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Why you should enter a manuscript development program

This month I entered the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) and Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program.

Each year (up to) ten lucky writers are selected to participate in a four day retreat, during which time Hachette publishers and editors provide feedback on their manuscripts. Being part of the program does not guarantee publication, although of course some of the participants do receive publishing deals from Hachette. The feedback and connections alone make it a prize worth winning. Understandably they receive hundreds of submissions from all over the country, so I know the chances of my manuscript being selected is a long shot. The lucky 2018 program participants will be announced in November.

I’d been revising my contemporary women’s fiction novel My Mother the Feminist and decided it was time to muster some courage and put my work out there.

I’m glad I did. Whether I get selected or not, here’s how entering the program has helped me to improve my writing.

Focus on the first fifty pages

To enter the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program you had to submit the first fifty pages of your manuscript. For me that meant submitting my first five chapters. Like most writers I’d written and re-written my first chapter several times, but seeing those first fifty pages together, knowing they were going to be judged, made me look critically at the impact those fifty pages had. Had I hooked the reader in? Was my voice full of personality and was it consistent? Was it clear what my protagonist wanted and had I established enough conflict?

After more rewriting I hope so.

I’ve written the dreaded synopsis

I was required to submit a synopsis alongside my first fifty pages. Of course I’d always planned to write one, probably next year when I’d (hopefully) be ready to start querying. Writing the synopsis was as difficult as everyone says it is. This year I completed QWC’s The Year of the Novel online course, with Pamela Cook at our wonderful instructor. Pamela kindly shared a synopsis planning tool (that unfortunately I can’t share here), which helped me to write my synopsis.

Although it’s not perfect, my synopsis is now written. Between now and querying next year I can edit it into something special, rather then leaving it until the last minute, which is what I would have done if I hadn’t have entered the manuscript development program.

Connecting with fellow writers

This last point isn’t about my writing but was an unexpected bonus of entering the program. I shared the fact I had entered on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. It was amazing to see how supportive my followers were and also how many new connections I made with fellow writers. As someone who is trying to build an online author platform it was heartening to feel part of a community I so admire and start building relationships with other writers.

I’d love to hear about other manuscript development programs (primarily Australian, but global competitions that accept worldwide entries too).

Good luck if you also submitted to the QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program this month – fingers crossed for good news in November.

Five reasons street libraries make the world a better place

In 2017 I discovered a brilliant organisation called StreetLibrary.org. Their mission is to have over 5000 Street Libraries across Australia by 2021.

With so many rubbish things happening in the world, I felt like here was a beautiful gift to my neighbourhood that would share my joy of reading and enhance my community. Over the past year there’s been a steady stream of book swapping action and so to celebrate the first birthday of my street library in Brisbane, Australia, here are five reasons street libraries make the world a better place.

1 – Having a street library in your neighbourhood will lower the crime rate. Okay, I have no idea if this is actually true. But think about it – a group of readers aren’t called a Gang, they’re called a Bookclub.

2 – Street libraries weave books into the fabric of the community – parks, trees, bus stops, street libraries…

3 – Most people have books sitting on their shelves that they will never read again but don’t want to throw away. Donating them to a street library gives these books another opportunity to be read.

4 – People stop and chat about the books they love. As a society we’re talking to our neighbours less as we hurry about our busy lives, the street library gives people in the community a reason to strike up a conversation.

5 – I love libraries. I think they are magical places and librarians do a fantastic job. There are some people however who would never set foot in a library. Maybe they were told they were stupid as a child and feel intimidated by them, maybe they have an outdated view of libraries as quiet, solemn places, or maybe they’re homeless. These people, who would never visit a library, might choose a book from their non-threatening, accessible street library.

If you love books and live in a house or apartment where plenty of foot traffic goes passed your home, I’d encourage you to consider setting up your own street library. It’s easy – and who doesn’t love getting new books at the end of their driveway?!

To read more information about street libraries please check out streetlibrary.org.au if you’re in Australia or littlefreelibrary.org if you’re in the USA. I’d be keen to hear of any other organisations you know about too, or if you have your own street library please let me know how you engage with your local community.

The power of 500 words: how to achieve your writing goal

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Writing a novel is a daunting task. When I started writing my manuscript in 2017 the most I’d ever written was a 10,000 word children’s story the year before. For my contemporary women’s fiction draft I was aiming for 75,000.

In August 2017 I began writing my manuscript. It felt like a huge undertaking. But I got there… 500 words at a time.

Find time to write

I’m a mum to two pre-school children. I work four days a week. My life is full of to-do lists and trying to manage the working mum guilt. How could I carve out time to write when I was already feeling awful for ‘dumping’ the kids into day care four days a week?

The answer was simple I wrote on my commute to and from work. The 7:43 am Manly to Central train gave me 43 minutes to write before I had to switch my brain into Marketing Manager mode. The commute home at the end of the day was the same. Having a limited time to write gave me focus.

Tip: Don’t wait for the magical ‘perfect’ day to write for eight hours uninterrupted. Find an hour here and half an hour there, and make it count. Don’t wait until you have the ‘perfect’ office to write in beautiful surroundings. I wrote on the train with a laptop balanced on my knees, occasionally squished by the person next to me.

Set a realistic word count target

On my daily commute I would average somewhere between 400 and 600 words. A drop in the ocean but those drops built my scenes. Those scenes filled my chapters. The chapters carried me across the dreaded middle and finally I made it to the end. Sometimes it felt so slow. But moving forward slowly is better than not moving at all.

Don’t not write because you can’t commit to writing thousands of words a day. Write what you can and keep writing.

Tip: I used Pacemaker, a very simple online tool, to keep me on track with my word count. It told me the daily word count I needed to achieve to complete my first draft by May 2018.

You have to finish it

Do you know what all the books you’ve ever read have in common? They were finished.  I have a history of not finishing the things I start. For me getting to the end of my story was a big deal. It proved to myself that I was serious about writing.

Tip: Every writer has a moment (or several weeks) whilst writing the middle of their story where they lose confidence in their work and think they should begin something new. Getting through the middle in hard. What separates published writers from writers with ten half written manuscripts is that they knuckle down and get to the end. Don’t worry about it not being perfect – that’s what the edit is for.

How many words is this blog post? You guessed it. 500.