Unforgettable Memories & Taking the Time to Say Thank You

I have such a special story to share with you today! Some of you might remember a blog post I wrote last year titled 'The First Thing I Did After I Accepted my Offer of Publication' where I mentioned a special person who helped foster a love of books and reading in my life. That person was my primary school library teacher, Mrs Waring.

I reached out to her around the time I accepted my offer of publication to thank her for this special role she played in my life and I also thanked her in the Acknowledgements section of my book.

Last night, I attended my first author event with Dymocks Camberwell, where I was a guest author for their monthly book club. I gave a 15 minute talk to quite a large room full of readers and I spoke about my love of reading and how that led to a love of writing. Several minutes into my talk, I went to speak about Mrs Waring and the most INCREDIBLE THING HAPPENED.

In that exact moment where I went to mention her name, I found myself looking into the audience, where my eyes met HERS.

She'd come along and surprised me. I hadn't seen her in over twenty years. I literally got goosebumps and was almost moved to tears, especially as a moment later I glanced at the woman sitting beside her and had to ask, 'Mrs Fletcher, is that you?' She had brought along another school teacher that taught at my primary school, whom I also remember with fondness.

I will never forget last night, and I will never regret taking the time to thank Mrs Waring for being such a wonderful advocate for children and literacy.

If you have someone in your life who you think of with fond memories and gratitude because they made a positive difference to your life, I'd encourage you to let them know if you haven't already.

And here's to all the teachers and librarians in the world who do wonderful work in inspiring students and readers! You are all SO special.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments if you have someone in your life who made a positive difference. Let's share some heartwarming stories. 

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND The Florentine Bridge: A Peek at My Pinterest Board.

For those of you who have already started reading or are about to start, you're in for a treat!

Today I'm sharing the Pinterest board I used for inspiration while writing The Florentine Bridge. I find Pinterest to be a really helpful tool when writing. I've added in some short descriptions for the photos which relate to some of the scenes and locations in the book.

Many of the locations featured in the book are real, many of which I have personal connections to, such as the Fattoria di Maiano which is a place I lived and worked while living in Florence. In the book, Mia and Luca visit a restaurant there, as well as a secret lake. and the stores Mia passes on her journey in the city centre, are actual shops that throng Via dei Calzauoli, one of Florence's most elegant streets. In coming weeks, I'll be sharing some blog posts with a bit more information on the locations featured in the book.

Just a warning: I will not be held responsible for anyone wanting to jump on a plane and travel to Tuscany! Check out the pictures at your own risk! ;)

View the board here!

Vie<3

I Never Set Out To Write A Love Story

I often talk about how writing a book requires a certain degree of trust and today I'm going to share with you how trusting myself to write the book I never really thought I'd write led me to where I am today.

It was the summer of 2014 and even though I'd been dreaming of one day writing a book I hadn't really done all that much about it. While I'd enjoyed writing the occasional freelance article, and had dabbled in writing for children in those years where all I seemed to be reading were picture books to my little ones, I kept putting off writing a novel until I just couldn't ignore the strong desire to write any longer.

 

For two years, I couldn't shake the feeling that I knew I was going to write a book, or that I wanted to write a book. The only problem was, I had no idea what it was I actually wanted to write. It was as if I was waiting for inspiration to drop out of the clouds along with a fully formed idea for a story. After having interviewed lots of authors for the podcast, I know now that things rarely happen this way. Sometimes, they do, but for me, all I had going for me was an intense pull to write something. 

So one Saturday afternoon, I sat down and decided to start writing. That was it. I would write something, for the pure pleasure, for no other reason than to appease that desire to write. Years earlier, in my early twenties, I'd lived in Florence - this is where I met my husband, got my first full time job, learnt to ride a scooter, and had an all round fabulous time living la dolce vita. Because I'd always loved writing, during my time overseas I'd kept notes about what it was like to live life in a foreign country. The culture, customs, anecdotes about life. I'd written about 10,000 words and done nothing with them, but I had sent them to my mum for safe keeping.

That afternoon when I sat down to write, I called my mum and asked her if she'd kept the file (around 15 years had passed) and in true organised fashion, she sent it to me within the hour. Flicking through those pages, I was transported back to Italy, as I remembered lots of things that had left the forefront of my mind and become distant memories. As I relived what it was like to walk those cobblestone streets, or enter that bar for the first time conscious of my accent as I ordered a coffee, I realised I had the setting for my book. And that's when I created a fictional character by the name of Mia who was an an aspiring artist who had lost her motivation to paint after having spent time being treated for cancer. Only, while she'd been given a new lease on life with the news of remission, Mia was yet to fully come out the other side free of problems.

Like so many unexplainable things when it comes to the creative process, I don't quite know why I chose to look at what it might be like to deal with the aftermath of having gone through a traumatic event in one's life, but that's what I did. 

I never set out to write a love story, though. That happened by complete accident. To my surprise, the ever so charming Luca appeared shortly after I finished writing the first chapter and made it very clear that he was meant to be there and wanted to stay. 

I wrote the first draft of The Florentine Bridge over a period of six weeks. Weeks where I was totally consumed by the story and the characters. I didn't plan, I didn't plot, I just followed the pull and let the characters lead the way. I didn't question or censor or overanalyse. I just went with it, and here we are.

The Florentine Bridge was the first adult novel I ever wrote and will be published January 1st 2017 - almost three years to the day since I sat down to start writing it. And it didn't really start from an idea at all.

It started with the desire to write something, coupled with a tiny degree of trust.

Writing a Book: A Matter of Trust

I was reminded recently of just how much trust is involved in writing a book. I'm now revising my second novel. Looking back on the completed draft, where thousands of words are all strung together to form a story, it's easy to forget how all of that started with just an idea.

When I start with an idea, I don't fully know the entire trajectory of the story. I know the question I'm wanting answered, I know the conflict, and I have a sense of the setting, but I'm yet to get to know the supporting characters of the story, and I don't have a clear handle on the main characters either. I cement some knowledge about them before starting to write, but then I try to let their personalities come alive on the page. I like them to surprise me. In knowing some parts of the story, but not knowing others, a great deal of trust is involved in letting the characters and the events in the story unfold for 80,000 or so words. When I'm writing the beginning, it's sometimes hard not to fret about the middle. When I reach the middle, it's hard for me to trust that everything will come together for the ending.

What I've realised, is that in order to reach The End, that point where you can look back on your story and tie up loose ends, strengthen character actions and motivations, bring out the setting and emotion a little more, while getting a grasp on the themes of the book (some of which you might have never intended to have there in the first place), an enormous amount of trust is involved.

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOM PICS

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOM PICS

HERE ARE MY TOP FIVE TIPS.

HOW TO TRUST YOURSELF TO WRITE A BOOK.

// Follow the idea, no matter how silly it might seem. Nudge the box open, peek into the dark corners, fumble around and sooner or later you might find something special in there.

// Everything is revisable. This is something that the perfectionist in me has had to work very hard to embrace. It's comforting knowing that you can always make things better in a subsequent draft. You can see things much more clearly once you have a full draft in hand. As tempting as it is to pause midway, just keep going. You'll be able to fix things later.

// Trust that you will reach the end. Even when THE END feels far away and so far out of reach you begin to question whether you'll ever get there, know that you will get there in your own time and at the right time if you keep showing up. Showing up is key. 

// Trust your characters. Often when I'm writing, I don't have all the answers. I don't know why characters appear in my story or what role they have when they show up. Which can be especially frustrating because anyone that shows up needs to count, be heard, or earn their place in the story. Trust that you will find a way to tie up the loose knots and plot holes at some point, even if during revision or a rewrite. Often, I'm surprised at how things seem to slot in at the end, as if I've been building the foundations for things to go a certain way without intending them to. 

// Trust your voice. Avoid comparisons, and let the words come out without censoring. To find your voice, you need to be able to give yourself the space to write the way you write. The more you practice, the more you'll feel comfortable with it.

I'd love to know about your experiences. Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Facebook!

Your Beautiful Writing Life 2016 Retreat Wrap-Up

One week, four writers, an agent, and me. Rolling hills with views of olive groves, vineyards, rustic farmhouses and winding roads. We couldn't have stayed in a more picturesque location. Our villa, a double storey 17th century restored farmhouse, located relatively close to the centre of Florence while sitting in the gorgeous Chianti area, was perfect, too. From the rustic kitchen with it's vintage pale blue fridge with rounded doors, and enormous stone sink, to the internal walls that proudly displayed valuable works of art on canvas, the wooden beam ceilings and terracotta tiles, and wooden doors leading out to terraces that afforded our writers some incredible views of the local countryside, you couldn't help but feel inspired to write in this location. We had a pool, and plenty of space outside to write, relax, or just explore the expansive area outside. And did I mention the weather? It was heavenly. On all but our last day, we enjoyed every minute of that Tuscan sun.

THE VILLA

THE VILLA

So while it's all fresh in my mind, I'm going to give you a rundown of what our amazing week away looked like.

MEET & GREET

My husband greeted our group of writers at the train station in Florence, while back at the villa, I made some finishing touches, like arranging fresh flowers for the bedrooms, and making preparations for our welcome BBQ dinner.

FRESH FLOWERS FOR THE BEDROOMS

FRESH FLOWERS FOR THE BEDROOMS

THE ROSE ROOM

THE ROSE ROOM

TEA STATION

TEA STATION

I was able to meet my literary agent, Cassie Hanjian, a little earlier in the day, which was so great! Until this point we'd been communicating via email and Skype. As you can imagine, it was great being able to spend time together. I was able to run an idea for a potential book idea past her, (the good news is, I got an enthusiastic thumbs up!), and I'm so grateful she was able to come along and spend the week with us. Cassie ran an amazing workshop for attendees (more about that later) but also offered writers support by way of one:one personalised feedback. 

MINDFULNESS COLOURING BOOKS

MINDFULNESS COLOURING BOOKS

MORNING MEDITATIONS

We kicked each morning off with a morning meditation in the morning sun. I spent a LOT of time searching for the right meditations to use during our week away, and finally, I settled on Claire Obeid's meditation album along with a couple by Ariadne Kapsali. Meditation is a fantastic way to start the day, and I can honestly say our morning meditations were one of the favourite parts of the week. Especially, when, after one of our morning meditations, each and every writer in our group, one by one, decided to forego the Chianti tour I'd arranged for them, to stay at the villa and write because they were feeling so inspired. My goodness! Cannot tell you how wide my heart opened when we all stayed home that day. As writers, we spend so much time alone, behind our computer screens, toiling away, and I really think there is something to be said for writing in company. Maybe inspiration is contagious?

MORNING MEDITATION SPOT!

MORNING MEDITATION SPOT!

One of the loveliest things about the week was seeing writers tucked away in various spaces throughout the house or within the grounds. At any given moment you could find someone pouring tea in the kitchen by the tea station, doing some mindful colouring by the coffee table, taking a swim, reading a book, or brainstorming over lunch. We had so much space to walk, huddle together, or find a quiet spot to write, which was really lovely.

CHATTING ABOUT WRITING ...

CHATTING ABOUT WRITING ...

THE POOL WITH THE MOST INCREDIBLE VIEWS EVER!

THE POOL WITH THE MOST INCREDIBLE VIEWS EVER!

COACHING AND WORKSHOPS

As part of the program, writers were invited to send five pages for Cassie to look at. She then gave some personalised feedback a few times throughout the week, and it was great seeing writers discuss her feedback, find those lightbulb moments, and then work on revising things once they understood how to move forward with their pieces. Cassie also took a group workshop on Publishing Industry Tips and Insights where she shared valuable knowledge and advice on querying and what the role of a literary agent is.

One of the things I love most about coaching writers, is seeing the lightbulbs go off as my writing clients realise something new about what they desire, or how they're feeling, or how they might be able to move forward with things. The group coaching session did that for several members of our group. After our session, we sat around the table, discussed goals, and had a ball brainstorming story and plot ideas for each other. 

JO, TRACEY, AMANDA AND PASCALE ENJOYING EVENING APERETIFS

JO, TRACEY, AMANDA AND PASCALE ENJOYING EVENING APERETIFS

CASSIE'S WORKSHOP: PUBLISHING INDUSTRY TIPS & INSIGHTS

CASSIE'S WORKSHOP: PUBLISHING INDUSTRY TIPS & INSIGHTS

MYSELF AND JO!

MYSELF AND JO!

The Wednesday of the retreat was a BIG day but I could also see what an inspiring one it was, too. After some discussions about things to do in the area, I managed to organise a personalised tour of a local caseificio (goat's cheese factory). This day also happened to be my wedding anniversary, so hubby and I dropped the ladies off and headed to nearby Greve-in-Chianti, a gorgeous little town, for coffee and a stroll. Because that's what you tend to do a lot of in Italy when time seems to stand still and the most gorgeous little shops line the streets of piazzas! 

Later, we had a very sweet but experienced art teacher by the name of Liese, from Siena come to the villa to teach Jo, Amanda and Pascale some watercolour painting techniques. What better way to get in touch with one's creative side while (like writing) learning to trust and accept whatever appeared on the page?!

ONSITE ART CLASS

ONSITE ART CLASS

That evening, I invited my dear friend Jennifer and her mother-in-law, Gilberta, a larger than life character with an enormous heart of gold, to come and teach the group how to make pasta from scratch. The ladies instantly fell in love with this gorgeous Tuscan woman, who not only imparted her fantastic pasta making secrets, but also told us stories of Florence, along with various Tuscan traditions. Later, we enjoyed some papardelle outside, where her husband Mario made us all laugh with his singing and blessing of the wine. In true Tuscan tradition, Gilberta brought over an authentic dessert called Lo Zuccotto, which is like a sponge cake with ice-cream shaped like a hat, which was coined this name by Caterina de Medici. And to top all that off, we were also treated to some Vin Santo and cantuccini biscuits (another typical Tuscan tradition!)

THE GORGEOUS GILBERTA SHARING HER PASTA MAKING TIPS!

THE GORGEOUS GILBERTA SHARING HER PASTA MAKING TIPS!

Takeout comments for the day were Jo's, who likened the night to something you'd see in the movies, to our gorgeous Amanda, who commented on Facebook: 'This is one of the most special evenings I have ever had. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.'

GILBERTA'S HOMEMADE PASTA NIGHT

GILBERTA'S HOMEMADE PASTA NIGHT

On Thursday a couple of ladies were treated to a tour of Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa and their photos made me almost wish I went too. For me, San Gimignano as always been one of my favourite Tuscan towns. By this day, I'd well and truly settled into the writing groove, so spend the day working on my second book, while Pascale and Jo made some record-setting word counts -- we're talking four and five thousand words in a single day! High-fives all round!

ME & LOVELY TRACEY!

ME & LOVELY TRACEY!

We were still writing on the last day of retreat, stopping only in the late afternoon! By now, everyone had made some solid progress with their writing, and everyone had hit their stride. Pages of handwritten words, amazing word counts, new ideas, new directions, inspiration for new ideas to follow through on. It was all quite transformational for us all.

That evening, we all came together and enjoyed home delivered pizza while we chatted about life, writing, books, and everything in between. We really did have an amazing group on this retreat -- everyone was so supportive, and despite our backgrounds, age differences, and varying experience with writing, we all got along really well and learnt from each other. I couldn't help feeling a little sad to think this was going to be our last evening together.

On the Saturday morning, we said our goodbyes at the train station, where I fought (as usual -- I'm really not that great at goodbyes!) off the tears. Spending so much time together over the course of a week where you forge friendships that could potentially last a lifetime makes it sad to say goodbye. Though I wouldn't rule out a reunion sometime down the track!

So now the big question remains -- of whether I should do this again! If you'd like to be kept updated for future writing retreats, be sure to sign up for my newsletter below. You can also find more information on the 2016 retreat and program at www.yourbeautifulwritinglife.com

KEY TAKEOUTS // BEAUTIFUL WORDS

"I came in incredibly blocked and stressed about the project I was working on, and I'm leaving with a new project that feels totally right, that I'm excited about." - Josephine
"This week has given me space to relax, reconnect and be inspired. It's opened me to new possibilities, and it's made space for my writing when there wasn't space before." - Amanda
"I've gained practical knowledge as well as contacts and new friends. It's given me so many ideas for short stories, new characters, setting, and more." - Tracey
"I found an incredible sense of freedom and inspiration from being around like minded writers in beautiful Tuscany." - Pascale
AN UNNECESSARY (YET THOUGHTFUL) GIFT FROM JO AND AMANDA

AN UNNECESSARY (YET THOUGHTFUL) GIFT FROM JO AND AMANDA

The Opportunities Beyond the Platform

Recently on the podcast, Kim and I chatted about whether having a strong online presence can help a writer attract a publisher. I've been active in the online space for some time now, and I gave some thoughts on why I felt it was important for me to create an online presence before I sold my book. Here's the thing...

It was never really about the book. 

It was always about connection.

As an uncontracted author I never knew if there would be a book. But I did know that I enjoyed connecting with people and I did know that one day, I'd love to be able to share the joy in having a book published with a community of writers (and potential readers) who might be interested in my work. As luck (and hard work!) have it, it turns out that there is going to be a book (yay!) that I will be able to share.

I hear a lot of writers talk about how it's important to have an online presence and I also hear a lot of writers worry about their platforms. I too, have had moments of not being sure about what to blog about, or how much to share. And then of course, there's the (lack of) time consideration when you're already trying to squeeze the writing in amongst so many other things that need your attention.

Finding the time and your voice can be challenging but I do think that it's important for authors to be online. But I also believe it's important for authors to be online before they're published. Like most things in life, it takes time to establish and grow an online presence. 

Having a presence online has meant that over time (a long time) I've been able to make and foster real connections with real people. Podcasting alone has opened up a brand new world for me to make new online friends, and a wider support network.

There are so many ways my online presence has opened up opportunities for me, from friendships, support, income, and ways to give back to the community, and I'd love to share these examples with you, to show you some of the things that become possible as a result of having some kind of author platform.

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOM PICS

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOM PICS

Real Connections

In August, once my structural edit for THE FLORENTINE BRIDGE is completed, I have three lunch dates bookmarked with writer friends whom I've met online or through the podcast. (And let me tell you, I am so looking forward to them!) It's worth mentioning that one of these authors approached me for a potential workshop opportunity as well as a promotional opportunity for my book once it's released, and this came about as a direct result of her finding me online.

Since launching the podcast, I've had listeners email me asking me where they can buy my books, which is lovely since my book isn't available (yet!). Others have emailed letting me know how inspiring and motivating they've found either my blog or the podcast, or how it's helped them get pen to paper. This in itself is hugely rewarding and motivating to hear. I always save these kind of emails because they inspire me.

Workshops, Coaching, and an International Writing Retreat

Last year I ran local writing workshops and took the plunge with launching my writing retreat in Tuscany, called YOUR BEAUTIFUL WRITING LIFE. And it was wildly exciting to see that these sold out. It proved to me that you don't need to be a 'published author' to build a life around your writing. I was able to do these things as a coach and writer and that was enough. Offering support and knowledge within your capacity is perfectly fine, and you'll attract the kind of clients and attendees that are right for you. 

My workshops then led me to other opportunities, like presenting a workshop at the upcoming Romance Writers of Australia Conference in Adelaide this August.

As far as coaching goes, while I trained as a Life Coach, I realised I really wanted to work with writers specifically, to help them with their writing aspirations, and dealing with some of the challenges we all face: Where to start? How to finish? How to persevere and believe in ourselves? What to work on next?! Through coaching writers I've managed to develop an income stream, and the bonus is that it's hugely rewarding and directly connected to writing too.

While I've managed to build a community and have a newsletter database, I couldn't have done these things without confidence, but I wouldn't have had the confidence, if I didn't have the  support from, or the relationships with the people who comment, subscribe, email and interact with me online.

A Place to Give Back to the Community

Having an online presence gives you a chance to give something back to the community of writers we're all a part of. I've been fortunate enough to have received help from other authors along the way, and my way of giving back to that community is via blogging and the weekly podcast.

One of my coaches I've had the pleasure of working with in the past, the lovely Rachel McDonald, encourages her clients to ask themselves:

How Can I Be Generous?

How Can I Add Value?

How Can I Bring Joy?

Think about ways you can be generous and add value. You can then go BIGGER with those ideas. Generosity will always come back two-fold.

Some ways I put this into action if you're looking for ideas:

Last year, I put together almost a year's worth of free writing prompts on Instagram. (You can search for them under the hashtag #mindfulprompts.)

In the past I've included free opt-ins for newsletter subscribers, such as a guide to helping writers overcome self-doubt and resistance while learning to become more present, and 100 Free Writing Prompts. 

Your online presence doesn't just have to be about sticking to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. It can be about creating value in other ways. You might like to start a Book Club, or an interactive Book Chat, or you might like to host regular Q&A's on Facebook. Maybe regular in-person meet ups for writers and readers is something that interests you. Time is always a consideration, but over time, I do believe you'll get back what you put in. It's also about finding something that feels comfortable and achievable for you.

The other thing is, when you're giving 80% of the time, and sharing joy, and adding value, and you're coming from that sincere place, people know it, they can feel it. So when the time comes when you do need a little support, people who share that joy and benefit from that value 80% of the time will often be willing to help you out 20% of the time (if not more!) *Figures are guesstimates only!

So often, people buy people and after having a long time corporate career in sales, I know the hard sell never works. While you can argue that sales is a numbers game, the fact is that people are people, they aren't just numbers.

Other Opportunities

I've heard of writers who've been approached by literary agents or publishers as a direct result of finding them online. 

Kim Foster found herself jumping on board as co-host of my podcast after we met on Twitter and had the courage to swap a few manuscript pages with each other for critique. 

It's worth mentioning that most of the authors Kim and I approach for interviews are online too. Before we invite guests onto the podcast, we take a look at their websites to get a sense of who they are and what they're like. If the author provides a glimpse into some of the other things they're doing, or has certain things they've achieved or are specialised in, it gives us an added talking point, and more valuable content to share with our listeners who can benefit from hearing from that particular author.

It's also worth having a read of this interview on Carly Watter's blog with Maria Ribas, Editor-turned-Agent, who discusses the 'platform-savvy author' and the acquisitions meeting.

https://carlywatters.com/2015/11/23/guest-post-the-4-platform-elements-that-catch-an-editors-attention/

Platform and online presence doesn't always need to be a big scary thing. You can start small, and go from there. You might not want to do workshops or speaking, or a podcast, but there are many ways you can build a life around your writing and take advantage of some of the wonderful opportunities that are out there waiting for you.

Has blogging or being online opened up opportunities for you? I'd love to hear more about your experiences, too!

The First Thing I Did After I Accepted My Offer of Publication

My mother always told me that people come in and out of your life for a reason. "Sometimes, the ones who drift, are the ones you'll never forget."

My children spend over thirty hours a week in the care of the wonderful teaching staff at our local primary school. It's there that they learn maths, and spelling, and science. It's where they laugh, create, and play, while learning how to navigate relationships. It's also a place where they can be influenced and inspired. Where words of encouragement could possibly change the way they think, or what they dream about, forever.

I had a library teacher, who did this for me. She was the most passionate person about children's literature I'd ever known. She'd let my friends and I huddle in the dark corners of the library, our backs leaning against walls of books, where we'd sit and read while it rained outside. And sometimes, with a wink of her eye, she'd let us into the library at lunchtimes when it wasn't raining too. She understood what it meant to nurture a love of books in her students.

She let us cover books with plastic contact, and delighted in appointing library monitors. She fed us a staple diet of authors like Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Hazel Edwards, Beverly Cleary, and Paul Jennings, among others.

She read to us, but not only that, she spoke a lot about the authors who wrote the books we'd read. One day, I remember sitting in the library, listening to her talk about an author and a thought popped into my mind; one that I'll never forget.

"Maybe one day I can be an author too."

The only problem was, that even though I knew books were written by authors, I didn't know much else. Most of my friends wanted to become nurses, or flight attendants, or teachers. I didn't know any authors, and at that age, I had no idea how you'd go about getting a book written or published and so that thought remained tucked away in the back of my mind, for a very long time. 

Life went on, and through high school, I continued reading (a lot), and writing when I could. And even though I might not have verbalised it, I always knew that one day I wanted to write and publish a novel.

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOMPICS

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOMPICS

There were so many steps that led me to write my first book. Like the way my mum bought me a book every single week throughout my primary years. I'd bring one home and finish it before the day was out and then I'd beg her to go back to the shops the next day for another. The way she'd turn a blind eye to me reading until late into the night, devouring language and story. The way she smiled proudly when I showed her a story I'd written and illustrated. The way I'd lie in bed at night and make up stories in my head about what it would feel like to be lost on a deserted island or have a broken leg, or be blind, or able to talk to animals.

Many years later, when I finally had a completed manuscript in hand, I thought a lot about "Mrs W" and I thought a lot about my mum. I don't doubt that my love of writing came from somewhere inside of me; it was something I naturally gravitated towards. I've always loved language, and story, and words. But there's also no doubt in my mind that this love was nurtured in a way that encouraged me to embrace not only my creativity (my mum is highly, highly creative -- sewing, ceramics, painting, crochet, knitting...you name it, she's tried it!) but my love of reading and writing.

So the first thing I did once I accepted the offer of publication for my book was call my mum. We both cried. And I thanked her for all those books she bought me, and all those times she showed me that creating for the pure pleasure of making something was okay. 

And then, I set out to try to find my library teacher so I could thank her too. It was important for me to be able to do this, to let someone know the profound impact their work had on me as an eager young student. I was able to find a school she'd worked at, so I gave them a call. She told me that Mrs W had retired, and if I wanted to, I could send her an email which she'd pass onto her for me. Or...I could thank her personally on the phone, because she just so happened to be at the school today, helping out with something! 

"Is she often there just by chance?" I asked.

"No, not often. You picked the right day," she replied, and I could tell she was smiling on the other end of the phone.

What are the chances?!

To cut a long story short, I followed up this phone call with an email. Mrs W said she had goosebumps reading my note. She told me she remembered me and my friends, and told me she always considered herself to be extremely fortunate to be in a profession that she loved. She retired after 43 years, with the last 15 of those year as a school principal in several schools. She now volunteers some of her time in schools, still encouraging kids to develop a love of reading. It was then my turn to have goosebumps. What a special woman.

So often, we go through life not really aware of the impact we have on the lives of others. 

Once my book is published, I'm planning on sending a copy to Mrs W.

Writing a Book and Finding a Literary Agent

By now you've possibly read my exciting book news about my debut novel, which will be published by Harlequin Australia. If not, you can read about that here! I'm often I'm asked about my writing journey, and how I found an agent to represent me. After discussing the topic of finding a literary agent on the podcast this week with Kim, I thought I'd share a little more of my story here, along with some tips for any authors out there who might be thinking of navigating these waters. 

First, Write the Book and Polish It!

To secure agent representation, in most cases, a debut fiction author must have a completed manuscript. And it's not enough to have just a completed manuscript. Your manuscript should be as polished as it can be. You only get one chance with each agent or publisher so it's really important that you try to get your book in best possible shape before sending it out for consideration. 

Receiving Feedback

I wrote my manuscript over a period of six weeks, swapping a couple of chapters at a time with two critique partners. 

While some writers can't stand the thought of sharing work before their first draft is finished, I found that knowing I was on the right track with things really helped with my confidence. It was also great having more than one reader to provide feedback because they each had different strengths and were able to point our different areas in my manuscript that needed work. For example, one of my critique partners had an extremely good eye for detail, and questioned character motivations, whereas my other partner really helped me pack more emotional punch into the story. Either way, it's a good idea to seek feedback on your work from people you can trust.

Once I had some feedback to work with, I rolled up my sleeves and set about revising, which naturally, takes some time! Once that was done, I sent the book out to beta readers, who would read the manuscript in its entirety and provide me with feedback on the big picture.

When my beta readers came back to me with more positive comments than suggestions for strengthening the manuscript, I decided to take the leap and send a query letter out to agents.

Getting Ready to Query

Querying can be a harrowing process. It's a time where you've worked so hard on your manuscript and are likely still very attached to it. Naturally, you wish the very best for it. It's also the point where you lose control over what happens next because nothing you can do can change the outcome of whether you'll receive a request and whether any such request will result in an offer of representation. 

To begin with, I researched potential agents, those that represented the kind of work I was writing, and those who represented authors I admired or liked books that I also enjoyed and added them to the list. As far as resources go, you could try these:

Australian Literary Agents' Association Member Listings

Query Tracker

Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents

^Remember that no ethical or legitimate agent will ask for payment in order to represent you. Be sure to research any agency/agent thoroughly.

Writing the Query Letter

There are several components a query letter needs to have. This letter is a professional, business letter of around 3-4 paragraphs, and is essentially a way for you to introduce your book to a potential agent. Firstly, it needs to have a clear hook outlining the conflict. Unlike a synopsis, it doesn't need to reveal the ending.

I spent a LOT of time writing and revising my query letter. It evolved over several iterations before I felt it was ready to send out. I highly recommend having someone read your query letter and provide you feedback on it. Ideally, have someone that has read your book and someone who hasn't, provide you with feedback.

The query letter is important not only because it helps your future agent assess whether they'd like to read more of your work, but your agent may use your query as the basis of their own pitch to editors. 

If you aren't feeling confident about writing your query, there are authors out there who offer query critiques such as Lauren Spieller and Nicole Tone, both of whom have worked as Literary Agent interns.

Sending Your Query Out

Once I sent my query out, I received a few requests for the partial and full manuscript. Most of these came in within a few days of sending my query but from what I've heard, response times to queries can vary widely so don't be disheartened if you don't receive a response straight away. Agents are very busy and very hardworking people, so sometimes it can take a while to hear back. Don't despair, just try to distract yourself from your inbox! I'll admit it, this is easier said than done! The major downside of querying international agents is the time difference and resisting the urge to check your emails in the middle of the night!

Don't be discouraged by any eventual passes you might receive. I know it's hard to receive a form rejection, but you might also find that some agents do take the time to give you some kind and helpful feedback plus an invitation to submit future work to them. Always hold on to the positive feedback, no matter how small! 

To cut a long story short, along the way, I received a request from the agent who ultimately offered me representation and went on to sell my book!

It didn't all happen at once though... 

Sometimes, things just literally fall into place.

At the time, for one reason or another things just didn't line up for us. Around six months later though, my agent had moved agencies and we were able to reconnect. By this time, I had agreed to be represented by a local agent, but due to some changes she was making in her business, we felt that I could best be supported by an agent who was going to be able to work with me over the long term. So we parted ways very amicably, (and still remain friends), and with her blessing, I signed with my current agent. At the time of reconnecting, it turned out she hadn't forgotten my story and had still been thinking of my manuscript. I loved that she completely understood my story and could see in it, the things I was yet to see. What a total blessing to find someone who'd connected with it in this special way! Anyway after re-reading it, she offered to represent me, proving you never know what's around the corner for you on the deliciously wild journey that being a writer takes you on. 

Sometimes, it feels like the Universe has things worked out before we do. Sometimes, we end up exactly where we are meant to be. 

Pop the champagne! I have BOOK NEWS!

I've been bursting at the seams to let you all in on some news I've been waiting to be finalised!

I've just signed a two-book publishing contract with Harlequin Australia! 
 
My debut novel THE FLORENTINE BRIDGE, will be published under Harlequin's MIRA imprint in both print and eBook formats! I've been pinching myself every morning since I found out about the news. It really is a dream come true. 

When I took the initial steps to write the first draft of this book, I didn't really know what I was going to write. Looking back, I think I was waiting for inspiration to fall from a cloud! THE FLORENTINE BRIDGE is the first adult manuscript I wrote and I had no idea where it would take me. Some things have a way of falling into place though, and this book led me down the path of signing with a wonderfully supportive agent and ultimately achieving a childhood dream after receiving multiple offers to publish it.

I enjoyed every minute of writing this book, and had one of those magical experiences most writers wish for where the words and story seem to unfold effortlessly. Admittedly, while the first draft took me six weeks to write, revision took a little while longer!

The team at Harlequin have shown a lot of enthusiasm for my book and I'm really excited to be working with them. Writers dream of people connecting deeply with their work and when we're lucky enough to find those people it really is a wonderful feeling! 

So, while I wait for my editorial notes to come in, I'm currently working on the first draft of what will be my second book. It's not pouring out of me like the first did, but I'm absolutely enjoying the process and the research involved! More to come on that down the track, but like the first, it'll be a book club read that tugs on the heart strings.

While I've been blogging and podcasting and writing about writing for some time now, I've kept fairly quiet about my fiction writing and my journey towards publication. This is mainly because said journey is usually one filled with lots of behind-the-scenes hard work, and a considerable amount of waiting for "things to happen" mixed with moments of cautious optimism followed by excitement and elation.

Many of you who are reading this have watched me take the leap from corporate career to launching a digital parenting magazine, to stepping away from that to pursue my writing more seriously. So thank you to each and every one of you that's taken an interest in my work and words and journey. I really appreciate you all for supporting and encouraging me!

Over the coming months I'll be sharing some of the steps and milestones that have led me to this point. I'll do a bit of a rewind all the way back to what inspired me to write this novel, how I went about the revision process, how I fit the writing in, and how I ended up finding my agent. I'll also share the first thing I did after accepting my publishing offer. Interestingly enough, it didn't involve champagne!

I'd love for you to join in some of the online celebrations! 

Come drop past Facebook to say hello if we aren't connected there already. You can also find me on Twitter and Kimberley and I will also be chatting about my journey to publication in upcoming podcast episodes. 

I'd love for you to join me for the ride as I work on all the steps involved in bringing this book to shelves! 

Until next time,
Vanessa xo

Ideas to Help You Get Unstuck in the Middle of a Manuscript Draft

If you follow me online on the social media places I frequent like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, you might already know that I'm currently in the process of writing a novel which is in the first draft stage. 

I love many of the stages of the writing process -- the innocence, curiosity and freedom of a first draft, to the eye opening wonder and layering of a second draft, to the depth and shaping when all the hard work starts to pay off in a third draft. I live for the moment of being able to actually "see" beyond those early drafts to the actual story itself. It's like wiping away a thick film of dust  on a grubby window pane to see the new world you have created expand before your eyes.

 

Writing a novel can be so exciting and absorbing but it can also be challenging keeping threads together, making sure your ending delivers on what you've promised in the beginning, and becoming aware of character motivations and actions, and so on. And so on. And so on!

I'm always a bit hesitant to give writing advice because I don't think there's any one way to write a book. As I've learned, the way I'm writing this particular book is different to how I wrote my first. Even I'm surprised at the process. What I've learned is that every creative piece is different and knowing how to allow your piece to unfold is one of the things that makes the process of writing beautiful.

So, rather than give you absolute advice on something where any absolute advice aside from "keep going" or "persevere" or "trust yourself, but still keep going!" isn't going to fit everyone, I'm going to share some of the things that have worked for me. So, if you reach the middle of your novel and feel a little stuck, here are some things that have helped me in my writing life. 

Learn when it's time to take a breather

It can sometimes be very hard to jump back into a manuscript after you've skipped a few consecutive days of writing. Sometimes though, it can be helpful if you  consciously allow yourself some distance from your work because it lets you come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. A little bit of distance can help with perspective. For me, the trick is to know when resistance is stopping me from producing words I'm happy with, versus genuinely needing to take a break. Sometimes, you need to write your way through a plot point to find a thread, and other times, you need space for more ideas to swirl around. With practice, you can come to learn the difference. Key here? Be honest with yourself. Tired and emotionally zapped? (Take a break.) Or feeling scared and uncomfortable? (Trust, and power ahead anyway.)

 Print Out Your Pages 

The experience of reading a manuscript online is very different to reading printed pages. I find the process of reading printed pages lends itself to really being able to see the bigger picture. There's also space to scribble notes and ideas. So, sometimes, I'll stop in the middle of a first draft to print things out and see what's actually happening, so I can identify threads and get a sense of how best to continue. Here are some of the things I have scrawled into the early chapters of my manuscript:  

Why does she say this? Would she really say it? What does this say about her? How do I bring this out more in future chapters?

You need to show the reader WHY she is thinking this.  

How is this relevant and how does it relate to the plot? 

Do we need to know this right now?  Delete? Move?

Telling. 

Telling. 

Way too much telling! 

Sentence structure. Fix!

Need to go deeper here with this point. 

Flat scene ending. 

More emotion here. 

Mention this earlier. Needs build up.

Better transition needed. 

Make this better!

Read a book

Sometimes the last thing I want to do is read while I'm working on a project, but if I get really stuck and know it's time to take a break, reading can sometimes be really helpful. There's something I find wonderfully inspiring about reading well-told stories (even better if they contain beautiful prose) and if I'm lucky it makes me yearn to go back to my own writing project to play around with my own words. Sometimes all it takes is a chapter or two and then I'm caught between that delicious push-pull of: do I write or do I keep on reading? 

Pick up a notebook

There's something comforting about being able to curl up on the couch with a cuppa and write as if the world isn't watching. Which it's not, but it feels like something a little sacred and special, to pick up a Leuchtturm or a Moleskine and pepper it with loopy handwriting without having doubts cross your mind as you stare back at a typed paragraph and question what you've written. What's a delete key? I find writing by hand to be a more personal, gentler way of writing, and while I couldn't write a whole novel this way, I often use this tool to experiment with scenes or pick up where I've left off if I don't quite know what to write next. It's said there's a heart to hand connection when you write this way and I'm shuffling to the side that believes this is probably true.

So, those are a handful of tips aside from "keep going," "persevere," and "trust yourself but still keep going." I hope you find them helpful and I'd love to hear how you help yourself to get unstuck!

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The Beauty of Writing -- What I Wish All New Writers Knew.

The first words are often the hardest, even when they come easily. The first words are ones that open up a new world, introduce us to new characters, ones that we might not necessarily be acquainted with, at least not in action even if you have filled the pages of a notebook with character traits and have countless images pinned on a Pinterest board. For me, the beginning is the most testing time of writing a book. The road ahead seems so long and in between those stretches of road where things seem partially illuminated, the overall route feels very dimly lit. 

At 5,000 words I feel impatient that I still don't quite know where things are going. This feeling sticks with me until I reach 10,000 words and it doesn't matter how many people believe in me, or whether I believe in myself. Because this here is a matter of trust, of perseverance, of being able to dance with creative magic long enough to create something out of nothing without knowing the outcome and being comfortable with that.

Even though I know all of this, I still think that I should be hitting my stride by now, but I'm not quite there, and so the discomfort amplifies. I make another cup of tea. What if this isn't the "right" book for me to be writing? Shouldn't this be easier? I challenge this tricky sabotage dusted with irrational expectations and unhelpful questions by focusing on one thing:

What happens next?

Not tomorrow, or next week, or on page 229, but the next sentence, the next line of dialogue. I focus on the scene at hand. I'm still working hard to tap into that place of trust and openness because I know that this is where my best work comes from. The only way I know how to get to that place is by being present. So I approach each session the same way: I push the earbuds in, press play, close my eyes, breathe in, and imagine myself in scene like a quiet observer, trusting that my words will lead me to where we need to go.

And they always do.

And eventually...after days of awkwardly dancing with the muse, something happens. The thing I've been waiting for since my opening sentence. The thing that happens once you let go of judgement, of fear, of doubt, of resistance. Suddenly, instead of having to fit in the time to write, I'm practically begging the universe to help me find more time to write. And it takes everything to not drop every other responsibility in my life for a chance to get back in scene with my characters. 

This is what I wish all new writers knew. Especially the pantsers. If you push past the discomfort by treating your first draft with gentleness and reverence, there will come a point that your story will take hold of you instead of you taking hold of your story. With every sentence of dialogue, with every scene, you almost take a back seat as your characters show you where they want the story to lead. 

This is the beauty of writing. 

I hope you stick with it long enough to come to know it.

Your Creative Life Podcast is now live!

I'm so pleased to announce that I've just launched Your Creative Life Podcast which is available on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

I'm kicking off the first handful of episodes with some deliciously insightful and inspiring conversations on writing and creativity with Cassie Mendoza-Jones, Laraine Herring, Natasha Lester, and Natalie Goldberg.

I've had such a great time connecting with some really amazing, talented, and smart creative experts, coaches, authors, writers and publishing professionals and I really do hope you guys find these discussions as inspiring as I have. 

You can check out the shownotes here.

If you've subscribed to the podcast and are enjoying it, I would really appreciate if you could leave me a review and star rating to let me know what you think!

The Best Thing I Could Have Done For My Writing

Going away for a weekend to work on my novel was the best thing I could have done for my myself and for my writing. I'd been having a little trouble finding the heartbeat of my story due to all the plates spinning in my life right now, and as most of you regular readers would know, I'm currently planning a writing retreat in Italy for next year. While I really felt like I needed some dedicated time to burrow into this book to find the energy hiding in it, I also really wanted to explore what it was going to be like to take time away from the daily grind to focus solely on the writing. 

On Friday afternoon I loaded a small suitcase into the boot of my car and drove to the country. 

This weekend was about so much more than just the writing. It was a way of declaring that my creative work is valuable and worthy of dedicating this special time to. It makes me happy and that's good for me. We should be giving more attention to what's good for us, right? 

Discoveries:

// Procrastination tools + tricky sabotages:

I use herbal tea not only as a wonderful way to hydrate myself, but as a procrastination tool. A scene feels a little tricky? Not deep enough? Too much telling and not enough showing? "Let's get up and make another cup of tea!"

The internet is a time leech. When I booked this weekend away, I didn't bother to check whether I'd have Wi-Fi access because I didn't plan on spending much time being connected to the internet. What I also didn't plan on was not having internet on my phone or having the shaky kind of phone reception that saw me holding my phone up to the heavens in order to get a signal. Every now and then I'd take a break and take a walk outside and I'd go to check my phone. But there was nothing to check. And I kept doing it, even though I knew that it was futile. Wow. I've come home and the first thing I did was install the Freedom app on my computer. Another option is to simply unplug the router or disconnect to Wi-Fi. Highly recommend!

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What amazed me most about this disconnection is how much clearer the mind is when you're not constantly reading posts and status updates, and thinking about the things we see and read online. It puts a total different spin on the whole being present thing that I strive for in my day-to-day life and in my writing.

The disconnection also forced me to become comfortable with a less than perfect first draft by adding notes to my manuscript like: INSERT THE PROPER TERM FOR THIS HERE for points that needed more research or better word choices and so on. Instead of interrupting the writing to jump onto the internet and potentially get sidetracked for 20 wasteful minutes, these notes, the hallmark of a rough draft, mean that I've been far more productive than usual.

// Amplified knowings:

Overall, this weekend showed me how much intuition and trust is involved with writing. I was able to find the heartbeat of my story in a way that felt really natural and anything but forced. You can learn to listen to your body to know when you need to move, to pause, to continue. The best kind of writing happens when you're open and trusting what is coming out on the page. Taking the time out to only write, made all the things I know and thought I knew about writing so much clearer.

I could literally feel the difference in my body once I took a break to walk around the property and then came back to the writing afterwards. All I could hear out there were birds singing and the occasional car driving down the gravel road. There were horses in the back paddock. I'd stand there for minutes watching them, mesmerised by them. Nature has always been a big source of inspiration for me and being able to walk outside and smell the eucalyptus and let my imagination run wild while looking out at views of expansive paddocks and gum trees was very, very special and very, very refreshing and helpful to the creative process.

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When I'm writing at home, it doesn't feel natural or totally comfortable to take time out to lie down and rest. On the weekend though, it became apparent what an incredible way to recharge this can be. In those peaceful moments where I drifted between wakefulness and sleep, scenes would come to me, dialogue would come to me and it was almost like I was writing without my hands on the keyboard. I'd get up and simply write what came to me in those moments of rest. This kind of thing happens to me while driving, and falling asleep at night, or washing the dishes or hanging out the washing and it's a nice reminder that we can get into that receptive state by allowing ourselves to rest.

Sometimes we need to really clear some space in a big way to get closer to the heart of our stories. When we do this, it's almost like the Universe listens...

// Serendipitous happenings:

The town I was in was one of those small and quaint Australian towns where second hand bookstores still exist. So naturally, I couldn't resist a visit to one. I'm writing a contemporary novel but it still requires a little research and there was a book I wanted to ask for which I suspected would be a total long shot, but I asked for it anyway. The man behind the counter hobbled over to a stack of books saying he remembered it, that it was a small book, and an old book with a printing date 1968, but first published back in 1913!

I bought the book, took it home and when I opened it up to flick through the pages, I found the inscription pictured below. This book is like a dictionary almost, and has nothing to do with talent or persistence at all. It has to do with an aspect of nature. 

It almost feels as if in some inexplicable way this almost 50-year-old book was meant to arrive in my hands at this time, during the journey of writing this book, because as we all know, every book needs a good dose of persistence and determination.

That's why my alarm's still set for 5:00am. Gotta fit the writing in somehow, right?

Have you ever had random happenings occur like this in your life?

Have you ever taken the time away to write? What kind of experience was it for you?

A Guide to Filling Your Creative Cup and Harnessing Your Creative Energy

I'd love to hear from you, and I'd love for you to comment below with your thoughts! What kind of things do you do to refill your creative cup?

The more relaxed and centred we are, the easier it is to create.

Whether you want to get out of your head and back to the things that stir your soul, or you're just trying to find ways to live a more creative life, these tips will help you harness your creative energy and bring you back to centre.

Here are seven ways to fill up your creative cup.

1. Spend time outdoors
Getting outside is like hitting a reset button. Nature is healing, but it's also energizing. Feel the sun on your skin and the sand between your toes. Take long walks, ride a bike, go for a swim. Pick flowers, collect seashells, feed the ducks, break a sweat.

2. Find the stillness
Take time out of your day to be still. Sit under a tree or on a park bench and take the time to notice what's going on around you. Watch the bees, listen to the birds, but also pause to take inventory of how you're feeling. What do you need more of in your life? What do you need to let go of? The more you practice checking in with yourself, the easier it becomes to listen. When we're relaxed and in tune with ourselves, we not only make it easier for ourselves to create, we also feel inspired to create.

3. Disconnect in order to reconnect
Choose a weekend to switch off your computer, TV, and smartphone. Make a pact with yourself to not check your social media accounts or emails. Use the time you'd spend on these activities to do something you wouldn't normally do.

4. Do something creative you wouldn't normally do
Switch on some background music, splay some paper out on a table, dip some brushes in paint. Pick up a musical instrument, a notepad and pen for writing, or try your hand at pottery, sewing, or cake decorating. Whatever it is you feel drawn to, shaking things up a bit lets you detach from the mundane and gives you a break from the daily grind so you can go back to your chosen creative outlet with fresh perspective. If you're still looking for that creative outlet that lights you up, keep dabbling. You'll find that with time, you'll find what creative pursuits you're really attracted to, and then you can start cultivating more of that into your life.

5. Read books
Reading opens up so many possibilities for inspiration. It relaxes us, gives us an escape, but also gives us reasons to be curious. Whether you're drawn to reading fiction or nonfiction, it doesn't matter, both have their benefits in giving you time out, while also sparking your imagination.

6. Play around with writing prompts
Prompts offer a beautiful way to keep yourself writing, whether for reflection or to practice specific aspects of your craft. Be open to where prompts can take you with your writing. If you're looking for a mixture of prompts for reflection and creative writing, I share these daily on Instagram.

7. Out with the old to make space for the new
There's so much potency in decluttering and becoming more organized. Decluttering clears not only your living space but your mind. When life feels messy and hectic, your creative space contracts. By becoming more organized, with less clutter in your life, you're ability and desire to create expands, as if by default. If you're needing a little help in this department, try getting your hands on a copy of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Image Credit: Kaboom Pics

I'd love to hear from you, and I'd love for you to comment below with your thoughts! What kind of things do you do to refill your creative cup?

How Books Are Made From Stolen Moments

I've started writing a novel. As I swing into the rhythm of bringing together 80,000 or so words, there are all the usual telltale signs that come with being amidst the pages of a first draft. There are random sentences scrawled in notebooks, and on sticky notes. There's the purposeful noticing of the things we see, and the things we don't see. There's the familiar zone, the flow, the blissful escape into a world I'm creating from nothing.

And then there are the stolen moments. 

And just like last time, I'm acutely aware of how inconvenient writing a book really is. There are moments I need to grab and cling to in order to fit the writing in. Like the super early mornings, when bleary-eyed, I power up the computer before the sun comes up, the hours when a child is at a birthday party, the minutes when the precious people in my life head outside to enjoy the sunshine while I opt to sit indoors and tap away.

Then there are the moments I have to unwillingly tear myself away from the computer to tend to the mundane tasks of mopping floors and folding clothes. Moments I need to spend making sure that life keeps ticking along. Lunch boxes need to be packed, homework needs to be checked, bills need to be paid, groceries need to be shopped for. There are swimming lessons and football games, playdates and dentist appointments. Dinners to be cooked and dishes to be washed.

A scene pops into my mind as I dip my hands into soapy dishwater and reach for a sponge. I could steal a moment here to write a scene but one glance at the stack of dishes on the bench means I need to tuck the idea away instead. Besides, the bedtime routine is due to begin any moment.

"Tomorrow," I think to myself. 

I've been thinking this too often lately. I'm antsy. I want to be writing more. I want to feel like I'm totally with the writing when I'm writing. And I haven't been. Because I've been sitting down to write and thinking about all the other stuff. But I know this trick. I've been down this road before. This time, thankfully, I know how to listen, and I know exactly what I need.

I've had a busy month. I'm usually very good with fitting the writing in. But lately, there just hasn't been enough time no matter how much I've tried to squeeze. And I've been pushing aside the thoughts about my fictional characters for thoughts about interviews with inspiring creatives and and dinners in the Tuscan countryside. That is, I've been recording episodes for my upcoming podcast, I've been organising a writing workshop, and I've been planning a writing retreat in Tuscany. All the kinds of things I decided I wanted to form part of my writing life. These things light me up: they bring me joy, they allow me to hold space for others, they give me a chance to connect with amazing people and help equally as amazing people. 

But at the very core, I'm a writer. And lately I've been feeling like the fragments of stolen moments just haven't been enough. 

I'm feeling the need to immerse myself more fully in my novel. I need to clear my headspace and make room for the kind of creative work writing a novel entails. Even if just for a weekend. So I'm stealing one. Think: a country town, quaint cafés and eateries. The thing is, I won't be spending much time in the cafes and restaurants, and I won't be venturing off to any day spas. I'm going on a retreat. Alone. Without kids. 

And I'm going there to write. One great big stolen moment of two blissful writing days to myself. 

I know that in whatever I set out to create, I need to bring my whole self with me in order to give the very best of what I have to give. That was sage advice Confucious gave us when he said, "Wherever you go, go with all your heart." And if that means stealing a moment that lasts a weekend in order to show up fully for the very thing that lights me up, then that's what I'll do. With all my heart of course.

Image Credits: Airbnb

Incorporating Setting to Bring Your Story to Life

Some of my favourite books are ones that incorporate a strong sense of place. That is, books that wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t set where they were. There’s part of me that gets slightly disappointed when I pick up a book and find that setting has been neglected as a wonderful tool to bring added richness and an extra dimension to a story.

So how do we actually do this? How do we bring setting to life in a story?

INCORPORATING SETTING TO BRING YOUR STORY TO LIFE

Step 1: Think about how the setting relates to your story

Setting can relate to the overall picture—where the novel is set, or to individual scenes of which there are many. If we take a look at the bigger picture first, consider how your setting relates to the actual story itself. How is the setting significant? How does the setting affect the characters? How does it shape them or determine the boundaries of their actions and the choices they make?

One of my favourite books of all time, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960’s. While there was a specific choice behind the time and place of this novel, from the very start the reader is grounded in this particular time and place. Not only did the writing completely transport me into that world in a really authentic way, but the culture, dialogue and characterisation are all affected by the place in which this novel is set. 

When we consider the settings for individual scenes, it’s worthwhile putting some thought into the choices you make for each scene. What is going to make your scenes memorable? Certainly the action and dialogue between characters will, but what if you can go deeper by ensuring that the setting is also working for you in terms of creating the kind of scene where the reader feels completely present and transported into your world? The weather can form part of the setting too, so consider how that might add to the atmosphere and tone of a particular scene. Is it snowing outside? Cold and windy? Hot and stuffy? How does this affect your character’s mood?

Step 2: Incorporating setting into your writing

As with many other aspects of writing, often it’s the smallest details that can have the most impact. Here are some ways you can go about including details into your writing to help you bring setting to life.

1 | Action

Some settings will allow you to have your character be present in a scene while interacting with it. Take a male character who lives on a farm. What might this character be tinkering with as a car pulls up the driveway? What might he be sipping on (and how might that be relevant) as he leans back into his chair on the porch while having a conversation with someone?

2 | The five senses and noticing the small details

Laura Deutsch in her book, Writing from the Senses, offers some great tips and insights into how to incorporate the five senses into your writing. My best tip here is to stop for a moment and visualise yourself in the room with your characters. Ask yourself what you’re seeing, feeling and hearing. Notice the expressions of your characters as well as the small things, such as the lighting, the hum of the refrigerator, the sound of the rain forming puddles in the mud outside. By practicing mindfulness in real life on a daily basis, you can bring this skill of deep noticing to your writing.

3 | Make it memorable

What memorable qualities do your descriptions have? What images and actions are going to stay with the reader once they put the book down? And just as importantly, consider whether your descriptions provide any hints towards the meaning of the story. To do this, you might like to consider the themes of the story, so when you’re writing description and making choices about setting, you can offer subtle hints as to how it relates to the actual story itself.

Step 3: Play around with your setting

You can check in with how setting is working for you by asking yourself how the scene might read if it were set somewhere else. Are you inspired by the setting? Do you feel like you’re there in the room with the characters, or do you feel like you’re experiencing this scene as a detached observer? What tweaks can you make to bring things to life and make your reader feel like they’re there, in those scenes with your characters?

 

When You Feel the Pull, Go There.

This morning, I pulled myself out of bed at 5:00am to write. This is significant, because I've intentionally spent the last couple of months pushing aside any kind of structured writing routine, in order to make space for new ideas. During this "in-between" phase of writing, I'd pick up a notebook, or open up a file on the computer entitled: Thoughts and Ideas, and I'd tap away with no expectations.

During this time, I filled up my creative cup with travel, reading, meditation, photography (I'm a dabbler), and life. I sat on a park bench in the English Garden in the Cotswolds, where I listened to the hum of the bees, and drank in the shape, textures and colours of the flowers and plants. I practiced noticing while I tried to remain still.

When I wrote, I wrote to see where my words would lead me. As hard as it can be, sometimes we need to stop willing the work, and let the work come to us, even if we doubt whether an idea is worth pursuing. 

My words kept bringing me back to a story idea that had been percolating for a while, one that I eventually shared with my (very excited, enthusiastic, and wonderful) agent last week. 

I can't wait to continue setting that alarm at 5:00am until the first draft is done. I'm emotional just thinking about the roller coaster my main character is set to go on. I can't stop thinking about her.

Things are blossoming.

This is the journey writing takes you on. When you feel the pull, go there.

I'm back from Italy. And here's some news.

I've recently returned home after a gorgeous six weeks in Italy with a whirlwind, but unforgettable side trip to the Cotswolds and London (I'll cover that in a separate blog post soon). Having lived in Florence for several years, and being married to an Italian, means that Italy has become a second home for me. For the most part, due to the unbearably hot weather (a heatwave of record-breaking temperatures), we ditched the sightseeing, except for a few day trips to cities like Florence and Rome. In between sweltering hot days on the beach, and hanging out among the olive trees on my in-law's property with a book in my hands, I spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of things I wanted to be doing once I got home. How I wanted to show up not only for my own writing, as I gear up to start writing a new novel, but also how I show up for the writers around me -- you guys, my blog readers, and Instagram followers, Twitter friends, and faithful Facebook friends who have been with me on my journey since my Mindful Parenting days.

Hills of Tuscany

Hills of Tuscany

I'd given a lot of thought in the past to the thought of hosting a podcast, running writing workshops (you can find details of my Melbourne based one here!), and my ultimate dream of leading a writing retreat in Italy (that's happening next September!) While I was away, I made the decision that I was going to work at bringing these exciting ideas to fruition. These projects are a way for me to not only connect with you guys on a deeper and more meaningful level, but they allow me to combine my love of writing, my life coaching skills, and my mindful approach to living a creative life.

And I can't wait to share them with you as things unfold. Busy, exciting times, hey?

You'll notice my website has had a complete makeover. I hope you like it! Unfortunately I lost my previous blog posts during the migration, but not to worry, that's just given me more of an incentive to blog more often to make up for it.

As always, thanks for reading, and I'm looking forward to sharing more news with you soon. xo

Streets of Florence

Streets of Florence