It’s the earliest days of a brand-spanking new year and anything is possible!
If your goal is write more this year – perhaps to finish the first draft of your first novel, perhaps to add to a growing body of work, I’ve rounded up some more of my ‘elsewhere’ posts (below) to help you on your way. (You’ll find another 10 posts about writing here.)
From top tips for writing commercial fiction to the nitty gritty of raising the stakes in your story, I’ve got you covered!
I’ve also added a creative exercise to help get you started. I did this exercise myself this morning as part of the #Fresh5000 challenge in my Write With Allison Tait group and it helped to unlock a thorny problem in an idea I’m working through.
This is an exercise I created for my online writing group, and attempted myself this morning.
Poetry makes us look at language in a different way.
Today’s challenge is to find three poems to read. Any three. They can be from a book on your shelf. From the internet. Or search for #poetry on Instagram (it’s a surprisingly effective platform for poets).
Once you’ve read three, try writing a poem of your own. It can be a haiku, it can be a stanza, it can be a sonnet, it can rhyme, it can be free verse – the beginning of a verse novel perhaps.
If you can’t think what to write, look out your window and try to write a poem describing what you see.
This exercise is about bending your brain just a little bit.
Old habits are hard to break and, while I’m not co-hosting So You Want To Be A Writer podcast this year, I still get an itch every now and then (okay, I admit, quite regularly) to interrogate another writer about their creative process and their work.
I do love a nitty gritty podcast interview about writing.
Fortunately for me, writers are still happy to talk to me.
My ’10 minutes with…’ interviews for Your Kid’s Next Read podcast are proving incredibly popular – and NEVER last ten minutes (apparently I just can’t let go of a good conversation, who knew?).
The thing I love most about interviewing other authors is that I learn something each and every time.
Here are five recent interviews that I found illuminating.
Writing a ‘read it again’ picture book
There was a bit of fangirling, I confess, when I interviewed Alison Lester for episode 075 of Your Kid’s Next Read.
I had interviewed Alison previously for So You Want To Be A Writer (you can hear this, much longer, interview here), but, with only 10 minutes to chat, I wasted no time in drilling down into the secrets of creating ‘read it again’ picture books.
Alison is so generous with her creative knowledge. Listen here
Creativity and crossing categories
Allison Rushby is the much-less-chatty third member of Team Your Kid’s Next Read. While Megan and I waffle on weekly for Your Kid’s Next Read podcast, Al remains in the background, keeping us humming along.
I considered it a coup, then, to wrangle her for an interview for Words And Nerds – an interview in which I interrogated her (in a most loving way) about how she gets away with writing everything from junior fiction to commercial women’s fiction with great success and apparent ease.
In ep 073 of Your Kid’s Next Read podcast, I spent 10 minutes (actually, much longer) with award-winning, bestselling author Morris Gleitzman, talking about ‘Digging Up Dad’, his latest collection of short stories.
We also dig (see what I did there?) into the secrets of engaging reluctant readers (and publicists), writing stories with heart and why kids need both light and dark stories.
You only need to listen to a few episodes of Your Kid’s Next Read to know that Nova Weetman figures in our top ten author recommendations. Megan and I are big fans of her thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent contemporary novels for middle-grade readers.
In this interview in episode 71, Nova and I discuss her latest novel THE JAMMER, big themes in middle-grade fiction, how to get the feels on the page and determining ‘age appropriateness’ for young readers.
• a brilliant chat with international bestselling author Kate Forsyth about Deep Point of View (and how to make it work on the page),
• an insightful discussion with Sophie Hamley, former literary agent now non-fiction publisher at Hachette and bestselling author under the name Sophie Green about the inner workings of the publishing industry
• expert advice from literary agent Annabel Barker about getting published in children’s literature
Those (video) interviews are archived in the group for easy access and I’m gradually sharing highlights on my YouTube channel here.
For me, August is very much a month of talking about writing. Term three ramps up as CBCA Book Week approaches and I have a full dance card of author visits and a festival appearance to finish off.
Of course, what with a podcast and an online writing group, I never really stop talking about writing, so I thought I’d write a little post to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked over the past few weeks.
What advice would I give myself as a new writer?
I was recently interviewed by Ky Garvey for the Totally Lit podcast.
In a very chatty interview, I reveal my writing and podcasting secrets, including my tips for productive procrastination, the inspiration for The Wolf’s Howl, how to choose the right idea, the most difficult aspect of writing, and the key to podcasting success.
Ky also asked me what the advice I would give myself if I could go back to the start of my writing career.
My response (spoiler alert) was that I would tell myself to develop patience.
After spending most of my life working to deadlines as a journalist and then a freelance writer, I was all about pushing forward, moving on to the next thing. Hurry up and write.
I quickly learned that book publishing is more a ‘hurry up and wait’ proposition but it has taken me years to work out how to live with that.
To be fair, I did have excellent people around me who tried very hard right back there at the beginning to help me understand. But I think it’s a bit like having kids – you think you know what it’s going to be like and that you’re entirely across the process, and then you bring them home…
This one came in a quiet moment at the end of a recent school visit, and I don’t mind admitting that it stopped me for a moment.
A year seven student approached me, very earnest, wanting to discuss the fact that she didn’t read much.
“Okay,” I said. “Is there a reason you don’t read? Do you find it boring? Is it difficult? Would you prefer to listen to an audio book or consume stories in a different way?”
“I’d rather watch documentaries on television. Can you tell me why I should read?”
One thousand answers ran through my mind as we shared that moment. “When you read, you have a direct line to the way someone else thinks,” I said, grasping to articulate the joys of reading. “You are given their perspective on the world, their language choices, their experiences, even as they are filtered through the veil of characters and story.”
She didn’t look convinced.
“Words,” I tried again, looking for tangible benefits. “The gift of words directly into your brain. The kinds of words that will help you so much as you work your way up through high school.”
Again, she was doubtful.
“Even graphic novels?” she said. “I’ve read a couple of those, but they’re not real books, are they?”
Relief flooded through me. “Yes,” I said. “Yes, they are. Read those if you like them. Read as many as you can and then ask your school librarian for other books that are similar.”
She smiled. “All right, I’ll give it a go.”
And she walked away, leaving me to pack up my things and hope that I’d said enough that she would give it a go.
My monthly Access Al Areas Zoom Q&A with Write With Allison Tait, my online writing group, is such a joyous part of my routine and the perfect excuse to talk about all aspects of writing.
This month, we got into the nitty gritty of author headshots, specifically how to make sure that you’re happy with any you get taken. I had three main tips:
Research the kind of look you’re after.
This will very much depend on what you’re writing and your personal style, but the best way to find out is to visit a whole bunch of author websites and make a list of the images you like. You’ll start to see a pattern – whether you’re drawn to black-and-white moody shots or crazy, zany shots, keep notes and examples so that you can show your photographer.
Get a word-of-mouth recommendation if you can.
The key to a great photo is feeling comfortable with your photographer and getting a recommendation from someone you trust makes the process easier.
Take at least two outfit changes.
Professional photos are an investment, so you’ll want to get a few different options from your shoot. Take at least two outfit changes – even if it’s just a different shirt – unless you want to see yourself in the same blazer over and over for the next few years. And ask your photographer to do a range of images – landscape, portrait, headshot – in each.
If you’d like join WWAT and ask your own burning questions every month (or at any time in the Facebook group for a written response), you’ll find more details here. In coming months, Industry Insider guests include Annabel Barker (literary agent), Kate Forsyth (bestselling author), Anna Spargo-Ryan (award-winning author and memoirist) and Natasha Lester (bestselling author).
For South Coast NSW readers – or those looking for a day trip from Sydney – I’m appearing at the wonderful Bundanon 2022 Writers’ Festival on Saturday 3rd September.
Young writers and illustrators can attend a writing/illustration workshop with me and Dale Newman, and I’ll also be In Conversation with international bestselling author Kate Forsyth. Details and tickets here.
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).
I wanted to know more about this idea so, in this snippet from our recent interview, available exclusively in the Write With Allison Tait online community, I asked him to explain exactly what he meant by that.
Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where my co-author Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here.
Because who better to help shape the ideas, words and careers of aspiring Australian writers than those who have trodden a successful path before them?
Fortunately for me, we seem to be experiencing a halcyon moment for writing books of this kind, with four arriving in the mail for me in recent weeks. Here’s a little round-up for you (click the titles to find out more and buy the book at Booktopia).
Subtitled ‘A step-by-step guide to your novel, memoir or biography’, this book is a lovely, accessible overview of the process of writing a novel from preparation right up to working with an editor.
Graeme Simsion is the author of the internationally bestselling Rosie trilogy, and he draws on his own experiences through each stage, while also offering universally useful tips and advice.
From basic writing principles, such as explaining three-act structure, to the thornier questions every writer must tackle, such as choosing a point of view, this is an accessible and readable guide.
I also like the fact that Graeme points out that the processes described in the book are what’s worked for him (and worked well), but that every writer needs to work through and figure out their own process along the way.
Having made some notes, I’m going to give this one to Book Boy (18), who loves a book about writing, and who, I think, will benefit a lot from this one.
Angela Slatter is one of my co-presenters at the Australian Writers’ Centre and, frankly, I love her work. She is funny and sharp and infinitely sensible as a teacher, brilliant as a writer and well worth a follow on Twitter.
But I digress. We’re here to talk about writing books, right?
Angela recently released the latest in a series called Writer Chaps, through Brain Jar Press. The series consists of short, specific collections of essays, no thicker than the average book chapter. But packed full of information.
I loved it because it is full of the same things that I have been banging on about on this blog for years – the importance of networking for writers, using blog posts and social media to put yourself in front of people, how to use your ‘waiting’ time wisely.
There’s also a very useful section on applying for grants, which is, I admit, an area I haven’t explored much but… why not?
The sub-title on this one says it all: ‘Write, publish and promote your non-fiction book: a self-publishing guide for Australian writers’
Anna Featherstone describes the book as a comprehensive guide for Australian writers, and at 360+ pages, I think the claim is supported.
Covering everything from how to work out what you’re going to write to researching, writing, editing, formatting, publishing and promoting your book, it also goes beyond the creation of the product into … well, everything else that a self-publishing writer needs to know.
And that’s a lot.
I think one of the biggest mistakes writers often make is in thinking that the major work in self-publishing (or, in fact, publishing at all) a book is in the writing.
But the writing is just the beginning and the hard graft of self-publishing (or, in fact, publishing at all) is in finding an audience for that book and then actually getting the book into the hands of people who want to read it.
Anna has been on my radar on social media for many years, and has self-published several books herself, focussing on non-fiction. This book is the book that she couldn’t find to help her along the way.
The one that she hopes will answer the questions an aspiring self-publisher might have before they get to them.
It’s specifically for authors of non-fiction, and the advice within is a nuts-and-bolts overview of the entire process from start to finish. Find out more about it here.
The latest addition to my writing shelf is The Writer Laid Bare by Russian-born, Melbourne-based author Lee Kofman, subtitled ‘Mastering Emotional Honesty in a Writer’s Art, Craft and Life’.
Part memoir, part craft book, Kofman deep dives into some of the most difficult-to-pin down aspects of a writer’s life – unearthing your true voice, bringing searing honesty to the page, stilling your mind enough to find space for creativity – as well as the bare, practical truths of the discipline of writing, the need to look after your body as a writer, the ability to fail with grace.
This is a literary approach to writing craft, weaving in the voices and advice of other authors, past and present. I plan to spend some time with it.