Tag Archives: writing tips

Confession of a Spec Fic Writer: Sometimes We’re Not Clever, We’re Just Plain A-Holes.

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In October of 2012 I started this blog as a budding Spec Fic writer. I wrote Doctor Who Horoscopes, I shared Fantasy excerpts and short stories that I had written. However, in March 2014 I went into a psychiatric hospital with postnatal depression. My blog focus shifted but strangely enough I still often identify myself as a Spec Fic writer. For the next couple of years I have Spec Fic slated to come out. A Historical Fantasy this year and a Paranormal Crime next year. As such I am having more Spec Fic focused conversations with fellow writers. We all think we’re pretty clever. We all like playing with reality. We all enjoy coming up with clever tricks…. But sometimes we fail. Sometimes we unintentionally write things that are harmful and bigoted. 

A recent conversation with a friend reminded me of a concept that an ex came up with when we were in our early 20s, about 15 years ago. It was a vampire film (yeah, I used to do short film, I’ve even got an award, I’m quite the Jack) and he was so excited about it because it combined his two great loves, medical science and vampires. He had a medical science degree. He had honours. He was doing his PhD. In short, he knew his stuff. And as he told me his plans I said, “Wow, that’s really fucking interesting.” 

His premise was that vampires were a result of a blood mutation and that people with hemophilia were actually descendants from the original vampires. He had way more science behind it than that but that’s about the extent that this aging, arts-degree brain can remember. We hi5ed to good thinking and how solid the science was. We listened to Placebo’s Haemoglobin. We were sooooo cool. But then some thoughts started cropping up…

…. Hang on, are we saying that very real people who exist today are not entirely human? Are we saying that a group of real people are part parasite ready to suck the blood of others? Have we made out that they’re different and savage because of a medical condition? Have we seriously othered them? Oh shit, we had. But aren’t vampires cool? Doesn’t everyone want to be one? No. People who have been systematically excluded already probably don’t want to be further dehumanised. 

You know what we ended up doing? We set the idea aside. We decided not to run with it because there were too many issues. Sure the science was interesting, the play of ideas was interesting, but actually putting that dehumanisation of a group of people out into the world was not interesting. It wouldn’t be fun or cool. It would be actively othering and already misunderstood group. 

What did we do? We came up with other ideas that didn’t dehumanise a group of marginalised people. Just because and idea seems interesting on the surface doesn’t mean it’s actually a good concept to film or write about. We’re creative people. We can think of more things. We can do better. We can come up with equally exciting concepts with out dehumanising marginalised people. I believe in us. We’re thinkers. 

This was 16 years ago and I’m still having similar conversations. Let’s do better. I know we can do it. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll all fuck up at times, I definitely do, but at least put it on our radar.

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4 Things You Must Never Do in Blogging

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Today my humble blog turns 4, so I felt I’d celebrate by sharing with you the secrets I have learned through hosting this highly* successful blog.

1. Don’t vary your content too much.

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If you’re a spec fic writer stick to writing about spec fic and the writing process. Whatever you do don’t share short stories, then start doing horoscopes, then start covering writers festivals, then bitch about your codeine allergy, then start blogging about your journey through PND, then start doing TV recaps, then start doing stuff about your love of Australian writers… particularly if that stuff frequently involves references to wine and sticks rather than writers. That kind of jumping about would just confuse your audience. You have to remember that blog readers are vapid creatures that can only focus on one thing at a time. Count them, O N E. So make sure you just do the same shit every single day.

2. Don’t swear.

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You’ll look like a fucking idiot. Only people with a limited imagination swear. Don’t believe me, then fucking google it. Plenty of studies have been done into messy people who swear a lot and their intelligence. Pretty sure they all conclusively say that anal, sterile people, who never feel, and never show emotion are waaaayyyy more totes mega smart than foul mouthed fuckers.

3. Don’t get political.

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Sure, you saw this meme and thought it was the funniest thing ever. Don’t share it. Not even if you can find some tenuous link as to why you’d share it. Just don’t. Sure, you find the idea of men talking about women as if they’re a piece of meet deplorable, but somehow that doesn’t come across in ANYTHING you’ve published and you’ve got a shit load of supporters who love to grab that pussy. I’d suspect that the vast majority of the followers of this blog, written by a woman and a feminist, are lolling all day long about crazee ladeez and them wanting bodily autonomy. Because somehow my incredibly subtle profemale stance has passed them by. So if I posted that meme I’d lose 90% of my followers, so I sure won’t do something like that.

4. Don’t ever put out anything with grammos, typos, spellos, or any kind of os.

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If you , like I do, make mistakes, people will quite rightly assume that you’re a pathetic waste of space and that you don’t deserve to communicate in writing with anyone, ever. Fuck all of us dyslexics. Fuck us in the left temporal lobe. If we want to be taken seriously we should hire a professional editor for every single blog entry. Not just published books, everything. Every tweet, every comment, even emojis. Because every rude, snob, who doesn’t have any sort of visual or translation issue is a better person than us, and what they have to communicate is more important and insightful than any of us have to communicate. It’s just simple science. Heck, it’s probably a “vaccine injury.” We did this shit to ourselves. I strongly recommend that we just don’t even blog at all because we’re such turds on the face of written communication. We should all just go into the woods and eat worms.

5. Don’t break promises to your audience.

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If you said you’d give them 4 secrets to effective blogging then you better deliver. It’s literally the lowest form of humour to do one more or less. Failing your audience not only makes you a failure as a human being, but also untrustworthy. If you’ve lied about unlocking the secrets to successful blogging then what else are you hiding? Mascara, pushup bras, your own private chocolate stash that you share with no one?

6. Most of all, don’t listen to blowhards like me on the Interwebs.

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Be yourself, do things your way. Let your audience appreciate you for who you are. After all, you want your audience, not a bunch of bots.

* The word I’m looking for was probably un.

Different Drummer: #Robinpedia

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Different Drummer in Glebe

As Earnest Hemingway famously said, “write drunk, edit sober,” forever solidifying the place of liquor in writing. Let’s be honest, it was pretty intrinsically linked prior to Hemingway. Aeschylus, anyone? The modern drink of the writer is whiskey courtesy of the likes of William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, and Dylan Thomas. However, thanks to Ashley Kalagian Blunt I have been introduced to cocktail writing. Enter the Different Drummer in Glebe.

The Different Drummer is a tapas and cocktail bar in Glebe, New South Wales. What makes it so attractive to writerly folk? Firstly, it’s in Glebe, which is an awesome suburb.  Secondly, happy hour from 6pm – 7:30pm daily. This involves two cocktails for the price of one. That’s a 90 minute opportunity to smash down drinks and smash out words at half the price. Remember that writers are all either poor, or tight with the pennies, or both.

You may think cocktails are a little full-on for writing, but might I remind you that Hemingway drank Absinthe, so this is positively tame. I have tried to write on Absinthe… it did not go well. The cocktails, however, went down a treat. Always listen to Ashley Kalagian Blunt (ALAKB). And my writing was fine.

The Different Drummer has a drink called The Last Word which consists of gin, chatreause, marschino liqueur and lime. I’d imagine that is their most writery of writerly drinks. Personally I had the Passionatefruit Collins, delicious and the Amaretto Sour, amazeballpointpens. So, happy hour, happy writing, at Different Drummer. I secretly hope they add more cocktails to their list in honour of the sacred craft of writinghood.

Find the Different Drummer’s website here.

Find the Different Drummer on Facebook here.

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What was that? You want me to drink you?

Just to be clear, this is not a sponsored post, I doubt the staff or owners know I exist. Robinpedia is a labour of love, not for money. However, should anyone wish to sponsor me, I like moscato, semi-soft blue cheese, pens and tea, so definitely happy to accept any companies that want to give me free wine, cheese, tea, pens. Notebooks and laptops, also good. Just putting it out there… I also like money, money is probably my favourite, so feel free to give me that too. Call me. Actually, don’t call me, I never answer, text me.

Find out more about Robinpedia here.

If there is any information you have a burning desire to be added to this entry, please leave it in the comment section.

Literary Citizenship with Walter Mason

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Today I attended the First Friday Club talk for members of the New South Wales Writers Centre. Today’s talk was about a subject near and dear to my heart, literary citizenship, and involved two people likewise near and dear to my heart, Walter Mason and Ashley Kalagian Blunt.

Walter Mason, as I have mentioned earlier, is a standout member of the Australian writing community. His generosity is legendary and his workshops never fail to inspire. Walter is one of the forerunners of a concept known as literary citizenship. It’s essentially the idea of looking after and promoting others in the writing community. This is especially important for the Australian writing community because we’re so small.

Walter wrote an article about literary citizenship quite sometime ago which has been reprinted and reblogged many times. You can find the article here. The article recommends that to be a good literary citizen you should attempt to do the following 7 things:
Buy new books and read them
Get your books at a bookshop
Be a fan
Go to author events
Subscribe to a literary mag
Be a campaigner
Embrace generosity

This article has inspired many people, including myself, especially with the idea of fandom. I am a fan! As well as author Sharon Livingstone who was in the audience as she is a fellow acolyte of Walter, and also Ashley Kalagian Blunt, program officer at the New South Wales Writers Centre, who has an article coming out in this months News Write on her attempt to utilise Walter’s principles for a full year. Some she found easy to take on board, others she struggled with more so. Keep an eye on your mailbox and make sure you read all about it when your copy of News Write comes OR subscribe to the New South Wales Writers Centre newsletter.

I was very flattered when not only both Walter and Ashley mentioned my name as a person who was a good literary citizen but so did author Sharon Livingstone from the audience. She says she likes my author memes. Which is great because I love making them. Walter mentioned my recaps of The Book Club ABC hosted by Jennifer Byrne, another labour of love. I tell you what, if my two greatest loves – Walter Mason and JByrne’s Book Club – could combine I would pass out in ecstasy. And it was really nice to know I’m not the only one who enjoys what I’m doing. They used those things as examples of bringing your own unique spin to being a fan. It was a lovely surprise to be mentioned.

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It was a really great talk and I do urge you to do a future course with Walter because he is such an inspirational teacher and I hope to see you all next month at the First Friday Club. Especially Dr Crisetta MacLeod, who I sat next to and whispered the most hilarious commentary in my ear, Sharon Livingston who is even more entertaining in person than she is on twitter, and Nat Bayley who I also got to meet.

Structural Workshop with the Divine Dr @KathrynHeyman – #SydneyWritersFestival

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If loving Kathryn Heyman is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. There, I said it. Everyone else in the Structural Intensive workshop hosted by the Sydney Writers’ Festival was thinking it, I just said it. You would be hard pressed to find a more dynamic presenter, and the best bit was, that Dr Heyman had substance to back it up. I’ll be perfectly honest, I am not going to detail everything that she covered, partly because I wouldn’t do it justice, and partly because if you want to truly learn from Kathryn Heyman then you need to go and do a workshop/course/mentorship with her yourself. What you get out of a course is a deeply personal thing because we are all on different paths in this writing journey. BUT this would be the world’s shortest blog if I gave nothing away for free so here goes…

One of the first sound bites that really moved me was when Kathryn Heyman said, “Your fear drives why you write.” Now I’ve heard, “if it scares you do it,” “go where the fear is,” and all those other common things before but on that cold, wet, Friday, where I had arrived drenched, late, with a slightly broken umbrella and the memory of my kids crying ringing through my brain, this phrasing, and this women really hit home. For me, I’d got my money’s worth all in that one hit. Because, I’ll let you in on a little secret, come closer, even closer, shhhh, closer, I’m going to whisper this so listen carefully, every single novel I have written deals with exactly the same issue, no matter what the genre or target audience. My chick lit novel coming out in July has a main character who has an intelligent, and quirky main character who happens to have incredibly low self-esteem so can make some pretty dumb choices. My children’s novel coming out next year has a very confident main character but the backstory that never gets explicitly covered is that the mother is deeply scarred and traumatized individual trying to be that super mum who gets everything right. Memoir From the Madhouse (I’ve never shared an excerpt from that so will pop it at the end of this) looks at why we are who we are, how our past demons drive us. I could go on but in a nutshell, I write women’s fiction, no matter the genre, no matter the age range, and the story is always – What happened to the little girl that nobody loved. Fuck, I hope she turned out okay. Until Kathryn Heyman said, “Your fear drives what you write,” I did not realise that I had written the exact same story over and over again as I grappled with my fear. It’s kind of liberating to know that I am on a cathartic journey. It’s even more liberating to know that I love that story and I will tell it over and over again, in as many ways as I like until I am ready to put that issue to bed. Because that story needs to be told. That story needs to be told not just for me but for all those little girls. I’ll keep speaking out. I’ll keep publishing for you. I hope you will join me.

Now I think you can understand what I meant by saying that this writing gig is a deeply personal journey and you have to go sit at Dr Heyman’s feet yourself to get what you need. However, I won’t be a total spoil sport, there were plenty of general things that were good for everyone. Mainly, it really helps to have a concrete, physical manifestation of conceptual matter. So if there is an obstacle, how about getting another character to embody that. If you have some sort of transformation make sure there is some sort of event or location that can act as a metaphor rather than having it all inside the character’s head. If the character has an internal desire, give it a physical manifestation, as in what action or situation would demonstrate that the desire had been met or totally failed. I’m leaving it there because as I keep saying, you have to go learn from Kathryn Heyman yourself in order to get the real benefit.

 

As promised, and true to my blog’s about section, unedited, unkempt, and untamed, here is an excerpt from Memoir from the Madhouse.

 

I am running, running faster than I’ve ever run before. The cold from the dew damp ground runs up my bare legs and covers my naked body with goose pimples. But still I run on. The warmth is fleeting, the wind is chasing me, and they are hunting me. I run naked in the cold dark night and all the while I think – I’m not crazy, I’m not crazy.

Out of my periphery I see a nurse approaching me. I let out a delirious laugh and keep on running.

‘Run, run, run as fast as you can…’

The wind whips away my words and I still run on. The ground starts to gently slope downwards and in the darkness I lose my bearings. I trip. I roll. Arms and legs flail at impossible angles. The world slows down as sky and earth blur into one. I smile and think about what has brought me here, starkers, in the dead of night, chasing demons, in the psychiatric hospital’s grounds.

 

6 Hours Earlier

I sit in Consultation Room 2 staring at my psychiatrist. I have no idea what he is saying. His voice is so soft that I can only make out every second sentence if I’m lucky. Regardless I nod like I understand. I don’t want him to think I’m rude or worse, stupid. My constantly interrupting to say, ‘Eh?’ or, ‘What?’ only results in him repeating his mumbles anyway. So instead I just nod along like I agree.

‘Are you anxious about going home tomorrow?’ Finally a sentence I can hear.

‘No,’ I lie.

Of course I’m anxious. I’ve got newborn twins and a two year old. They’re hard work. I have to somehow keep on functioning, no, mumctioning, despite the fact that the twins won’t sleep, which means I can’t sleep either. All work and no sleep makes Robin a dull girl. Perhaps they could be trained to settle one another. One cries and the other rubs their back, then they roll over and swap jobs. That’d be pretty sweet but although I’m in the nuthouse even I know that won’t happen.

‘Really?’ my psychiatrist raises an eyebrow. ‘Last time you were supposed to go home you had such an anxiety attack that we had to transfer you to a medical hospital.’

I shrug. More words are spoken that I nod thoughtfully along too. God only knows what I’ve agreed to in these sessions.

‘Do you like cap guns and pillows?’ Nods in agreement.

‘Do you still wet the bed?’ Nods thoughtfully.

‘Do you have a Christ complex?’ Nods politely.

‘Do you like the smell of your own farts?’ Nods vigorously.

He probably thinks I’m the biggest psycho to ever have graced this Crackpot’s with Babies Unit. No doubt I’ve inadvertently agreed to having a fetish for gingerbread men, partaking in cock fighting as a chicken, and having to burp three times every time I hear the word purple lest the world ends. Not surprising that Doctor Huang is so shocked by my casual attitude.

Truth be told I’m just quietly packing shit. My husband and I have arranged for a babysitter to come for a few hours a day during baby rush hour. 4 – 7 sucks with the under threes. They’re cranky, they need baths, they need dinner and they need to go to bed. Times that by three and I seriously struggle. The babysitter coming at these times doesn’t help me rest. Just helps me make sure none of my kids are neglected. I want to rest. We can’t afford rest. Fucking money.

‘A lot can change in a week.’

Literary Speed Dating: #ASA and #NSWWC

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Literary Speed Dating: #ASA and #NSWWC

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Like 49 other aspiring authors I managed to secure a ticket to Literary Speed Dating through the Australian Society of Authors and New South Wales Writers’ Centre that takes place this weekend. I am of course both excited, nervous and wetting my pants… I had twins in January who felt they’d like to engage at the same time and split my pelvis so the pants wetting might not be entirely date related. TMI? Or JTRAOI (just the right amount of information)? Getting back to the point of this blog entry, Literary Speed Dating?  Yes that was it, LSD as @AKalagianBlunt calls it.

I should probably explain what Literary Speed Dating means in this context lest you all think it refers to a group of nerdy, yet sexy, singles getting to know each other in three minute intervals,  then falling madly in love with your genre mate and making some erotic fiction together. It certainly isn’t that. I’m a married mum of three and I’m not the only monogamous individual going. @AlisonWhipp (winner of the Kids and YA Festival pitch contest early this year) will also be putting her mum jeans on and getting sassy. Literary Speed Dating in this setting refers to 9 lovely publishing reps and 1 equally lovely literary agent clawing their way out of their massive reading piles and allowing 50 aspiring authors to pitch their manuscripts to them in three minute sessions. For aspiring authors this is a big deal, we get three minutes of real face time with someone in the biz (bus?) which is a rare opportunity to get. All we had to do was be able to get a ticket (and have written something good enough that we believe it is publishable). I got my ticket in May and am pretty sure I only just managed to scrape in. Have I mentioned it’s a really good opportunity that everyone wants? Well it’s SOLD OUT in advance of 6 months good. So I can tell you that my fellow aspirings and I are packing shit. Even I, who know 4 of the 50 aspiring authors pitching (could be more, 4 have told me they are) and have the whole safety in numbers vibe going on, am ready to bite my own fingernails off. We’ve all been preparing for at least six months yet still feel desperately under prepared.

So how about I share the prep I’ve been doing and then you can share back what you are doing,  have done in similar circumstances, or what you would do if you were in a similar situation?

Firstly,  I’ve got three novels to a minimum of first draft stage so I have something to pitch. For me it’s my Memoir from the Madhouse*, a PND biopic of non epic proportions**, that you could say has been 35 years in the making. And also to the three children’s representatives attending, my jaunty little children’s fantasy Chloe Prime : Alien Space Vet which I’ve been editing for a couple of years now. Secondly, continuing to attend a lot of writing workshops, courses and festivals. Thirdly, reading, reading, reading. Memoir,  children’s fantasy, books on writing but also off genre, looking at how they build suspense,  engage the reader, and all that Jazz. Fourthly,  shamelessly imploring published authors I know for the secret of the perfect pitch. Unfortunately they all told me there is no secret formula (clearly a secret gatekeeping conspiracy) but did give me some excellent tips such as just be yourself, let your enthusiasm and knowledge show, and one fabulous published author instructed me not to be desperate, because they’re used to desperate authors hitting them up. To the latter I was all like, “WTF, desperation is literally the only thing I have going for me. I was reblogged by mamamia.com soley because I am a desperate mess, it’s my thing! I’m really not that long out of the nuthouse.” He mentioned that although that may be the case try playing it just a little bit cool, like a real date… Got it, pushup bra (oh yes I need one), red lippy (possibly a bad move as it accentuates my thin little lizard lips), and let them know they can see any of my wares without so much as a foreword and they can reorder my works into any position they like, I’m flexible and open to new ideas. He said that’s exactly what he meant and don’t forget to get incredibly drunk and cry a little. I’m quietly confident he was not joking, so I got this sucker nailed.

As for the other two pieces of advice that I got, I have come up with 7 questions,  no, not 6, 7, in order to help me achieve that non desperate pitch I’m searching for, should the drunken crying approach fail.

1. Sum up my book in 1-2 sentences in an informative yet exciting way?
2. What are the three main take aways from my book?
3. Why did I write this book?
4. Why did this book need to be written by me?
5. Why did this book need to be written now?
6. What other books is my book like, what is its competition?

All this culminates into the final question:

7. What can be said to make the commissioning editor excited about my book in 1 sentence?

So I have written up pages of research on these questions over the months, (well not 2 or 7 they need to be short) plus on the publishing houses and their titles, that all need to be distilled into one non desperate sentence. It can be done!

Good luck to everyone else pitching and myself. Let’s hope we take the literary world by storm.

* My Memoir of Appropriation is not my real memoir!!! It is just a lark.
**I deal with similar issues in my Confessions of a Mad Mooer entries such as:
https://riedstrap.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/confessions-of-a-mad-mooer-wabi-sabi-and-the-mona-lisas-smile/
https://riedstrap.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/confessions-of-a-mad-mooer-ive-just-had-an-oprah-moment/
BUT my memoir is first person present tense, so you get to see the disgusting thoughts of self loathing and hopelessness without any filter or reflection. You’re right in there with me.

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Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow: #NSWWC #ewfsyd

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Yesterday New South Wales Writers Centre hosted the Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow. A day of all things writing and emerging. Walter Mason instructed us to let out our inner fanboy/fangirl, Robert Watkins introduced a new level of clashing patterns with a sublime ensemble of a forest print shirt with a striped bow tie,  and Benjamin Law created a sense of excitement about accountancy and taxation. But I think the main emergence, apart from writerly stuff, was the emergence of fear…. as we lined up on the hill of death there were several near accidents. I nearly toppled into Walter Mason,  I’m sure he would have been impressed that I’d taken his advice on being a fan so seriously that I literally threw myself at him, Claire Zorn nearly fell into me, as a fan I told her it would be my honour to catch her if need be and then Robyn Ridgeway almost came toppling down and I got to assist her down the hill. All in all very exciting stuff.

Now I don’t want to give away too much of the content of the day, because then those who didn’t attend would have no burning desire to attend other festivals because they could get it all in the comfort of their own computers,  and I like meeting fellow fledgling writers so I selfishly refuse to give it all away. But I know if you’re reading this you want to know more than just how we all nearly experienced death by desire for burritos. So I will compromise with you, I’ll give you a few highlights from the 5 x 5 Rules of Writing seminar,  the very first talk of the day but that’s it. If you want to know more you’ll have to check out my twitter feed @RobinRiedstra.

Tom Doig (AKA- The Most Writiest of Writers)
1. Seek out books that move you and then reread them again and again until you can imagine yourself doing it.
2. Write what you know unless you know nothing… then you should probably go learn something.
3. Work harder than you think you can, then work even harder.

Delia Falconer (AKA Zen Writer)
1. Don’t get too stressed, it’s just a story.
2. Break your work into doable parts.
3. Play to your strengths.

Benjamin Law (AKA Business Time)
1. Writing works your brain really hard, so make sure you also work your body really hard to let your brain go dead every now and then.
2. Get a good accountant.
3. Marking on your calendar daily ‘write big thing’ is not the same as planning.

Laura Jean McKay (AKA The Muse Killer)
1. Don’t wait for a muse to inspire you because she’s not real.
2. Write first, talk later.
3. Your first ten years are your apprenticeship.

Walter Mason (AKA Mr Charisma)
1. Be terribly nice to people.
2. Be enthusiastic.
3. Entertain new ideas because YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!

Now you might notice that the talk is 5×5 and wouldn’t that indicate five points. How very astute,  but I’m not that type of blogger, I won’t just give it all away. I’m a lady blogger, sniff. So please, next time there is a festival at New South Wales Writers Centre,  do come along,  all us aspiring authors are terribly nice and would love to meet you. You are not alone.