Thursday, 26 May 2011

When it's time to let go

Yesterday I posted on my other blog a relatively upbeat piece about how I'm now intending to write a completely new novel instead of working on the sequel to the ms I recently completed.

This is a sound and exciting course of action; but, as some readers of this blog may suspect, there is more to the story behind my decision to leave a cast of characters who I've been hanging out with for . . . oh, around 10 years. Probably longer, if I'm brutally honest.

And this is going to be a brutally honest post, more so than that other, which -- while every word of it is true -- is a rather carefully crafted piece of spin. Indeed, my 10 years in PR have not gone to waste. (Although I think Hayley saw through it!) But I'm going to tell the whole story here on my 'secret' blog, because many of you readers have travelled with me some distance along this journey and I want you to know what is really going down.

The truth of it is that I have been receiving feedback on that first ms (the one I've been slaving over for years) over the past month or so. Some of my readers have really liked it, which is always wonderful to hear and does my confidence a world of good. Others, however, have pointed out some major flaws that are rather difficult to fix. Most of my readers seem to agree that the characters, world-building/setting, narrative (writing), structure are generally solid. The major sticking point is that the story sucks.

Well, OK, 'sucks' might be a bit strong, but the main point is that what actually happens is not compelling enough to stand out from the crowd. It holds together as a novel, but it's probably not going to rock your socks off -- or attract the eye of a publisher.

Deep down I have probably always known this, but I kept telling myself that I could fix it. It's amazing how blinkered you can get when immersed in something you're passionate about. How blind. The signs have been there for years: the number of times I have refused to tell anyone what the story was about 'because it sounds silly'. DOH DOH DOH

Thus am I unveiled as a complete idiot.

I have never known the right time to give up on anything. (Mind you, I'd be two uni degrees down if I was otherwise.) The time to give up on this one was probably about four years ago, before embarking on this latest rewrite that has itself taken far far too long.

So my first ms is broken and it's probably time to let it go. I'm not abandoning it completely, but it's going on ice for the moment. Perhaps one day I will come back and cannibalise some of the good parts and write a better story. But it is likely to be a different story to the one that captured my foolish attention so long ago.

And the thing to remember is that this is perfectly normal. As I said in the other post, statistically, first novels never make it. But of course you always hope that yours will be the exception and that's what keeps you going. I don't regret spending time on that novel because it has enabled me to refine many of my writing skills; I have always considered it my apprenticeship piece. Perhaps I do regret spending so many years getting to this point, but, well, there's absolutely nothing I can do about that now so the only direction to head is onward.

Yes, the past week has been incredibly tough. There have been many tears and much much doubt. I have consoled myself with chocolate, wine and coffee (and the knowledge that at least some people liked it!) . . . And of course I've been wondering whether maybe I should just get another proper job and give the whole idea of writing fiction away.

But it's not the first time I've felt like I'll never make it, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Dealing with rejection and failure is part of the territory of being a writer. God knows why we put ourselves through it, but we do, and we pick ourselves up and keep turning up for more. In any case, I am actually feeling positive about my new proposed novel. Already I'm confident that at heart it's a much better story. I just hope that I can do it justice!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Diary of a Twitter novice - week 6

About six weeks ago I decided I needed to figure out what is the big deal with Twitter. It seemed a strange concept to me: blurting out my thoughts to the big wide world. I was quite happy to share certain things with my facebook friends, but where was the attraction of opening it up to anyone and everyone?

So I created myself a Twitter profile, found some of my tweeting friends to 'follow', and started exploring and experimenting. Very quickly I was completely bamboozled, overwhelmed and curled in the foetal position in the corner.

Twitter is not for engineers. It is not for anyone who wants an orderly existence, where conversations are grouped neatly together in chronological order. Nor is it for introverts or shy people or people who can't see why anyone beyond family and friends would be interested in their opinion (or life).

To appreciate Twitter, you need to embrace chaos and 'go with the flow'; you need to not worry if you think you might have missed something, because you can undoubtedly live without it; you need to put yourself out there and hope for the best; you need to live in the moment.

One of the first things I did was link my wordpress blog to my Twitter feed, so that every time I post, it tweets the link. For a few weeks, that was about all I tweeted, although I had started reading tweets from the growing number of people I was following. Many of these tweeted links to interesting articles on writing, so I was starting to lose an hour or two a day just reading blogs.

Soon I wasn't game to open up my Twitter window, afraid I would get sucked into the vortex of the blog maze and never come out again. I kept wondering how people had time for Twitter? And here was I only following about 20 people -- some people follow thousands! Twitter was proving itself a goldmine of information, but did the benefits outweigh the costs?

And I still hadn't figured out what I was supposed to be tweeting. I was aware that people included keywords with hashtags (e.g. #amwriting) that would facilitate others finding like-minded tweeters or participate in conversations. (A few experimental tweets with the above hashtag saw me pick up a couple of followers.) But how did one discover what hashtags to use?

Foetal position. Corner.

Okay, so I was obviously missing something. Millions of people are addicted to Twitter. What wasn't I getting?

To be honest I haven't entirely answered this question yet. Despite being much calmer, I still find Twitter a bit daunting. But I have been reading up on Twitter tips and tricks, things to do and not do, and discussing it with other users. Here's one rather good article on the 7 deadly sins of Twitter that encapsulates the philosophy. The fundamental idea it seems, derived from all my reading, is to be cool and make new friends.

It's not about self-promotion (although you'll often read that Twitter is invaluable for promotion purposes); it's about engaging with others and adding value. You are expected to respond insightfully to tweets that interest you, even if you have no personal relationship with the tweeter; it is also perfectly acceptable to pass them on (retweeting). Somehow, apparently, by engaging with this strange cyber-community, by 'getting involved in the discussion', friends (of a sort) will materialise.

I am yet to participate in one of these discussions. It apparently involves following one of the hashtagged threads and then using it yourself to join in. As part of my Twitter exploration, it's on my agenda for next week: find a discussion and somehow participate! This week I tweeted my first response to someone I don't know (ooh, brave!). For me this engagement aspect is hugely confrontational. (I'm one of those people who finds it hard to introduce myself to people at a party.) But I'm going to give it a go!

As for my own personal tweets, I figure that if one is to treat Twitter as one almighty cyber-party, then the best approach is to aim for interesting conversation-starters!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Next to Normal

Last week I saw the MTC's production of award-winning musical/rock-opera Next to Normal (music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey), directed by Dean Bryant and Matthew Frank. Once again I rocked up to the theatre (har-de-ha) knowing absolutely nothing and found myself moved beyond expectation by this show about mental illness and its impact on a modern nuclear family.

Kate Kendall stars as Diana Goodman, a mother suffering from bi-polar disorder, and the story focuses on her struggles to conquer her illness. (It's really hard to describe this without giving away spoilers!) Particularly moving is the journey of her 16YO daughter Natalie (Christy Sullivan) from mozart-loving nerd to bitter/aggro rebel as she first lashes out and then gradually rebuilds her relationship with her mother. Her ballad 'Superboy and the Invisible Girl' gets my vote for most moving moment.

There's very little dialogue in Next to Normal, and the story is told almost purely via the lyrics and visuals -- with lighting used to big effect. I'd classify it as rock-opera, complete with rock-arias, rock-duets, rock-quartets etc performed by the cast of six. It's not a soundtrack I'd rush out and buy, but the singing is competant and the songs powerful in both sound and message. The dual-level staging too is sophisticated and used to great effect, with automated trolleys rolling props and actors in and out in different directions.

In my view the first half has greater narrative drive, with viewer expectation subverted several times as Diana disintigrates; the second half is more reflective and nurturing as the family endeavours to heal and pick up the pieces. It's a deep and heavy subject for a so-called musical, but thought-provoking and ultimately respectful of an affliction faced by so many.

Definitely worth seeing.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Grooving to Jeff Martin's 777

Every now and again I do something a little bit different. Different for me, that is. (I mean, tens of thousands of Melburnians attend rock gigs every year at the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda. They groove to the support acts while tossing back a few drinks; many probably have a pre-gig pizza at Topolino's on Fitzroy Street.)

Well, I don't get out much these days. Usually. But I did on Friday night, when I went to the Jeff Martin's 777 gig at the aforementioned Prince of Wales hotel.

Back in the1990s I was a bit of a fan of Martin's former band, The Tea Party, and I still rate The Edges of Twilight (1995) as one of my all time favourite albums. These days I'm out of the loop when it comes to contemporary music, and that includes Martin's exploits post The Tea Party; but when I heard friends were going to this gig in nearby St Kilda I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with his music.

What an awesome night. The main act didn't start until after 11pm, thereby transporting me back to my 20s when late nights out were almost normal. We caught the latter few songs of the second support act (a rocking band called The Eternal) and then after a break Jeff Martin's 777 came out and played a lengthy set of tracks until about 1:00am. (Back in the day I wouldn't have blinked at the hour; this time I was grateful I had an afternoon nap beforehand.)

The main focus was a new album, The Ground Cries Out, launched in March this year; plus there were older tracks as well. I recognised only a few, but that didn't matter. The big sound, the amazing vocals, and that indescribable extra something, made it a memorable concert. (Actually, Jason described it very well; see his thoughts here!) It was fantastic to get out and once again experience those powerful chest vibrations that are live music. And a real treat to see this great band.