Radio Free Bard

Writing Roads: Interview with Julie Roads

Posted in Interviews by radiofreebard on December 6, 2008

Julie Roads has one of the most readable and endearing writing voices of  today’s generation of bloggers. Her smooth and captivating voice draws the reader closer and gives the impression of warmth and maternal grace. Insight into her writing career bears fresh fruit for aspiring writers.

Would you call yourself a writer? If not, what would you call yourself and why?
Yes, I call myself a writer. It’s been my passion, practice, talent, outlet for as long as I can remember…
Why did you start writing in the first place?
Because I loved to read…I wanted to create things for people to read. I was enthralled by filling pages with words. I remember specifically emulating Harriet the Spy (books, not movie) when I was 7 – carrying around a notebook and documenting everything that I saw.
How did you develop your writing ‘voice’? Was it deliberate or did it evolve?
It evolved…I really found it when I found someone to write to. Up until that point, it often felt forced. Now, I have someone that I write to (I imagine talking to them when I write and my relationship with them is uncomplicated, no judgement, no negativity) and the result is authenticity and positivity. But, I think my voice will keep evolving – that’s what this is all about, no?
What’s one example of how you deal with writer’s block?
I immediately go on to a new project. If I ever try to force something, I get lost in a twisted, nasty maze of defeat and then I’m no good whatsoever. So I leave that project and do something where I know I can succeed finish, complete the task – that usually shifts my energy so that I can go back to the original project…sometimes, you just have to let it go until you’re ready.
What’s the difference between someone that can be a professional writer and someone that can’t or shouldn’t?
TOUGH question!!! How do I say this delicately. Find out if you can write – let some kind, but objective, people read some of your work and let them tell you.

The difference? A professional writer can make dog crap interesting. They have a rhythm, they understand sentence structures, they aren’t trying too hard. There is a beginning, a middle, an end to their work. You forget you’re reading when you read their writing…

Julie is:
www.writingroads.com   www.writingroads.com/blog   freelance writer; marketing writer; problogger; blogging, social media, freelance writing consultant; twitter address: http://twitter.com/writingroads

SAP: Standard Author Profile.

Posted in Writing by radiofreebard on November 19, 2008

I’ve spent most of today looking up at storm clouds and wondering about what today’s post would be about. I’ve had a few ideas yet all of them seemed contrived and of limited value. The idea I’ve settle with is not one that falls outside either of those categories, but is one that has consistently tapped me on the shoulder and demanded I write.

Questions of a standard nature.

A CV is something that most people, including authors, have. It is a standardised way of displaying one’s usefulness to prospective employers. What I’m proposing is somewhat different and would exist more as a standardised mental excercise and less of a burden of red-tape. My mind has been playing with itself all day imagining a list of questions that would apply to all types of author that would not only give people an idea about whether or not an author matches their reading habits but would also force an author to put serious thought into where they stand in the grand scheme of things.

I’m open to input on this but I project that the appropriate goals of such a profile would be to:

  • Inform readers
  • Guide writers

I’m usually against applying any kind of taxonomy to the arts, but the niggling sensation in my mind will not abate. It whispers to me that input from fellow writers would be desirable.

I ask two questions:

  1. Is a Standard Author Profile a good idea or a bad idea?
  2. What information would it contain?

Even if your response to the first question is that an SAP is a bad idea, I’d still like to know what you believe would be useful information for it to contain.

Proposed SAP, a work in progress.

Name:
Pen-name(s):
Gender:

Primary style(s):
Secondary style(s):

Primary Genre(s):
Secondary Genre(s):

Dominant Mood(s):
Dominant Theme(s):

Primary Preferred Audience:
Other Preferred Audience(s):

Stylistic Influence(s):

Content Influence(s):

Note: I will be updating the SAP as people comment.

Top 10 things to ask yourself when writing

Posted in Writing by radiofreebard on November 11, 2008

One of the most important aspects of writing is focus. The physical act of writing requires focus to to just reach the finish line but it also requires focus of intention, purpose and style. One of the first signs that you’re not well practiced as a writer is that you lapse from one viewpoint to another too quickly or swap from 3rd to 1st person half way through.

I find that asking myself questions about what I’m doing helps keep the focus. Every time I hit a certain character or scene, I automatically ask myself the relevant questions.

10: What am I writing about?

You should be able to answer this question at all levels of specificity, from the most generalised answer to the most specific. The more generalised the answer the more it will apply to the work as a whole while specific ones to individual scenes. Answers could range from:

  • National sovereignty,
  • The struggle of Tibetans against Chinese domination,
  • The Tibetan uprising of 1859,
  • The Initial acts of the uprising,
  • A young Tibetan man attacks a Chinese Soldier.

9: Who am I writing about?

The greatest element of literature, high and vulgar, is the human element. It is important to have a clear idea of who your characters are at the outset so that their actions, motivations and idiosyncrasies remain consistent and meaningful throughout your writing. Even when writing Non-fiction about non-human subjects, keep in mind that the most important element is the reader, and that the ‘who’ about which you are writing must have human relevance.

8: What does this character want?

When I first started writing larger pieces, I consistently failed to give my characters a motivation. They were often character foils for a protagonist or, sometimes, nothing more than eye-candy. I’ve written characters motivated to escape their past and I’ve written characters whose only motivation is their next packet of cigarettes. If your character wants nothing then your reader won’t believe them.

Everyone has a motivation in real life, even if it is the motivation to do as little as possible.

7: Why would someone enjoy reading this?

How many times have you read a book or a short story and been able to honestly say “I really enjoyed that book, I have no idea why though.” Even if you’ve said it before, upon closer reflection you would have realised that it was a certain character, a certain tension, even a certain scene that struck you. If you can write something and have a clear idea of what people might enjoy about it, it helps you focus on bringing out the richness of those aspects.

6: Who would enjoy reading this?

Your work should be targeted to a certain type of audience. This is always the case and only the deluded think otherwise. If you say “I’m writing this for me, not for marketing to an audience”, that’s great, you’re writing it for yourself and other impoverished Arts students in their early to mid twenties with the wrong idea about the social function of writing.

5: Who am I alienating by writing this?

A writer’s purpose is not to worry about who they are offending when they make a point or tell a story. It is, however, important to know who might be offended so that you can either make sure your message is strong, honest and needed or come up with your apology ahead of time. You will alienate someone no matter what you write.

4: Where am I going with this?

It took me a long time to understand and accept that every part of your work needs to be going somewhere; it needs a purpose. I was often accused of dawdling in my early work by adding pointless tangents. Tangents can be useful, keep them that way. This becomes vitally important in anything short of a novella. Once you’re down to short, sudden or flash fiction, every word must count.

3: Would anyone actually do this?

Your work needs to be believable in context. Tom Clancy once said that ‘The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.’ I couldn’t agree more. The benefit that we have as fiction writers, however, is that we can make things make sense in a completely alien context. If somebody in your story goes on a decade long crusade against another person because of a single remark, make sure that the culture/situation/backstory makes that course of action believable.

2: Does this make sense?

This one still gets me. I will write a short or sudden fiction and be completely satisfied with the imagery, the characters, the dialogue and the concept. I will then have someone read it through for me. Their response: huh? When you are writing, keep in mind that you have imagined a great deal of what is going on that you have not yet written.

You need to ask yourself this one continuously through your work and you’ll still be pulled up at proofing.

1: Why shouldn’t I just go play Fallout 3?

I take this question from the viewpoint of someone walking past my work. If my book was in the front window of a bookshop, assuming the front cover accurately depicted my book’s content, would someone stop to have a look? If my short story was on StumbleUpon, would a fickle stumbler stop to read it? If I told someone a single sentence about the work, would they ask to read it?

Or would they go do something else? If you want readership, write something with worth.

Avoiding good grammar in dialogue

Posted in Writing by radiofreebard on November 10, 2008

Does anyone you know in real life use perfect grammar? If not then why would your characters?

One of the first things I realised when I started writing with a word processor was that the little green squiggly lines that indicate grammatical errors were intruding into the space between quotation marks. I felt violated. “Who are you to question my dialogue?” Then I realised that it made no distinction.

I thought nothing of it until recently I read some work by a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, even though she’s known me since pre-school). There was something that didn’t quite sit right with me about her dialogue. It was screaming at me but I couldn’t tell from where. Then it hit me – they all had the same patterns of speech. On further inspection and after questioning the writer, I discovered that this was not any lacking on her part as a writer (much) but a function of her unwillingness to have those red and green squiggly lines intrude upon her drafts.

Stop worrying about those damn lines. For starters, I’m yet to see the main stream word processor that gets Australian grammar conventions correct. Secondly, you should be drafting on paper, it forces you to proofread and thirdly, keeping to correct grammar in dialogue is dishonest and unbelievable. Read anything by Iain M banks and you’ll see why it’s so wonderful to have realistic dialogue.

I think that the biggest reason why people are afraid to do this is that it forces them out into the great open space that is creative accountability. When you remove the rules, you loose some guidance. You are forced to bring your creative intent to the front and stand for how your characters are conversing. For some people this could also mean actually designing their characters. Wouldn’t that be horrible?

Dialogue is one of the hardest things to control in many ways. Syntactically the punctuation can become a nightmare; I’ve found myself completely re-writing dialogue just to avoid using certain punctuation traps. Semantically it can run away from the author and leave him well clear of his intended target.

The hardest part about dialogue though, is characterisation. Letting a person’s dialogue express their character without sounding stupid is hard. It comes down to use of stereotypes. People either go too far or not far enough. Stereotypes aren’t only a poor generalisation, they contain the recipe book for baking a character in the reader’s mind. This goes ten-fold for short fiction writers where words are at a premium and, especially in the case of flash-fiction, you may only have a single line in which to introduce a character and how the reader is to approach them.

Use of stereotypes in dialogue, and in description, needs to be deliberate and well planned. Over use will result in unbelievable characters and under use will just result in same-same characters with little soul. Only the soulless use perfect grammar in every day speech and therefore, dialogue.

Only the unpublished use it in anything else.

Where have the pen and paper gone?

Posted in Writing by radiofreebard on November 9, 2008

Writing with a pen and paper is an activity that has been forgotten by most of my friends. Reliance on a computer has become commonplace and simply picking up a pen and jotting has lost its appeal to many.

I’ve been assaulted with reasons as to why writing with a computer is better. Copy-paste, delete, spell-checking, all reasons given for abandoning the pen and paper heritage of writing. The ability to copy paste an article written in word into a blog hosted on wordpress is compelling I’ll admit. The predominance of electronic submission and email these days is also a good reason to exclusively write on a computer. These arguements carry great weight with a lot of people. I am not amongst those people.

I find using a computer horribly restrictive for a couple of reasons.

I’m limited as to where I can write

A computer is stationary and usually in the stuffiest room in the house. If it’s not in some backroom study, it’s in a public area or office where there are too many distractions. You can’t move it easily. Laptops are not a solution, even the smallest laptop is heavier than the heaviest notebook and keeping them charged so that you’re not relying on a powerpoint being available is not always easy or practical.

With pen and paper I can write anywhere I like, whenever I like, and with far less notice than with a computer. I often find myself scribbling some fleeting story idea into my notebook with little more than a second’s notice. Inspiration won’t wait for Windows to start up on your laptop.

I can’t scribble notes in the margin

Word Processors are overly prescriptive as to where on the page you can write. If I have a comment to make on my own work, I’d either have to slot it in to the text somewhere, breaking the flow of the writing, or keep notepad open so that I can alt-tab. Either way, keeping my notes and comments unbotrusive and close to their appropriate sections are mutually exclusive efforts with a computer.

I’ve seen pages of my own work where I’ve scribbled more in the margins than I have on the main part of the page. Stick figures are common-place fare and I’ve often used margin comments as the basis for new work. There’s just so much more flexibility with paper than with a computer.

Paper doesn’t crash while saving

It doesn’t even require saving for that matter. I’ve lost count of the number of times my housemate has lost hours or even days worth of work due to a crash, failure or overwrite. Version control is so complicated that there are dozens of needlessly complex systems out there for keeping track.

I date the paper I use to write. Problem solved.

I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on the topic, I’m pretty sure the paper posse is small and getting smaller while the computer crew is large and almost dominant.

I wonder when there’ll be a paper based wordpress?