Why I Sometimes Don’t Want to Tell People I’m a Writer

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Imagine this scenario:

“Hi, I’m Rachel.”
“Hi, Rachel. I’m John. What do you do?”
“I’m a receptionist.”
“So you just sit around talking on the phone all day?”
“It’s a bit more involved than that.”
“Where do you work?”
“At a small family company.”
“Oh. That’s a shame. Any chance you might be able to move on to a big corporate?”
“I’m happy where I am.”
“Are you a good receptionist?”
“I haven’t been asked to do it differently so I guess I am.”
“How many calls do you take a day?”
“Um, well, I’m not sure…”
“How much do you earn?”
“That’s not really any of your business.”
“But how will I know for sure if you’re a good receptionist?”
“Call the main switch and I’ll make sure I transfer you to the right person.”
“But that won’t tell me if others think you’re a good receptionist.”
“I like what I do. I don’t really care if others think I’m a good receptionist. And I really don’t care what you think.”
“That’s a pretty poor attitude for a receptionist to have.”
“Stop talking to me.”

Okay, so it seems like John is a special kind of asshat. But imagine now an almost identical conversation with just a couple of small changes: Continue reading

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Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

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Jed Rubenfeld is a modern-day Renaissance man. A professor of law at Yale University who has also taught at Stanford and Duke, he is an expert on constitutional law, privacy and the First Amendment. He studied theatre and Shakespeare at Julliard and wrote a thesis on Sigmund Freud during his senior undergraduate year at Princeton. He is also the author of six books, two of which are novels. It seems as though there’s nothing he can’t do. If I didn’t admire him so much, I’d be horribly jealous. (Well, maybe I can do both at the same time.)

The Interpretation of Murder was his first novel. It’s a very intricate weaving of true events and characters with fictional events and characters. Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Sandor Ferenczi, Ernest Jones, Abraham Brill – all real life figures in the early 1900s movement of psychoanalysis, which was new, controversial and in competition with neurology – mingle with the fictional Elizabeth Riverford, Dr Stratham Younger, Nora Acton, George and Clara Banwell, Coroner Hugel and Detective Littlemore. There’s a miniature essay at the end of the book clearly outlining what’s real and what’s not and the artistic licence taken, which is a good thing because the blending of them is seamless. Continue reading

The Fiction Versus Non-Fiction Debate: Is One Better Than the Other?

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I recently spent time with a group of friends I see roughly four or five times a year and one of them asked me how my writing was going, knowing that I was doing it full-time. Well, I told her. Did I have a daily routine? she asked. Just to sit down and start, I replied. And when would my next book be out? In a few months. Non-fiction, I clarified. My next novel would be published in about a year’s time. Oh, she said with a hint of disappointment and then moved onto conversation with someone else.

That “Oh” gave me pause. Everyone else I’ve ever discussed my writing with (which isn’t too many people as I find it a little self-indulgent and difficult to do justice to when I’m the one talking) has had the exact same response, which is admiration – admiration at the fact that I’ve written and published books. After all, so many people talk about it and never get around to doing it but continue talking about it until anyone hearing them talk about it wants to beat them over the head with their non-existent book.

I also found it a little strange because I’ve always thought of non-fiction as a slightly higher, slightly more respectable calling than fiction (not my non-fiction, though, just the non-fiction of others) because it requires knowing what you are writing about (or it should) whereas in fiction you can just make up any old thing. Still, they both require effort and commitment over a reasonably lengthy period of time. Why would one let alone the lesser other (whichever you happen to think it is) elicit an “Oh”? Continue reading

Knowing When to Stop: How Much Editing is Too Much?

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The idea of writing the first draft of a book – when it’s still in your mind, when you haven’t done it yet – seems like such a large mountain to climb. So when you finally reach the top of that goal, you celebrate. Hard. If it’s your first book, that’s because you don’t realise it’s a false hill, that you aren’t at the top at all. If it’s not your first book, it’s because you know the really tough work is just starting and celebrating each and every achievement is one of the keys to not letting writing drive you insane.

Unless you’re a first draft genius (and nobody is a first draft genius), the amount of time it takes to rewrite and edit your book to publishable standard will be lengthy. For some it will be longer than it took to write the first draft. There’ll be a second draft and a third draft and a fourth draft and on and on it goes.

So how do we know when it’s time to stop editing? Continue reading

Why is “Self-Publishing” Still a Dirty (Hyphenated) Word?

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Earlier this year, one of my sisters dragged me along to a game show audition. After filling out a four-page questionnaire that asked such insightful questions as “What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?”, “Have you ever been caught out in a lie?” and “Do you have an unusual bucket list item?” (presumably so that they could be discussed and laughed at on national television) as well as what we did for a living, we were then grilled by a producer.

“You’re a writer?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I answered.

“What do you write?”

“Books – novels and how-to guides on writing novels.” I could have given him my entire writing résumé – articles, websites, marketing collateral, corporate tenders, ghost-writing, short stories, song lyrics, poems – but I was trying to keep it brief.

“And you’ve published three books?”

“So far.”

“Who with?”

“I’m self-published,” I said.

“Oh,” he replied with a disapproving tone in his voice. “So you just sell to friends and family?” Continue reading

Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit

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I picked this book up solely on the basis of the title, briefly considered giving it to my sixteen-year-old niece for Christmas, then decided to keep it for myself and buy her some perfume instead. It’s probably for the best. Because while the themes are important to me and I hope important to my niece (although how much time she spends thinking about feminism and marriage equality and domestic violence and rape culture compared with the amount of time she spends thinking about boys and clothes and her potential sporting career is not clear), they are couched in a writing style and language that I think she would have had difficulty deciphering. I had some difficulty deciphering it.

Words like “irreducibility”, “uncircumscribable” and “quotidian” are sprinkled throughout liberally. Even though I know what they mean, her use of them made me want to reach for my dictionary to make absolutely sure. The fluid and operatic way in which she writes almost disguises her meaning at times, detrimental to both the writer’s message and the reader’s understanding. Continue reading

What Type of Editing Should You Ask For? (Yes, There’s More Than One!)

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Well, Project October and all the associated intensive writing is over for another year and that means it’s time for Project November and the intensive editing process to take its place. So here’s an appropriately timed blog post on the different types of editing.

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Earlier this year, I was asked if I might be interested in proofreading a coffee table book for a corporate company. It was the story of their beginnings all the way up to their current day successes, a glossy thing with lots of pictures, and none of their internal staff had the time to do it. Sure, I replied, providing my hourly rate and the length of time I thought a proofread would take based on the word count I’d been advised of.

But when the first chapter came through, it was clear it was still in its first draft. It hadn’t been through any of the other editing stages that should come before a proofread. It wasn’t even in the form of a proof (formatted as it will look in the final book with headers, footers, page numbers, columns, photographs, captions, etc). It was just a poorly formatted Word document.

No wonder nobody in the company had the time to do a proofread – they didn’t even know what proofreading was. In fact, they thought it was something else entirely. What they should have asked for was a rewrite, a line edit and copyediting, which then could have been sent to a designer or typesetter for preparation of a proof. Because it’s only after preparation of a proof that you can undertake a proofread. Continue reading