Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Be Nice!


- Be Nice!

Who should you be nice to? Everyone! However, if I MUST narrow it down, be nice to everyone who works in publishing and reads books. A little word of mouth can go a long way and people are more likely to remember when you’re rude to them than when you’re polite.

I am pretty snarky and perverted around my friends. However I am NEVER anything less than sweet and professional with agents, publishers, authors, at writer’s groups and when I am out in public. I make a point of being polite to store clerks and crazy homeless people—even when I’m having a bad day. If I ever have fans, I’ll be polite to them too—even if I end up requiring a restraining order.

Some people are rude. Some people hurt your feelings. Some of these people even work in publishing. However lots of authors are rude and difficult to work with too—and if an agent or editor has a choice between two books that are equally good, she’ll choose the writer who is nice, professional and prompt over the one who called her a sub-par slag.

A quick note on talking shit about people: Never say anything about anyone you don’t want them to hear. It will probably get back to them, and the Chinese whispers effect will likely make it even worse.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012



- Carry at notebook and pen at all times.

I actually started carrying a notebook with me when I was six. Now it’s part of a small set of things that go with me everywhere: note book, my pen, my phone, my lip gloss and my glasses cleaner. And I don’t mean they go with me to the shops, they go with me from room to room. I make most of my notes in front of the TV or when I wake up in the middle of the night. However it’s probably more important to have it with you when you are out—as you’ll usually have a pen and paper somewhere at home. It’s just a good habit.

Think of a notebook as your brain-back up. Most of us can’t remember everything, and even if we recall something later, it will likely lose some of its magnetic urgency. Write it down when its fresh and hot. Or just see what you come up with when you’re bored at the doctor’s office. If you have a notebook, you can be working on your manuscript all the time.

You can buy really small notebooks—you’ll just have to replace them more. You could probably keep one in your wallet if you have a big one. And ladies with purses have no excuses!

Whenever I am writing goal lists or marketing plans, I always like to write them on paper first too. It stops me from trying to order the list into priority. I just write every marketing plans I can, usually at least thirty, then later I put them on the computer, cull the silly ones, and reorder them so they make sense. Pen on paper is a fantastic way to stop the inner editor from distracting your focus.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Success, Failure and Telling the Difference

I was reading a newspaper article about one of our (Australia’s) Olympic swimmers who recently won gold. She said that winning gold made all those mornings she spent vomiting in the front yard worthwhile. The journalist jokingly said that while a vast majority of Australians spent the morning vomiting in their front yard, few could wipe their mouths and think: “One day I’ll win a gold medal at the Olympic games and tell everyone about this.”

It instantly struck me how much success can look like failure. Most of us end up vomiting in the proverbial garden, and sometimes it’s very hard to tell the drunken slobs from the people who are working their asses off. For those people, fertilizing the plants with your weetbix is the cost of success. For everyone else, it’s the cost of time poorly spent.

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter what you’re working toward. A degree, owning your own house, starting a small business, writing a novel, giving birth... at some point it really looks like you’re not getting anywhere. You know it’s all uphill and somehow you look just as bad, or worse, than all those people who are wasting their lives. You can see it, everyone around you can see it and I think for a lot of people, the faith runs out there.

I wish I had a dollar for every time a writer has told me they don’t feel like they’re getting anywhere. Or they can’t finish anything. Or they feel guilty about writing for some reason. I’d retire.

However I think for everyone, Olympians, brain surgeons, new mothers, home owners, business owners, writers... we all have a point when we’re puking in the garden and it’s hard to see how we’re going to get from there, to where we want to be. You just have to remember it’s a part of the process.

You CAN NOT get there without going through the messy, hard part. If there is such a thing as talent, most of us don’t have it, and we still succeed. I don’t have any talent. I worked my ass off to get where I am in writing. I read and wrote like a fiend. Stephen King and J. K Rowling both have their stories—and they are not clean, easy happy ones.

And even if you aren’t a starving drug addict living on the dole, there is a point in the writing process were the writing itself is the pain—most of us are going to struggle very hard to get even the smallest measure of success.

But just because it LOOKS bad, it doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes that pain is failure and sometimes it really is success. Either way, it’s still going to taste like vomit.

Talitha Kalago. Copyright 2008.

A Novel, Step By Step

Talking about New Year’s Resolutions got me thinking about setting goals, and how the best way to achieve them is to break them down into manageable steps. It’s no good saying you want to lose 10kgs or save 10k. You have to budget or plan how you are going to do it to be successful. Weight, after all, does not lose itself and money doesn’t spontaneously appear in the bank.

With so many people hoping to write a novel in the New Year, I’ve had several conversations about how I break down my novel writing into chunks to make goals more achievable. As writing a novel is a lot of work, there are a lot of break downs and a number of steps, so I thought I’d set up a tutorial.

There are as many ways to write a novel as there are authors (I would say writers, but lots of unpublished writer’s methods don’t seem to work). If you google it, you’ll probably find a dozen other methods. That’s fine. I suggest trying several and settling on the one that works best for you.

But this is how I do it.

Probably the best thing about my method is that generally you can complete at least one step a day. You could complete step one in about a minute, or less, if you didn't have to think about it.

Following this guide completely, one step a day, should get you a novel in about six months. Maybe a little longer for editing. This is a reasonable length of time to complete a novel, but you can go faster or slower as it suits you.


1. Write down the genre, desired word count, desired chapter length and number of chapters you want to write. Mine typically look like this: “Steampunk. 100k % 20 = 5k per chapter.” Which simply means it’s a steampunk novel that I will aim to make 100, 000 words long, with twenty chapters, each around 5000 words.

2. Write a short synopsis or use bullet points that clearly state:
- Who your main character is.
- What they want.
- What is stopping them.
- What the stakes are.
- Who the villain is.
- How the stakes are going to continue to rise.
Those elements are the heart of the plot. Your villain shouldn’t be a faceless evil—it should be a very real thing/person/place. This is not the place for that lecture though. You should also raise the stakes several times in a novel. I usually only have two or three stakes in my early synopsis. I know more will flow with the writing. Don't get too excited here and start plotting your whole novel, scene by scene. That comes later.

3. World building. Depending on your genre and setting, this could take a long time or a short time. Even if you are writing in reality, you should quickly jot down the sets (locations) that are central to the plot. (EG: main character’s house, bar, forest the bodies are found, police station, the moon, etc.) As well as the political climate and the basic cultural elements, such as the degree of sexism, racism, crime and the other basic things that are all around us.

Plotting a fantasy or sci fi world might take you a few weeks—however I stress that you should not get so bogged down in writing the setting that you forget to write the novel. I only write the basics, then keep a file on side that I add details to as they come up in writing the novel.

4. Characters. You’ve already established who your main character and villain are—and what the main character wants. It’s worth fleshing out your cast a little—making a few notes about their personality and appearance—if only to stop their eyes and hair changing every few scenes. Some people go into great depth here. I don’t. I give them an age, hair, eyes, height and some first impressions. I also make note of important things like siblings and if they’re in a wheelchair or missing a limb.

5. Chapter one. Write bullet points for the scenes and events in chapter one—estimating the length so as to end up with your desired word count for the chapter.

6. Chapter one, part 2. Write 1000 words.

7. Chapter one, part 3. Write 1000 words.

8. Chapter one, part 4. Write 1000 words.

9. Chapter one, part 5. Write 1000 words.

10. Chapter one, part 6. Write 1000 words. If your goal was 5k a chapter, you’ve now finished. Obviously, if you only want 4k a chapter, you’ll do four rounds of 1k for chapter one.

11. Repeat steps 5 to 10 for the remaining chapters of your book. You will notice there are no editing steps.

12. You should now have a very rough first draft of your novel. It should be roughly the right length with roughly the right number of chapters. My first drafts are usually of an abysmally poor quality. I am okay with this. Take a day to celebrate. Telling yourself you have done a good job is important.

13. Read the novel through, start to finish. No editing.

14. Edit chapter one.

15. Edit chapter two.

16. Edit chapter three. Add another step for each of your chapters, one at a time.

17. Now the chapters are all edited, take out your diary or calendar and mark a date one month from today. That is when you will begin your real edit.

18. ONE MONTH LATER. Read your novel through, start to finish. No editing.

19. Save a copy of your unedited manuscript somewhere safe.

20. Edit chapter one. As you have a copy of the old draft saved, you can REALLY tear this draft to pieces. Brutalise it. Move everything around. Re-write scenes. Make it into a whole new animal.

21. Edit chapter two as above.

22. Again, add a step for each chapter, one at a time.

23. Re-read the novel again, this time looking for grammatical and spelling errors. Polish.

24. Format the novel. My novels are rarely written in the format they’ll be sent to the publishers. I almost never have appropriate headers, footers, spacing, margins or fonts until this step.

25. Tada! You can celebrate again now. You have a novel.

As an added bonus, here is a complete template for a 100k, 20 chapter novel.

Copyright. Talitha Kalago. 2011

Edited 2012

Daily Magic

There are two things a writer should do every day.



I don’t mean six days a week. I don’t mean everyday but holidays and your birthday. I mean every day. Even if you’re travelling on planes, catching the bus across the country, getting married, or producing your own weight in mucus from a flu. You should always have a book with you, you should always have a notepad and pen with you.

The ONLY excuse I will accept for not writing is that you just had eye surgery and your eyes are bandaged. I mean, that wouldn’t stop me, but I’m willing to concede you might be a wuss. If you are going to have eye surgery, I assume you’ve already prepared some audio books. You can also ‘read’ in the car with audio books. They have them at libraries. They’re free. So again, no excuses.

I wrote with my skin rotting off—when I had been packed in ice for four weeks and hadn’t slept for about the same. I was hallucinating and delirious, but I was still writing. I wrote in the ER one night when I was rushed to the Saint Alfred Hospital. Any excuse you have is not good enough.

I’m not saying you have to read or write a huge quantity. Just a little bit, everyday, is enough to add up to a lot at the end of the year. I’m going to set your minimum writing goal at 100. 100 words a day before midnight, without fail. It doesn’t seem like much—but it’s the habit, not the word count, which is important. Most days, you will only get that 100. But days when you have a little spare time and you’re feeling good, you’ll get a lot more. And even if you don’t, at least you for 100 words, which is 100 more than nothing.

Habitually writing everyday is the most powerful tool you can give yourself.

Because if you DO make it, you will have to be able to do that. You have to be able to produce a consistent quality, even on your bad days.

Once you get the writing experience, you will find you can do just that. But if you aren’t habitually writing EVERYDAY, you’ll find it hard to get started.

Reading is critical if you want to make it as a writer. Even if you’re not thinking about it, you’re absorbing lessons on style and craft. Reading also creates new pathways in the brain—and the more pathways you have, the easier it is to write.

You should read things you like. You should read in the genres you want to write. You should also read everything else. For all writers I recommend psychology text books, as many as you can find. Also, any books you can find on better writing craft, signing with an agent and getting published. Read books about boats, knots, rock climbing, crimes, taxidermy, biographies, history, best sellers, children’s books, gardening, cooking, cheese making...

When reading to specifically to research your genre, read books published in the last two years. Anything older is probably no longer relevant to what is happening in that genre, from a publishing perspective. So many people tell me they perceive a genre as being something it hasn’t been since the 80s. Then I wonder where they have been for the last thirty years and if they REALLY haven’t read anything in that genre since gremlins came out.

If you have not read five or six books in any given genre in the past two years, you don’t know what you’re talking about. End of story.

So what are you going to do today?

1. Write

2. Read

Copyright. Talitha Kalago. 2010.

Edited 2012.