So what's it actually like being a writer? And if you want to do it, how do you get started? Find out from the Girlfriend Fiction authors.
- Best and worst things about being a writer
- How do you write?
- When did you start writing?
- Best bits of advice?
- Where to find out more
'Best - being able to make stuff up all day long, being able to put all those ideas and memories and observations - all my daily detritus - on the page and keep them forever. Hanging out with Kate Constable, drinking cups of tea, talking about books and gossiping about our Girlfriend characters and being about to tell our husbands and children that we're doing busy work and can't be disturbed.
'Worst - not having a nice office in the city. I'd love to have a 15 minute bike ride to work every day, and a space away from my family to work.' - Penni Russon (The Indigo Girls – GF2)
'Best - you get to make things up. It's a great profession for control freaks because you have total control over this world that you create. You literally have the power of life and death over your characters.
'Worst - the sense of isolation - necessary for creating anything - but
difficult for a social person like me. It's one of the reasons why I love
having another job - I work part-time as a theatrical agent - because I
get to interact with other people and lots of young people in particular.
I think I'd go quietly nuts if I didn't have that.' – Rowena
Mohr (My Life and Other Catstrophes – GF1)
'Best - Being able to work partially clothed, sleeping in (oh, I do that too much!), working through your own feelings and ideas in the name of (paid) art, creating characters who become lifelong friends.
'Worst: - Losing touch with reality, not being able to collaborate as part of the daily process, realising you’ll never be as good as your favourite writers!' – Georgia Clark (She's with the Band – GF3)
'Best -The moment when you wake up in the middle of the night and realise "Oh, so that's what the story's about!" Because from that point on you can go back and shape what you've written to make it more true. Sometimes that moment happens very early, sometimes it's quite late in the writing process, but it's a wonderful shiver of recognition. It's when the big amorphous mysterious thing you've been wrestling with in darkness suddenly emerges into the light.
'Worst - Not having enough time to write.' – Kate Constable (Always Mackenzie – GF4)
'Best - the same thing I love about reading – that connection between the writer and the reader. As a reader, I love being transported, touched, enthralled, and excited by a book. It’s as if the author’s given me a whole new world. And as a writer – I love the idea of someone else being touched in the same way. It doesn’t matter if I never know who they are or what they liked about my story – just the idea of someone being tucked up on bed, or lying on the beach, and sharing some time with my creation... how amazing is that?
'Worst - I suppose the worst thing about writing is also a good thing – how many good stories have already been written. When I’m having a bad-writing day, it’s easy to just think, "*sigh* what’s the point!" I guess the answer comes back to question 1 – writing’s just part of who I am.' – Thalia Kalkipsakis (Step Up and Dance – GF6)
'Best: You get to work in your pyjamas. You get to spend all day making stuff up and you get paid for it. You also get paid to go to schools and talk about yourself which is something that, as an only child, I find very appealing. And you get fan mail, which is awesome.
'Worst: Can't think of a worst. The GST on books?' – Lili Wilkinson (The (not quite) perfect boyfriend– GF 5)
'Best: being able to say that writing is your occupation. It sounds so much better than teacher/librarian/concrete layer/used car salesman/chicken plucker.
'Worst: having to then explain that I am not a millionaire.' – Barry Jonsberg (Cassie – GF8)
'Best - getting to create entire worlds in your head and breathe life into them so that other people can step into them, too.
'Worst - nothing. It’s all good.' – Rebecca Lim (The Sweet Life – GF7)
'Best - Being barefoot at work. Working down at the beach or in the bush or in a café. Having kids tell me stories all the time. Being self-unemployed when I want. Having every summer off to stop and think. Having a kid say to me "I don’t normally read, but I loved your book".
'Worst – Being stuck at a desk or table for long hours. Spending long weeks away from home touring. Meeting school teachers who don’t like kids. Having an unpredictable and boom-bust income.' – Scot Gardner (Bookmark Days – GF9)
'Best – the delete key.
'Worst – having to do public speaking as a writer. I feel like a bit of a fake.' – Mo Johnson (Something More – GF11)
'Worst - I used to be a bit more carried away with the fantasy of being a writer. I wore a long blue velvet dressing-gown, bare feet and a distracted, dreamy look in my eyes. It is, as many writers will claim, an absolute privilege to make stories up for a living so I don’t want to bitch about the crappy bits but… the pay isn’t great, it stings a bit if something is rejected, and it’s torture for the impatient (me) – it takes an average of nine months from the creation of story to seeing it in book form.
'But actually the worst bit of all for me is when I’m creating a story and I can’t really concentrate on other things in my life. It feels like I am holding a delicate egg and I don’t dare put it down or entrust it to anyone else until it has hatched. Instead, I carry it with me the whole time (weeks and months) and only ever sort of half-engage with other facets of my life until the story is finished.' - Melaina Faranda (Big Sky – GF12)
'The best thing about being a writer is when you start living inside of your book. You spend a long time thinking about the world of your book, then at some point your thoughts start to snowball. Your characters take over. They talk to each other and you write down what they say. The worst thing is starting. There are so many possibilities. So many decisions to make. It can give you a brain overload.' - R.M Corbet (Fifteen love - GF 15)
'Best: Going to work in your pyjamas.'
'Worst: Going to work in your pyjamas. Writing can be quite a lonely job sometimes. You don't have any coworkers to have fun with (unless you count my cat-muse, Mephy Danger Gordon), and you can go for days without leaving the house if you're on a deadline. I try to write in cafes as much as I can, so at least I'm having some connection with human beings (no offense, Mephy).' - Kate Gordon ( Three Things About Daisy Blue - GF 20)
'I write from my share-house in Sydney … my flatmates were extremely patient with me reading out passages to them after long sun-drenched days channelling the spirit of Mia and life at Silver Street High. I wrote the lion’s share of SWTB early in 2007, after returning revitalised from travelling in Paris, Rome and London – usually four or five days a week with a self-imposed word limit of 1,000 words a day.' – Georgia Clark (She's With the Band – GF 3)
''I write at home in my study. I have a lap-top so theoretically I could write anywhere, but I find that having a space dedicated to writing is much more conducive to actually getting something done. It's part of having a writing routine and being disciplined about your craft. I'm always very envious of people who say they can go and sit in their local café and write. How they can hear themselves think over the noise of the espresso machine and the radio set slightly off the station, I've never figured out.
'Because of my theatrical background and interest in film my approach to writing is often quite filmic in the sense that I tend to write the key scenes – the scenes that form the peaks of the book’s emotional geography if you like – first. This actually helps with structure and narrative organization as well because you can plot the story quite easily according to those peaks.' – Rowena Mohr (My Life and Other Catstrophes – GF1)
'In my head! So if anyone out there owns a mind-reading machine, you’re welcome to tap into my brain – the stories in there are really good. The problems start when I try to get those stories onto paper, and silly things like plot structure and punctuation get in the way.
'I'm lucky to have an office at home – overlooking Mt Buffalo, with two 120 year old elm trees up close. My husband works in the same office too, which is great. When I get a bad email (a proposal rejected, or a manuscript that needs heaps more work), then I have a strong man-shoulder to cry on. Oh, and when I get a good email – then I have someone to celebrate with too.' – Thalia Kalkipsakis (Step Up and Dance – GF6)
' I'm supposed to write in my study, which has nice bookshelves and a nice desk and a whiteboard for Thinking Out Loud. But most of the time I end up writing on the couch, lying on my back, propped up with cushions, with my laptop balanced on my stomach. Don't tell my osteopath, okay?.' – Lili Wilkinson (The (not quite) perfect boyfriend– GF 5)
'I write in my study with the door closed. It’s very important to have a space that, when you enter it, is used exclusively for writing. I have a steam-driven computer [no internet, no games, no email] and write straight onto that. I also listen to one music CD, on a loop, until I have finished a book. Then I put a different one in for the next.' – Barry Jonsberg (Cassie – GF8)
'Ideally I write in my study, sitting upright in front of the computer with a cup of tea and something by a large candy conglomerate handy. In actuality, I spend a lot of time scribbling whole chunks of dialogue onto random pieces of paper when I’m supposed to be doing something else (like sleeping). Putting everything together later can be tricky.' – Rebecca Lim (The Sweet Life – GF7)
'I tour for twenty weeks of the year, talking to kids about writing and running workshops, so I write a fair bit in hotel rooms and strange cafes and libraries.
'The bulk of my writing time is around the summer school holidays and during that time I sit in my office, which is on our property but two hundred and fifty metres from home. I have no Internet there and I have a big window that looks out into the bush so my distractions are usually of the furred and feathered varieties. There’s a pond in front of my office and lots of animals use it in the warmer months–twenty different birds, echidnas, wallabies, snakes and lizards…oh, and our two dogs.' – Scot Gardner (Bookmark Days – GF9)
'I write in an old cream room in a dairy. The floor is cool, cream-painted concrete. The walls are milk-white and there are paintings of full moons and winged lions, as well as a golden cow ornament bedecked in bling. I love my writing place. There’s a sleeping baby cello, a ceramic yellow bird and sausage dog, masks, bookcases, crystals (my kids help clean them on the full moon), belly casts, salt lamps, blue glass ducks, bags spilling with glass beads, a box of ribbons, baskets full of things to do, peace plants and a couple of Buddhas chucked into the mix. Did someone say Zen? My study is literally a study in frippery and I adore it.' - Melaina Faranda (Big Sky – GF12)
'I have a laptop with a three hour battery. Sometimes by the river. Mostly at the kitchen table.' - R.M Corbet (Fifteen Love – GF15)
'Mostly on my couch. It's comfy there ... If I do venture out, there are some lovely cafes I go to. I've worked out the ones who don't give you the evil eye if you've been writing there for two hours and only ordered a biscuit!' – Kate Gordon ( Three Things About Daisy Blue – GF 20)
'When I was five years old and I was angry or naughty I'd shut myself in my room. My dad would write notes or draw pictures and stick them under my door and I'd write notes back ('I OD NOT LOVE YOU'). I think it all started there.' – Penni Russon (The Indigo Girls – GF2)
'I started writing short stories from a very young age and it continued through to university, where I produced a zine, grrowl, while doing a BA Communication Media Arts and Production, majoring in screen-writing and film-making. I wanted to be a director, mostly after watching Manhattan about a billion times and deciding my first ever role model was Woody Allen. We didn’t have TV reception growing up - just a VCR - so I wasn’t exposed to much crap, which helped cultivated a love of story and narrative.' – Georgia Clark (She's With the Band – GF3)
'I've been writing all my life in one way or another. I wrote hundreds of short stories & plays when I was a kid - all of them pretty bad - but hey you have to start somewhere. When I went to drama school, I wrote comedy skits and revues which we would put on at the end-of-year performances - and actually I think some of them weren't bad - and I continued to write performance pieces as a professional actor because it was a great way to ensure that you actually had work. I think I probably started to write a novel twenty times before I actually did it. It took me a long time to figure out that to write something as sustained as a novel you actually just have to keep writing.' – Rowena Mohr (My Life and Other Catstrophes – GF1)
'I wrote my first "book" in kindergarten. To be honest, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t absolutely certain that I wanted to write. Like a lot of writers – it’s not a choice for me, it’s just part of who I am.' – Thalia Kalkipsakis (Step Up and Dance – GF6)
'I wrote my first book in Prep. It was called "The Dog and the Cat Went for a Walk". It had everything: romance, action, dogs, cats. I started my first novel in Grade 6, and finished it in Year 8. It was pretty long - 60 000 words. And every single one of them was terrible. It was basically every fantasy novel I'd ever read, all smooshed up into one piece of utterly derivative drivel. It's now password protected on my computer, and nobody will ever read it. Nobody. I started getting published in high school - in Voiceworks magazine. Then I wrote some other bits and pieces until one day when I was 25, a publisher called me up and asked me if I'd like to write a book.' – Lili Wilkinson (The (not quite) perfect boyfriend– GF 5)
'About six years ago (around 2002). Just goes to show it’s never too late to start.' – Barry Jonsberg (Cassie – GF8)
'When I was in Prep or Grade 1 and still thought Italy and Greece were the same country, I used to turn tiny spiral bound notebooks into funny little picture books that made no sense. I still have a totally unauthorised “Snoopy” story I wrote when I couldn’t spell properly, complete with texta illustrations and crazy handwriting. 'I always found books, even those awful readers we used to bring home that were written in the 1950s (featuring people who didn’t remotely resemble me) terribly fascinating.' - Rebecca Lim (The Sweet Life – GF7)
'I didn’t start getting paid for writing until I was twenty-eight.
'I used to write a bit when I was younger but nothing serious ever came of it. I met an editor of a gardening magazine while I was hitchhiking with my friend in East Gippsland. The editor said I should write something for his magazine, so I did (five years later) and he paid me for it. I thought I’d discovered alchemy! I still write for Earth Garden from time to time.
'After I wrote my first novel-length book, author John Marsden introduced me to a publisher and she ended up publishing it. ' – Scot Gardner (Bookmark Days – GF9)
'I wrote a lot in primary school. I wrote again in 1997 when I was pregnant with my son and then got too busy. 'The author Peter MacFarlane used to come to the school where I taught every year, to talk to the boys. The first year I met him, I told him I had an idea for a book. He told me to write it. I didn’t. Every year he would say, "How’s that book coming along?" 'It sort of stuck with me and in 2005 I began Something More.' – Mo Johnson (Something More – GF11)
'I started out writing in blank books, just to prove I existed, mainly. I'd write one sentence in the middle of a blank page, then I'd have to go away and think for another month. It seemed very intense at the time. It still does, actually.' – R.M Corbet (Fifteen Love – GF15)
'I've written my whole life. Before I knew how to spell words, I'd sit at the kitchen table driving my mum bonkers by drawing pictures and telling her the stories that went with them. I think her friends all thought "Vicki's daughter is a little bit insane". I remember, also, walking around the playground at primary school, reciting my own made-up poems to myself. This was probably why the other kids thought I was a bit weird ... I started writing "properly" about four years ago. I had a really boring job, so I decided to do a uni course in YA literature to make life a bit more interesting. I did a creative writing piece which my lecturer said was good. I then showed it to my husband and he thought it was good, too. I look back at it now and it was terrible (it was about dragons. I was reading a lot of dragon books at the time). But it was a start!' – Kate Gordon ( Three Things About Daisy Blue – GF 20)
'Whatever you do, write something every day. Every single day without fail. Don't wait for inspiration.' – Kate Constable (Always Mackenzie – GF4)
'You can’t become a writer through doing a special course or reading all the right novelists: you just sit down and write. One of my new fave writers Diablo Cody (she wrote the jaw-droppingly good film Juno) was an office worker turned stripper before she put pen to paper! And she’s amazing! Without sounding too much like a subplot from The Matrix, the things that make you not a writer are actually the things that make you a writer.
'Also every writer feels inadequate. I mean, every artist feels inadequate – that’s why we’re artists – but writers especially as the whole point of it is being paid to comment blithely from your ivory tower on all you observe. So get used to low-level frustration and depression. Seriously: just accept is as part of territory and don’t feel sorry for yourself too much – it’s really boring.' – Georgia Clark (She's with the Band – GF 3)
'Firstly - just write! Writing is not so different to playing sport or
a musical instrument. If you don't practice you don't get any better. You
need to develop your writing muscles.
'Secondly - read! Read for pleasure once but then go back and read again so that you can figure out what makes a particular book work. How is the plot presented? What imagery does the writer use? Relate what you read to your own work and set yourself writing exercises to see if you can achieve similar effects.
'Thirdly - be nice to yourself! Be critical of your own work but not so critical that you never finish anything. Every writer gets to a point where they say 'Why am I bothering with this? It's rubbish and no-one is going to want to read it.' Finish it anyway and then show it to a few people who know what they are talking about for their feedback.' – Rowena Mohr (My Life and Other Catstrophes – GF1)
'Don't study creative writing at university (or not as an undergraduate). Study something else, like history or geography or literature, learn as much as you can. Plus read poetry.' – Penni Russon (The Indigo Girls – GF2)
'A diary is good. No matter how vivid the emotions and experiences seem now, they’ll always fade with time. It’s good to go back and remember how a certain event made you feel – then you can draw from that as you write. I think specialising is worth thinking about. Becoming an "expert" in a specific area (health? sport? politics?) is definitely useful for journalists. But for fiction writers, it really helps to have real-world experiences to draw on. I was lucky to always know that I wanted to write – but that knowledge distracted me for a while too. Good writing isn’t the words and phrases; it’s having something worth writing about.' – Thalia Kalkipsakis (Step Up and Dance – GF6)
' Read. As often and widely as possible. And keep it simple. Don't try to disguise your writing with flowery prose - just tell the story. Oh, and if a publisher ever calls you on the phone and asks if you'd like to write a book - you say "yes".' – Lili Wilkinson (The (not quite) perfect boyfriend– GF 5)
'Turn up to the office! It’s like anything else. You cannot be successful unless you put in the hours. Anyone can say they are the best writer in the world or the fastest 100 metres athlete or the greatest guitarist. Those that are, have put in the time and effort and have learned from everything they’ve done. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.' – Barry Jonsberg (Cassie – GF8)
'“Show, don’t tell.” It’s way better to evoke something for the reader than leave them no room to move. When I was told that, it was one of those “Hey, yeah!” moments.'
'Don’t sweat the rejections. Just keep getting stuff out there and telling yourself that one day, those miserable, bean counting so-and-so’s will regret turning you down!'
'Read, read, read and never stop learning. The smallest thing can change your life. The person sitting next to you on the tram may inspire a story or an artwork or a new vocation. Be hopeful. You’ll get there.' - Rebecca Lim (The Sweet Life – GF7)
'The best bit of writing advice I've received came from John Marsden, the author of Tomorrow, When the War Began. He said I should "have a bash" at writing in the first person—pretend I was living the life of a character. It made my writing come alive. Thanks John.' – Scot Gardner (Bookmark Days – GF9)
'Shock yourself. Write about things that are hard to think or talk about. Explore the shady areas of your mind. Not all the time—just every now and again to keep yourself and your readers on your toes.' – Scot Gardner (Bookmark Days – GF9)
'Be as real as you can, even when you’re writing fantasy. Having said that, go easy on the slang/text/MSN/chatspeak lingo – it’s hard on your eyes after two sentences.' – Scot Gardner (Bookmark Days – GF9)
'First, bum in seat and write. Don’t make excuses. Then, take all the advice you can get. Join a writers’ centre, do courses, enter competitions, read industry magazines and don’t let anyone tell you it’s too hard to get published if you are new. If it happened for me it can happen for you.' – Mo Johnson (Something More – GF11)
'If you’re really serious about writing and wanting to be published then no matter how challenging – you need to let go of ego and hurt feelings and care more about making your work better. Never shrink from useful criticism. I still avidly seek feedback from people whose opinions I respect. I want to learn more about this incredible craft. My writing is much better than it was five years ago and I hope it just keeps getting better.' - Melaina Faranda (Big Sky – GF12)
'Re-read the book that you love most. Re-read it. Dissect it. Copy out your favourite bits. Steal from it. Imitate it. Make it your reference text. Ask yourself: How did they DO that?' – R.M Corbet (Fifteen Love – GF15)
'Write! I know that sounds stupid and simplistic, but it's the only advice I know. I think half the time, people who want to be writers worry too much. They worry their first sentence will suck, or they aren't using the methods that Meg Cabot or Stephenie Meyer or Sarah Dessen use, or that they need to practise and plan and plot for a really long time to make their work any good. The only way I know how to write a book is to sit down, turn my computer on, and start with a first sentence. Then I write a second one, then a third, and so on. In the end, the characters know what they want to do. You just let them do it. And, for me at least, it's easier to edit 50,000 words and make them better than start from scratch and deliberate over every sentence. “You can edit later” is probably my second piece of advice. If you want to be a writer, you need to write. Otherwise, you're just a “thinker” and we're all one of those!' – Kate Gordon ( Three Things About Daisy Blue – GF 20)