How to Prepare for The Rabbit Hole

Be so ridiculously into the idea…  you ring to secure your place so early on the day places open, the person you need to speak to isn’t even there yet and you have to ring back at a more sensible hour… and your name goes on the list.

Mark it as a hard deadline… write it on your calendar (every calendar!), let people know you’re busy that weekend and finish projects that might hamper your ability to concentrate for 30 hours.

Read up on how the Rabbit Hole works… and tips to get through it.

Consider what you’re going to write…  then make a list if you need to. My list (penned this morning!) looks a little something like this and contains 42,000 potential words.

  1. The five opening chapters of my novel (10,000 = 10 hours (or one day in at QWC) These I have a rough sketch of in my head. I’m not discounting one of my novel threads might find insatiable traction and I’ll be lost in the medicratic city-state of Rosslin for longer than I thought I would.
  2. My June article for Write Anything, embarrassingly, outstanding. (1,000 = 1 hour) and perhaps next month’s articles to finally get myself ahead (2,000=2 hours)
  3. An unfinished horror short story “Elyora” that is beginning perhaps to be a novella (5,000 = 5 hours)
  4. A series of blog articles on beta reading (5,000=5 hours)
  5. The Shades of Indigo stories – one mystical one set in a lighthouse, a cow punk started as my Tiny Dancer story and a second jettisoned Tiny Dancer story about a possessed gun (6,000-6 hours)
  6. Several unfinished short stories – “Light Years” and “Don’t Forget Me” (9,000=9 hours)
  7. My actual Tiny Dancer story – I’ll just keep bloody writing until I find the best place to start and finish the story. (1500 – 1.5 hours)
  8. Then… well there are several guest articles I’ve promised around the webz. (min 3,000=3 hours)

Make a survival list… mine has on it food, music, caffeine, transportation and clothing (starts to feel like school camp).

Expand those lists out… and then tick them off. As I bash this out I have:

  1. cooked pasta bake and a collection of samosas, bought three blocks of chocolate
  2. decided I’ll take my tiny little tea pot along and organised tea to go with it
  3.  bought new music, uploaded it and updated my iPod
  4. bought a new warm jumper, ensured my hoodie is clean and found my fingerless gloves
  5. checked the weather forecast, organised cash for my GoCard and worked out which days I’ll drive and which I’ll bus it.
  6. organised additinal cash in the event there are beers post writing.

This possibly makes me the most organised I have EVER been (well, since the days when my Mum organised everything and packed me off to school camp).

Get hooked in… find the social media hotspots and join, establish the twitterhashtag, write a blog post and assemble a virtual cheer squad

Bank sleep, because you need a clear head for a mad weekend… or in my case spend the week madly finishing huge projects, stay up late and lose sleep and then the night before have a succession of mad dreams because you’re too excited to sleep properly and hope you’ve woken up enough by the starters gun.

Prepare your equipment… organise and/or collect your files, diary, memory sticks, phone, ipods, earphones, pens, pencils, notebooks, lists and anything else you might need.

Secure the biggest water bottle known to mankind… and then remember to bring it with you (nothing short circuits the brain faster than dehydration – especially when you’re hammering the caffeine)

Find every other possible incarnation or mention of The Rabbit Hole… in case you’re short on talking material among strangers, or someone you know mistakens your 30 hours endeavour for something else. Just so you know, the list of Rabbit Hole references includes:

  • a movie and a play
  • a theatre ensemble in New York City
  • a baker in Brooklyn
  • an organic tea bar in Australia
  • a porn platform
  • a song by the Temper Trap
  • a slang expression for having a trip
  • a reference to depression
  • something to do with finding a new world in an alternate reality game, and of course,
  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (and Trevor Browns’ very naughty paintings of Alice for adults!)

Kiss good-bye your loved ones… take a big deep breath, close the door, disconnect from the internet and prepare to jump.

And if you’re staying home and joining the virtual team, you may need to make contingencies for actually clearing your home of unwanted distractions and preparing a space to work at.

From Fragmentation, Back to First Base

“Hey Dad, I’m multi-tasking,” Mr D said as Dave threw his bag into the back of the car at the bus station last week.

“There’s no such thing,” Dave replied, climbing into the front seat and closing the door. “It means you’re just doing two things badly.”

“Really?”

“Really. It’s a myth.”

I shifted into first gear and eased out of the pick up zone.

It just means you are doing two things badly. I shifted up into second and then third. Oh crap… he’s right!

Multi-tasking and the Sting of Stagnation

Dave’s comment struck deeply, not because I simultaneously talk on the phone, while chopping vegetables and watching Mr D do his homework. It stung because I’ve professionally multi-tasked myself to the point of stagnation.

Writer. Editor. Publisher.

I’m not effective at anything any more. I don’t function in any of my roles with the efficacy or efficiency I demand of myself.

I have struggled in the last three years to keep up with everything I need to satisfy professional requirements in all three of the disciplines I work in. I don’t read the blog articles I need to be reading, I’m forever behind on big news or have only the sketchiest idea about the latest rapid changes undergoing my industry. Just keeping up with the professional memberships is enough to gut my tiny bank balance.

You know the energy and effort required in cultivating and keeping up with your writing contacts… now extrapolate that out to the same number of editing professionals, and then to publishing professionals. I know as writers we keep our pulse on these areas, but a finger on the pulse isn’t enough if it’s your area of profession. I need to have a better understanding, because it not only affects me but 70 odd writers who work under the eP umbrella.

I’m not sure when it got too hard. All I know is it did; so I withdrew and focused on getting work done. Editing one story after another. Releasing one anthology after another. But it doesn’t serve the writers who work with me (us) if I can’t translate any of it across to exposure, readers and sales. It doesn’t serve me as a writer to be disconnected. I’m not even sure what markets exist for my stories it’s got that bad.

Stepping Up to Claim my Space

“I’m not giving up, I’m just giving in.”
Never Let Me Go – Florence Welch

I’ve been too afraid to step up and claim my space as writer for twenty years. In my Write Anything article today I write:

At the core, underneath all these layers of scuttling and sometimes fearsome demons, is the fear of being thought of as naïve. That is actually my greatest fear. It sounds stupid. It sounds, if I’m honest, pathetic. But I know this is the heart, this is what disempowers everything else.

I don’t need to be a ‘fraidy-cat naïf any longer. That fear no longer serves to protect me from the harsh criticism of the world at large—or should I say, the literary world at large.

Freed of the fear I am stepping up to give myself the chance to be Writer in Her most elemental and fundamental form. The one who steps up and says loud and proud “I am a writer”. The one who turns up every day to hammer out a new chapter of a novel until the novel is completed, then have it critiqued, rinse-repeat and then go through the grueling process of trying to secure a publisher. The one who pens shorts and sends away to magazines, journals, anthologies and competitions—who puts herself “out there”, rather than hording stories on a hard drive and cowering under a mushroom. The one who participates and engages in the community of writers she misses so dearly. The one who will to continue to support her circle of colleagues with beta reading, line editing and proof reading.

As One Door Closes…

To do this, at the end of May I will step away from editing to undertake an extended sabbatical to focus on writing. No more dallying from the safety of the sidelines.

I’m not walking away and leaving everything unfinished. And I must emphasise I am not walking away forever; this is most definitely not the end of the fiction arm of eMergent Publishing. I am brimming with ideas: two Chinese Whisperings concepts I’m yet to try out, four Literary Mix Tapes queued to roll out to new leagues of hungry writers, a collection of novellas to work with Stacey Larner on, another anthology Tom Dullemond pitched to me last year… and well, the list could go on forever. I will be back next year revived and full of passion.

This month I am madly working my way through a backlog of stories to complete Deck the Halls and Tiny Dancer. I’m lucky enough to have an ace up my sleeve, with Amy Stevenson eP’s first QUT intern about to come on board with the editing.

After May I will be combining writing with the publication and release of Deck the Halls, Tiny Dancer and Best of Friday Flash Volume II (which is eP’s community project for the year).  By September I hope to have released all anthologies and will step away from running any new projects until February 2013.

From Fragmentation to First Base

This time next month I will be pulling all the fragments together and staring out from first base, ready to start again, not as an apprentice but as journeyman. I’m taking with me my editing, organisation and publishing skills, my penchant for innovation, the passion and focus that have carried me through until now, and investing them in my writing.

For the last four years I’ve watched you grow, develop and mature as writers.  I’ve watched you work on novels and stories, watched them go from work-in-progress to published novels, anthologies and short stories. I’ve seen the hard work you’ve put in, the dedication and tenacity with which you greet each day.  The never-say-die attitude that sustains you through the lows and allows you to soar during the highs. I’ve seen you grow readerships and support circles who motivate, nurture and encourage you. For fleeting moments I’ve been part of that circle and I don’t regret one moment of it.

Now it’s time to follow in your footsteps.

Dead Red Heart Reviewed in Black Static

All 33 of the stories in Dead Red Heart are mentioned in an epic review in Black Static  (UK). It was with trepidation I scrolled through the review to see what was said about Kissed by the Sun.

‘Kissed by the Sun’ by Jodi Cleghorn sees a vampire trying to escape her maker by soliciting help from the brother of one of her victims, but she underestimates his desire for revenge, the story touching on how obsession can blossom like a weed and consume all that is good in a person. Alongside this is a plot strand about a vampire’s attempt to become a Day Walker through ingesting sun kissed blood.

It’s kinda cool to see someone else’s take on the story, especially when I remember having conversations with Jason Coggins about this during the beta reading process and him pointing out the story really was about the master/slave relationship and Anke’s desperation to escape it.

Sixteen of the stories in the anthology made Ellen Datlow’s Honourable Mentions for 2011 list. Not mine–but I’m really just a beginner and looking forward to working towards my first honourable mention.

Post Marked: Piper’s Reach Launched

Yes, I am a day late in announcing the actual launch of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach. Launch day was also the third day of my road trip and brought me down the Pacific Highway and to the home of Adam in Sydney. The launch celebration consisted of a talkfest intersected with many cups of tea and lots of laughs (would expect nothing less from the Byatt household!)

Please drop in to the official site and read the first of Ella-Louise’s missives. A new letter  goes live at 9am every Tuesday. I’ve just penned the 13th letter and can assure you, things are starting to get interesting. But… no spoilers!

New Articles at Write Anything

Following in the  footsteps of the wonderful Jen Brubacher, I’m posting an update on my Write Anything articles for the month of March.

March was a tough month for all of Write Anything’s staff writers. Paul set the daunting task of a writer’s self audit, followed up by a blog post sharing what we unearthed.

Out of the process came Shall I Compare Thee,  followed up here with The Perils of Comparison and the Posse of Imposters Answered. My second article for the month, Friend or Foe: The Impact of Your Belief System on Writing, explored a slightly different area of my writing life:

In the early weeks of January I set off to find the person I knew and loved as ‘writer’. It meant a harsh process of deconstruction; demolishing what was left of myself as writer after recurrent bouts of depression, severe loss of self-confidence and long period of inactivity. I knew I had to do this, or I would never make sense of how I came to be marooned in this charred no-man’s land of writing, much less leave it for lusher locales.

With the aid of my journal and a few well-timed tarot cards, I realised it all came down to my belief system. Over the past few years I’ve become very good at creating absolute paradigms for my creative life. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I doused the paradigms in flammable value judgements and for want of anything better to do, flicked a match in and watched the whole shebang, previously known as my writing life, burn.

At the core of the mess lay the belief I could only ever write OR edit.

You can continue reading the article here.

I’m proud to say, since originally writing the article back in early February, writing and editing are cohabiting a better space. It is still a struggle, especially around deadlines, but having a new set of beliefs to fall back on, makes it far easier to move forward, to write every day and to accept the times when editing must take precedence.

What I Left to Forget

Charlotte Mackay thumped a sweaty fist against the steering wheel and swore loud enough for the elderly woman in the nearby Morris Minor to hear. She ignored the raised eyebrows. Mouthing ‘fuck you’ as she turned back to glare at the temperature gauge and cut the engine. Ahead, the traffic jam stretched into the melting horizon.

She wanted to escape. Sit on the veranda with a cold beer pressed against the back of her neck, the bitter taste cooling the inside of her parched mouth. Most of all she wanted to ring Jake—to hell with Grayson’s threat.

What the fuck did Grayson expect her to do? She couldn’t trawl the live music scene and remain unattached indefinitely. At some point she needed to hook up to fit in. People talked and she needed to be invisible. Would he have cared so much if she’d got a girlfriend?

“Your relationship with de Brito compromises your position,” Grayon had bellowed at her, small missiles of spit spraying from his mouth.

Why couldn’t Grayson see the benefits of a high profile lover:  a whole new level of access to people, places and sources for her. Doors opened for Jake de Brito and she stepped through them.

She rifled through the detritus on the passenger seat, throwing gig fliers, empty film canisters and assorted tapes into the footwell until she found Jake’s mix tape.  The cassette slid into the tape player and she turned the ignition on and the sound up. Closed her eyes and tried to figure out what to do.

The opening synth bars crackled through the ancient speakers. Four bars in, the cello’s notes, full of longing, took up the melody.

She sighed. The song reminded her of the cello sitting in the corner of Jake’s bedroom. It wasn’t what she expected… a grunge god trained as a classical cellist.  Or for him to seduce her with it: pulling her into his lap and positioning the cello between her thighs, his hand beneath hers, fingers moving over the strings. Even now she could feel the slow back and forth motion of the bow.

A horn blast from behind ejected her from Jake’s musty room, away from his naked tattooed body, back into the metal columns, melting in the combined heat mirage of the exhaust fumes and sun.

She blinked against the light and turned the Datsun 180’s engine over, eased the clutch out, coasted forward a car length and cut the engine again. She didn’t want to listen to the tape. She was having enough trouble thinking straight and the tape took her back to the night Jack pressed it into her hand back stage… and the raw memory of a young man she once made a different type of music with.

“Don’t, like, judge me for the first song,” Jake had said to her that night. “It was on the radio the first time I saw you. You were watching us through your camera. To me it’s, you know… our song. Not very rock and roll, eh?”

She had stared at the track listing.

I Just Died In Your Arms? sounds like a death wish,” she’d said. Thinking: it’s a warning.

He burst out laughing, throwing his head back. “This is why I love ya Charlotte.” When he reached for her, she went rigid. “I’m sorry. I’m coming on a bit much, aren’t I?”

She should’ve got the hell away from him then. Run. A. Mile. But she didn’t! The temptation overwhelming. He was overwhelming.

But Jake de Brito, the Jake de Brito had said he loved her?

And she’d struggled to remain focused. Detatched. Professional.

“It’s been a while,” she finally said to him and kissed him lightly on the cheek, flattered by his attention and appalled by how it made her feel. How it changed things.

She hadn’t known being with Jake would make her feel so lonely. Why didn’t someone let her know the trajectory of loneliness went from benign to malignant when you lay naked near someone, feeling the rise and fall of their chest, breath whistling in and out. All the hours spent alone welled up with the inhalation,  dissipating with the exhalation. But she feared without him the loneliness would swallow her whole.

Fuck. She had to focus. Had to stop Grayson breathing down her neck.

“He is a person of interest.” That’s what it all came down to in Grayson’s books. “If it’s a fuck you need Mackay, get a prostitute.”

“And I’d be able to claim a male hooker as a legitimate business expense, sir?”

“Understand this, Mackay.” He leaned so far forward the sweat on his forehead caught her reflection. “You have 24 hours to end your relationship with de Brito, or I will do it for you. You came here promising much, Mackay. Focus or else you’ll leave here scraping up what’s left of your reputation.”

Fuck Grayson. He would never again question her commitment.

The time for fence-sitting was over. She might not know if she loved Jake or not, but it wasn’t her who needed to make a decision tonight. Time had run out for them. Tonight, it was business. She’d make Jake understand one way or the other. Cold. Logical. They’d get it straight and then they’d move on. Start again.

She gunned the engine, mounting the footpath and turning into the next laneway, driving too fast, her impatience barely in check. Three blocks on she found a park, grabbed her bag and stopped at the first payphone, the coins dropping when the answering machine picked up.

“Hey babe. I’m running late. Traffic! We need to talk—serious—when I get to your place. I’ll be there soon.”

There. He had ample warning.

She caught the next tram back into the city, changed at Swanston for Brunswick and ran the last four blocks to his house in the fading heat, her white sundress dark with fresh sweat.

The front door stood ajar and she caught her breath before poking her head in, calling out. His ambivalence toward security meant he couldn’t be bothered to shut the front door, much less lock it and she often found groupies in the lounge room, Jake oblivious to their presence.

“Jake?”

She pushed the door open. The smell of bolognaise sauce simmering in the kitchen made her stomach rumble.

“Babe?”

When he didn’t answer and no one giggled in the lounge room, she slipped into the bedroom, taking in the cello in the corner, the left-over tangle of bed clothes in the centre of old iron framed bed, her clothes scattered on the floor. Familiar. Comforting.

She knelt on the floor and pulled a pair of red gloves from her bag, the soft leather sticking to her hands when she pulled them on.  Reaching into the dusty space, she found the brief case and dragged it out. She aligned the dials on the lock and flicked open the top. A small pistol caught the fading light slicing down through the venetian blinds. She left the silencer, took the pistol and the four bags of cocaine, closed and slid the case back under the bed.

“Babe?”

She walked down the hallway and into the huge, stuffy lounge room. His guitar lay abandoned on the couch, an overflowing ashtray holding down one corner of a scrap of paper, random lyrics and chords scribbled in pencil. A warm glass of coke sat next to it. Under the closed window the answering machine flashed. She cleared the messages and ejected the tape, slipping it into her bag.

“Jake?”

Continuing on to the kitchen, she expected to see him at the stove humming to music only he could hear, but the kitchen was empty. She extinguished the gas under the bolognaise and flicked the safety off the pistol.

“Babe?” The gun felt heavy in her hand.

She dumped the bag on the kitchen table, remembering how his cheek felt against hers the first night they’d met. Her heart stuttered, just like it did when she leaned in to tell him how she’d come back to Australia because a fire gutted her Nashville apartment, destroying all her photos, the lie rolling easily off her tongue. He nodded and looked at her, when they pulled away, like he too knew what it meant to lose something big, something important.

What you have to forget to move on.

She moved slowly toward the bathroom.

Drip-Drip. Drip. The tap kept beat in the silence.

“Babe?” She prayed he was just asleep in the bath again.

The pistol steady in her right hand, she twisted the knob with her left. Slowly. Gently. The door groaned and she raised the gun as the space between the door and jamb opened.

Jake lay gazing at the mildewed ceiling, earphones in. Three bullet holes, in a triangle, dead of his chest.

Charlotte slid down the doorframe, cradling the pistol in her lap, staring into the congealing claret of the bathwater. Numbness settled over her, deepening with the realisation, without the traffic jam, she’d be dead too.

READ ON: Adam Byatt’s The Photographer’s Concerto is a further exploration of the relationship of Charlotte and Jake (a seriously sensuous and beautiful piece of flash fiction).

Many thanks to my stellar beta readers Chris Chartrand, Andrew Girle, Icy Sedgwick and my impeccably picky writing partner-in-crime Laura Meyer.

“What I Left to Forget” was written in response to the Form and Genre Challenge 2012’s first pitch: pen a 1500 word 3rd person POV story – open genre. It was the first original short story I penned after emerging from a long period depression and burn out in 2011.

21 Tips for Writers of all Persuasions

In May 2010, the Emerging Writers Festival’s five ambassadors Guy Blackman, Natasha Campo, Jill Jones, Sean Riley and Julian Shaw were invited to share their best tips for writing. At the end of the session, what struck me most was–writing is writing– whether you’re a song writer, a journalist, an academic, a poet, a film maker or a novelist. All modalities have more in common as a creative creative process than you might think.

Following are 21 tips distilled from the 35 given during the panel session.

  • Arrive late and leave early: get straight to the heart of the narrative.
  • Defend your work and keep your creative dignity: learn to say no/no way/go f*ck yourself – because no one else will stand up for your work – and remember you cannot write someone else’s vision.
  • Don’t show your work to family and friends: you will erroneously become attached to what they think is brilliant – which in fact is likely to be absolute crap.
  • Go out and live your life: do not allow yourself to become stuck in a hole of your own creativity – especially when you’re creatively blocked – being in the real world is the best antidote.
  • Make up the rules for what you want to produce: in a global market there are an infinite number of possible niches with people willing to pay for your work.
  • Build an audience online: utilise a website or a blog to connect with readers – capture them through a mailing list – don’t be afraid to give away free stuff.
  • Back yourself: don’t ask others for permission to do what you want to do.
  • Know you can do it yourself: you do not need the backing of major publishing houses/production companies – the rules are changing – look for those you know, who want to work with you, and your idea.
  • Persevere: your yell is someone else’s whisper and whispers are pervasive, it will get heard – work on several projects – this keeps you energised and working creatively even when one project isn’t firing.
  • Utilise a multi-media approach: there are audio books, podcasts, youtube as well as thinking further afield such as combining/selling photos and music with writing. (Jessica Bell’s String Bridge–novel and soundtrack–is an excellent example of this)
  • Embrace festivals: nothing is ever to small to be part of.
  • Look after yourself: writing will ruin your health – so take care – consider writing standing up (apparently Hemmingway did this) and making use of pen and paper rather than chaining yourself to a computer.
  • Get to know your process: work out when and where you work best and do it your own way – try to write every day, even if just for a few minutes and carry a note book with you so ideas don’t escape you.
  • Trust the intuition of your readers to know where something doesn’t work: but don’t trust their advice on how to change/fix it.
  • Don’t write to a presumed audience: there is no point in second guessing your niche market – just write!
  • Promote yourself in public: but allow space to doubt yourself in private.
  • Write simply and vividly: specifics paint the best pictures on the page.
  • Don’t hold back and don’t protect yourself: say things no one else has said before – turn off the inner critic/editor
  • Collaborate: work with new people and don’t be afraid to change circles of friends – there are always new opportunities out there.
  • Be professional: submit on time, to the required word length, to the brief agreed on – editors like writers who they can rely on.
  • Cultivate a community of writers: writing can be a lonely enterprise, but it doesn’t need to be – other writers understand where you are, what you’re thinking and feeling.

Which piece of advice strikes a chord with you? Why do you think this is the case? How can you incorporate it into your writing life?

Article based on a column written for Write Anything on 31st May, 2010. Image via via http://www.stepheneinhorn.co.uk.