Category Archives: Kylie Quillinan

What inspires you?

Why do you keep writing, month after month? Why do you persist at honing your craft when encouragement is little or non-existent? What is your dream?

Me, I want it all. I want the New York Times bestseller (even though I know the NYT generally ignores genre writers and so doesn’t actually reflect the highest-selling books). I want to walk into a bookstore or a library and see my precious manuscript on a shelf, printed and bound and shiny. I want to be able to write full time. But more than all of that, I want to share my stories with the world.

Trying to break into the publishing world is a long slog, isn’t it? I have friends who are self-publishing. I don’t intend this post to be about the benefits or otherwise or self-publishing, so I’ll just say that it’s not for me. The publishing world is changing at a rapid pace. Some predictions are dire. E-books are apparently on the verge of taking over the world. Bookstores are closing. Some people say we will barely recognise the publishing industry in a few years. And yet still we push on.

So why do we do it to ourselves? Is it arrogance? A belief that although the world doesn’t yet recognise our genius, it will in time? Is it stubbornness? An unwillingness to let go of the dream just because it seems so far out of reach? I’ve been thinking about this over the last few months and the only answer I can come up with is from my “want” list: I want to share my stories. I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t know whether perhaps the day might come when the dream dies and I pack away my thesaurus, dictionary, index cards and assorted coloured pens and highlighters.  Perhaps that will happen but maybe – just maybe – I will persist until I actually break through.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you two quotes I have pinned on the wall in front of my writing space. One is from Stephen King’s ON WRITING and likely most aspiring writers will recognise it:

It’s about the pumpkin.

Don’t know what it means? Get a copy of ON WRITING and read it. Seriously, if you intend to make a career out of writing, you should be familiar with this book. Buy or borrow it, read it, and take note of the story about the farmer and his pumpkins.

The second one is on a cardboard star. I have no idea where it came from. It’s about two inches big and is green and silver.  It says:

 Dream Big

That says it all, doesn’t it? This is what the aspiring writer does. Perhaps your dream is different to mine. Perhaps not. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that we all have the same goal: we are all dreaming big.

What do you keep in your writing space to inspire you?

Unleashing the Muse

Do you have a muse?  Does your muse have a solid form: arms, legs, hair, clothes?  Or it is an ethereal creature, more of a spirit moving quietly within your mind?  Writers throughout time have held close this image of a muse and many have fervently believed their muse to be the wellspring of their ideas.  The ancient Greeks believed in nine muses, the daughters of Zeus, who inspired writers, poets, artists and musicians.  Perhaps the idea of a muse is to ease the pressure on ourselves.  When the words won’t come, it’s not our fault – it’s because the muse has temporarily abandoned us.

 My ideas originate from deep inside of me, swirling up out of a jumble of every sight, sound, taste, smell and thought I’ve ever had, from every image I’ve seen, every conversation I’ve overheard, every book I’ve read, every movie I’ve watched.  Somehow, out of all of this confusion of experiences, comes an idea.  Perhaps a single image or character, sometimes a place or time that begs me to explore.  And gradually, as that idea lingers in my mind, it somehow weaves itself into a story, with other characters, a landscape, a mythology, a purpose.  And that’s the magic of being a writer, isn’t it?  Taking that single image or idea and turning it into something that’s beautiful or horrifying or wonderful, or maybe all three at once.

 But what do you do when the muse refuses to talk?  When you sit down at the computer, put your fingers to the keyboard, and the words won’t come?  Some writers use a variety of exercises to get the creativity flowing: free writing, character backgrounds, writing a scene using nothing but dialogue.  Some leave that project to work on another for a time, maybe a short story.  Others subscribe to the good old theory of BICHOK: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard.

I waiver between trying hard to adhere to the butt in chair philosophy and merely waiting: waiting for inspiration to return.  The latter is never efficient and rarely effective, yet we writers are somehow able to justify to ourselves time spent doing absolutely nothing while waiting for the muse to return.  What other profession could do this?

 So how do you intend to cope when the muse next abandons you?  Make a plan and you’re that much closer to surviving the absence of the fickle force we call creativity.  What will it be: butt in chair, creativity exercises, reading quotes of inspiration?  Share your plan and perhaps you’ll spread a little inspiration amongst us all.

Manuscript #5: Lessons Learnt

Having just closed the book, so to speak, on the first draft of my fifth novel, MUSE, it’s a good time to think about what I’ve learnt while writing this manuscript.

Lesson #1: What works for others, doesn’t necessarily work for me. I’ve previously mentioned I would love to be able to write from a detailed outline. I’ve tried it but can never stick to the plan. What does work for me is a very loose outline on index cards. It helps keep the story’s path clear in my mind while still allowing the flexibility to move, add or discard scenes as I need to.

Lesson #2: I need deadlines. Without them, I don’t write. I am fortunate to be a part of a wonderful goal-setting group. At the start of each week, we email around our goals and account for the previous week’s progress. I don’t like to admit I failed to achieve my goals so this often pushes me well past the stage where I would have otherwise stopped. And one day when I have to write to someone else’s deadlines, this practice in meeting goals will pay off.

Lesson #3:  I need to keep my mind in my story’s world. This means focusing my free time reading on relevant topics and not spending too much time in front of the tv. The story flows best if I can keep myself in my imaginary world. It starts to fall apart when I get distracted. This year’s season of Master Chef almost killed my story.

Lesson #4:  The this-is-crap stage. With every new manuscript, I wholeheartedly believe the first two thirds is the best thing I’ve ever written. Then I hit 70,000 words and the this-is-crap zone where doubt creeps in: This story is terrible. The plot is too contrived. I’m a lousy writer. What made me think I could write another book? The next 10,000 or so words are invariably painful, progress is slow and I spend weeks, or sometimes months, stalled here. This time, I knew what to expect and when the 70,000 word this-is-crap stage arrived, I pushed through, telling myself I had been here before and it would pass. And the knowledge that this was my this-is-crap stage did help, to an extent. It was still agonising and I wrote far slower than I had until then. But by recognising this as another stage of my creative process, I was able to move on.

Lesson #5:  It doesn’t matter if I can’t write the ending on the first draft. I usually finish just two or three scenes short of the end and it’s not until the first, or even second, re-write that the ending comes out. That’s okay. For me, the first draft is about learning the story and getting to know the characters. I need to sit on the ending, puzzle it through, spend some time getting to know the story again, and then that ending, previously so elusive, usually flows.

So now it’s time to put away MUSE and let it simmer in my subconscious for at least six months before I return to it with fresh eyes and, hopefully, bucketloads of enthusiasm. For now, I’m moving on to a new round of edits on another project. I’ll see you on the other side!

What have you learnt while writing your current manuscript?

Passion vs Marketability

Now that I’ve finished the first draft of MUSE, this manuscript will go into hibernation for a while. So I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering what I should move on to. It’s a battle between a call of the heart or market sensibility.

I can go back to a previous manuscript, a story I dearly love and which has garnered some attention from agents, but not enough for a contract. Clearly, there are problems with it that I’ve not yet identified. I can spend the next six months in a familiar world, with characters I know well and adore, and try to fix the problems with this manuscript. I’ve invested many years in this story — there’s even a first draft for the sequel — and I’m not ready to give up on it yet.

Another possibility is an urban fantasy I started early last year. I came close to the end of that draft and lost both momentum and interest in the story. Yet the idea had been rattling around in my head for several years before I was finally in the right place to write it. I’m sure I will eventually regain my passion for this story but it’s not calling to me just now.

I could start something new. I’ve been playing around with a number of ideas. One has a post-apocalyptic setting, something I’ve always wanted to try.  Think Dan Brown but with more grit. Another is an urban fantasy in which the faerie world still exists side-by-side with the modern world. Human sacrifices, immortality, Pandora’s box. There are so many things I want to write about. The post-apocalyptic story is the one I suspect would be the most sensible to write. It’s controversial and, I think, eminently saleable. It would, if done right, be a gripping read. But it’s not calling to me either. At least, not yet.

I started writing this post about eight weeks ago, at a time when finishing the first draft of MUSE seemed very far off indeed, and over the last few weeks, no matter which idea I try out, it’s that first one, the story I’ve already spent ten years on, that draws me to it. In fact, it seems my subconscious has decided for me because last weekend, without ever making a conscious decision to return to this project, I went to the copy shop and had the manuscript printed and bound, all 585 pages. It’s sitting on the desk in my study now, along with new packs of pens and highlighters. And it’s calling me. For better or worse, this is what I’ll be spending the next few months on. Only time will tell whether it’s a wise use of my time or just another round of edits on a project that will never sell.

How do you decide between projects?  Do you analyse the market and write what you think has the best chance of selling?  Or do you let your heart make the decision?