. He continually stresses how important that is. Once you’ve done that, you can start selling it.

If you’ve made a resolution to write a novel or improve your writing, you might also like these:

So, if you were going to write a novel this year – what would it be about? Go on, think big!