My Writing Practice – What’s Yours?


I’ve trod the rocky road towards the beacon of Living the Writing Life since childhood. At first it was easy, then work, family, and the basic job of surviving every day, got in the way. In the end, you have to trust yourself, and kill that critic in your mind. You know, the one that keeps whispering in your ear that no-one will want to read what you write, and ‘who are you kidding?’ Then I discovered I wasn’t the only one, and that wonderful writers like Natalie Goldberg , Kate Grenville, Patti Miller hold out helping hands. Slowly, I gained confidence, and the voice became fainter, only to revive on those bleak days when nothing seems possible. Here is some of the best advice that’s helped me become the writer I am.

Courtesy Harleysville Books Inc

First: Join a Writers’ Group. Better still, if you can’t find the right one, convene  your own. Which is exactly what I did, forming the Randwick Writers’ Group five years ago,and it’s still going strong. It helped me to complete one novel, and gave me the courage to start another.To find out more about my group, see the page ‘Randwick Writers Group convened by Dina Davis’ on the Facebook Pages. Watch this space for some exciting news about RWG!

Continue reading “My Writing Practice – What’s Yours?”



creativity1As most who practice the creative arts know, creativity comes from a place deep within the soul. To reach that place, we need to make space in our lives, and in our minds. As a writer, I can immediately relate to this concept, knowing that I have to make space, both physical and mental, before being able to access the imagination, or the ‘unconscious,’ the source of dreams and fantasies. A clear period of time and an uncluttered space are essentials for creativity. In today’s busy world this is no easy task.

Strategies for creating space include clearing one’s desk, emptying the day of other commitments, and turning off the phone. Other methods are the practice of meditation to clear the mind, and freeing oneself of the ‘baggage’ of the everyday world. (Leave the dishes in the sink!)


There are so many obstacles to creativity. In my case a spell in hospital and subsequent recovery time all but sapped my creative energy, after the assault on my brain from anaesthetic and  Which is why you, my dear readers, haven’t heard from me for so long. Now, two months down the track, my energy is slowly returning. With it is a stirring of that mysterious force that can put me in another realm where the laws of everyday survival, metamorphise into a  freedom and release, where creative writing, painting, or musical composition can take place.

Creativity is defined by Wikipedia as ‘a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible (such as an idea, a scientific theory, a musical composition, or a joke) or a physical object (such as an invention, a literary work, or a painting).’ (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia).

Where does this elusive ‘phenomenon’ come from? Some say only certain individuals can access their creativity. Others believe it resides only in the right side of the brain – a theory of dubious scientific substance. More on this in the next post.

Watching my grandchildren effortlessly produce an intricate. original drawing, or playing a musical instrument, it seems to me that perhaps we are all born with this uncanny ability, but somewhere along the way, we lose the clear joy and freedom so evident in those early years. Where do you think creativity comes from? I’d love to hear your views.



Five non-rules for Writing a Novel

These are some tongue-in-cheek non-rules which are even harder to follow than the real ones! Adapted from Elizabeth Percer’s article, Harper, March 25 2016

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1. Don’t write a novel

Every time I sit down to write a novel, I get next to nothing done.  You may write 79,000 words and realize in the last 1,000 that the novel is not what you want to put out there, but those 80,000 words will inform your next work immeasurably.

2. Keep your publishing dreams in check

Not giving up when the going is ho-hum and uneventful for days or months or years is one of the sweetest joys alive, not because of the tantalizing reward that waits forever in the distance, but because of the complexity and intimacy that develops when kindness, humor, and good intentions are invested in a craft or purpose or person that constantly requires the best of you.

3. Writing doesn’t always look like writing

When I’m trusting myself and not judging a first draft with nasty little tattle-tale voices, I find my patient, daydreaming, curious, wondering selves to be essential and complementary playmates to the one who can sit down at a computer and punch out a couple thousand words.

4. Books do not respond to timelines, spreadsheets, or graphs

Because I am now a writer and not a physicist, I can say that I don’t believe writing always follows the laws of space and time. It’s amazing how much writing can get done in short, optimal windows cushioned by patience, thoughtfulness, self-care, and faith, and it’s equally amazing how little writing gets done during months of “free” writing time hemmed in by expectation, disparagement, self-loathing, and a diet of Snickers and Vitamin Water.

5. Make space for what comes

At least you know how to get comfortable in the field for the next day, and notice as you do that some other, far smaller and stranger creature has come to wait beside you?

6. Procrastinate

Creativity often thrives as a result of the very behaviors that others label as lazy or self-indulgent or some other horrid judgment that might be appropriate were you a cog in a wheel that cannot turn without your constant and unimaginative presence. Creative work demands that you stop hovering, allow your fields to go fallow occasionally. It demands that you procrastinate…..




Writers’ Groups: a waste of time?


Why Join a Writers’ Group?

Many creative people are just not suited to locking themselves away in a room for a year with only a computer and their thoughts for company. Others just don’t have the confidence or endurance to keep on writing in a vacuum.  In a group, you will always have someone to encourage you when you start flagging, or to fix up a stretch of writing you can’t seem to get right. You also need to have really good systems that everybody sticks to religiously. (NSWWC newsletter, May 2016)

For some years now, I’ve been convening a local Writers’ Group. We started with five members, all working towards publication. Two of our members have achieved their goal, and seen their manuscript miraculously transformed into a real book by a prestigious publisher. This is after extensive editing resulted from the group’s feedback. We even have a grammar queen in our midst!

For me, the main benefits have been the wonderful solidarity and support from the group, and the momentum created by having a regular deadline for that next 2000 words or so. Procrastination and writers block couldn’t survive the positive motivation to produce a first draft for the next meeting. Add to that our delicious morning teas, and the warm friendships special to writers who share the highs and lows of the rocky road to publication.


Our Randwick Writers’ Group has the following simple guidelines, which have served us well for the last three years:

• fortnightly (now monthly) meetings on a Wednesday morning, of two and a half to three hours for giving and receiving feedback.
• rotate venues from house to house  – providing a safe and friendly environment in which to share our work.
• submit max 2000 to 3000 words  by the Monday before the meeting, either digitally, or hard copy.
• Option to read aloud one or two pages (it’s helpful to hear your work read by someone else)
• keep feedback constructive, as always. We start with a global review, then focus on what works and what doesn’t, and finish with positive suggestions.

 New Guidelines for Giving and Receiving Feedback

1. The Sandwich Analogy: Say something positive before something negative, then finish on the positive or how to make it better.

2. Give the positives first and say why. Give the negatives next, and say why it doesn’t work for you, and lastly, how you think it could be made better.

3. Take on the task of critiquing with a positive and helpful intention; read carefully, trying to understand the writer’s point of view and creative goal.

4. Consider the basic issues of narrative structure, characterisation, evocative and atmospheric language, vivid setting and believable dialogue.

5. Think carefully about what is not working for you, and what is working, before you offer feedback. Be honest in your feedback; the writer needs guidance, not niceties! 

Guidelines for Accepting Feedback

1. Be prepared to receive negative, as well as positive, feedback.
2. Separate the personal from the product, and see feedback as a valuable opportunity to improve your writing.
3. While receiving verbal feedback, try not to interrupt the speaker.
4. Be ready to respond to negative feedback, after speaker has finished. Give your reasons for your opinion.
5. Rewrite your work in accordance with the feedback received, and see if it is better. If not, stick to your guns!
6. A sure sign that you can write is that you keep going after knockbacks.

 I can certainly relate to this comment from the Blog  ‘Write to Done’:

In my writing life, there’s nothing that’s helped me more than having a circle of writer friends to share work-in-progress with. Setting my own deadlines for finishing a scene or chapter leaves far too much room for renegotiation: committing to a weekly or monthly meeting means I have to meet an external deadline, one that involves other people who’re counting on me to get my work done.

Courtesy Harleysville Books Inc
Courtesy Harleysville Books Inc

Words of Wisdom by Writers for Writers

Even successful writers have self-doubts. Here’s their advice on how to overcome them: can you share your own strategies on how you keep going as a writer? 


Helen Garner:

You’ve got two selves I think. One of them is the deep one that can do the work, and the other one is constantly discouraging you and saying: ‘oh come off it, who do you think you are?’Some days when you feel like this you just have to keep on.

Some days I look at what I’m doing and I think: this is pathetic. How can I have thought this was any good? Some days it’s so awful I have to put my pen down and lie on the bed. I feel I’m going to be exposed. Other days you start a paragraph and suddenly out it comes, all these ideas streaming out of you and you can hardly keep up.

Adapted from ‘Making Stories’ by Kate Grenville and Sue Woolfe, Allen & Unwin, 1993

Kate Grenville:In writing ‘Lillian’s Story’ there were endless doubts. The pleasure reigned supreme whenever the writing was just a private thing that I was doing for myself. If you ask yourself what your book’s about you get all twisted up, and if you ask whether or not it works you will always find fault with it. Getting into the reviewer or critic state of mind makes me timid as a writer. I start to play it safe, and the writing gets strangled with sheer caution.

Adapted from ‘Making Stories’ by Kate Greenville and Sue Woolfe, Allen & Unwin, 1993

Kate wrote 30 drafts of he last book, ‘One Life’, which she calls ‘a Story’, neither a novel nor a memoir. Her breakthrough as a writer came when she stopped being a critic, learned to break with convention, and to tap into the Unconscious (in Freud’s sense of the word).



Garner again: whenever I read Christina Stead I get an electric thrill from the way she breaks all the rules. She can string seven adjectives together in a row. She holds the noun up to to the light and uses the adjectives to make it shine this way and that way. I envy that naturalness,–as if she sat down and out it poured.

I don’t plan very much, because if I do, I start to wield the plan against my instincts, and it acts as a clamp. It becomes a duty, or a trap. It prevents me from being flexible or alert to a fresh possibility.

Linda Jaivin on ‘Truth in Fiction’ Write a novel and the first thing you’ll be asked is if it’s a ‘true’ story. In recent years, readers, reviewers and journalists alike have become increasingly fixated on the question of how much fiction is based on fact. It is as though identifying the biographical or autobiographical elements in a novel provides not just a key to it but validation. Perhaps the better question to ask would be how much fact is based on fiction. Truth in literature, novels and biography alike, is never quite as simple an equation as x=y.

Hannah Kent: To be a good writer you must, first and foremost, be a good reader. How else will you learn what to do? Read as much as possible, as often as possible, and if you read something you like, or something that makes you laugh, or something that moves you in a strange, ineffable way, ask why. Re-read it. Read it aloud. Pay attention to the use of words, and the narrative voice, and the comic timing. If you don’t understand words, splurge on a really great dictionary and look those words up. The more words you know, the greater your control over language.

If there is one quality I have consistently drawn upon to get any kind of writing in print, it was not a gift with language. It was diligence. If you want to write, you have to be diciplined. You have to put the hours in, even when you don’t feel like it. You especially have to learn to write when you are uninspired. You have to take your work seriously, and this means setting aside time for it, preferably on a regular basis. This often means making sacrifices.

What do you think is the most important piece of advice? What works for you? I have italicised the words that most resonate with me: keep going, trust the unconscious, be diligent.


Approaching a literary agent

  1. thumb_Unknown-1_1024Australian Literary Agents’ Association
    Finding an Agent

    I’m a writer. How do I bring my work to the attention of a literary agent?

    First, read the information and advice on this page. You may wish to print it out for future reference. It is about three printed pages long.

    Second, look up a suitable agent from our list of member agents (click on the tab marked ‘Members’, above, to see the list), and phone them to check that they wish to see your work. Phoning first saves time and expense, because some kinds of writing are not of interest to some agents. Screenplays and plays are only dealt with by agents who specialise in that area, for example, and some agents may not wish to deal with children’s writing, and so on.

    Third, if an agent wants to look at your writing, they will generally ask you to post a copy of a one-to-two-page synopsis of your book, together with copies of some pages from one or two sample chapters (up to a maximum of fifty pages total), to their office. They usually do not want to see the whole work at first.

    Please note: send copies, not the originals. Always keep the originals in a safe place. Agents cannot be responsible for loss of material.

    Here are some further points to note. Please read them all carefully — it is very difficult to recover from an inadvertent bad first impression.
    1. When you send work to an agency, you must let the agency know which other publishers or agents have seen any versions of the work. This is very important. If a publisher has already read the work and rejected it, it will be very hard to convince them to read it a second time. It is generally wiser to get an agent before you try a publisher, rather than the other way around.
    2. Your work must be printed out, not hand-written. It must be in the form of a word-processor document, not a document typed on a typewriter. The pages should have double-spaced lines of type, or one-and-a-half spaced lines, to make the pages easier to read. Most agents do not accept single-spaced work, and most publishers have these same preferences. The pages must have ample margins on all sides. ‘Ample’ means more than 2 centimetres.
    3. Keep it simple: please use a simple form of layout and a standard font. Times New Roman is a good standard font. Do not use fancy fonts, and do not use fancy or display fonts for headings or sub-headings. Do not use ALL CAPITALS for headings — it looks as though you are shouting. Do not include graphic images unless they are vital to the basic meaning of the work. Generally, making your typescript look ‘nice’ is counterproductive: the simpler the better. If and when your work is published, your publisher will employ the services of talented and highly-trained graphic designers.
    4. Pages must be numbered. It is also a good idea to print the title of the manuscript on each page, though this is not essential. Make sure that every item you send is clearly labelled with your name and address. With a manuscript, you do not need to put your name and address on every page: just on the front page.
    5. Binding: please don’t. Most agents prefer that the material should be in the form of loose sheets, unbound, in a folder, box or strong envelope.
    6. Make sure that every item you send is clearly labelled with your name and address.
    7. You should enclose a self-addressed envelope for return of the material, large enough to enclose the material, with sufficient postage. Please make a note of this point: it is easy to overlook. When an agent receives a submission without return postage, usually it will not be returned.
    8. Generally, do not send cassette tapes, CDs, or video tapes.
    9. Do not send mail that needs to be signed for, like registered mail or person-to-person mail. Busy agencies can take several weeks to respond to a submission. If you would like to know right away that an agency has safely received your submission, please include (along with your submission) a regular size stamped self-addressed envelope or postcard with ‘acknowledgment of receipt’ written on the back. The agency will post this back to you as soon as they receive your submission.
    10. Electronic mail: most agencies ask you NOT to send manuscript submissions or samples by email unless they specifically request you to do so.
    11. It is generally counter-productive to call in person with your submission: because agencies are very busy and staff are often at meetings out of the office, they find it difficult to accommodate personal visits.
    12. Copyright: there is no real need to write on your material that it is copyright by you. If and when the work is published, the publisher will provide the book with a copyright statement. You do not need to register or publish your work to enjoy the protection of copyright status. Australian law says that any literary work is protected by copyright as soon as it is created, and every agent and every publisher understands this. The presence of copyright statements or copyright symbols on a manuscript is sometimes seen as the mark of an amateur; it is best to avoid them. If you do feel you need the psychological security of a copyright statement, please type a single line at the foot of the title page, like so: Copyright (c) Mary Smith 2005.
    The agency will consider your synopsis and sample chapters and decide whether they wish to look at the full manuscript. This usually takes from four to twelve weeks. Please be patient — agencies get thousands of submissions a year, and their staff are generally busy with other matters.

    Do literary agents charge a fee to look at a manuscript?

    No. The members of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association do not charge a fee to read a manuscript.

    Do I have to pay a fee to join an agency?

    There is no fee to join agencies who are members of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association.

    What fees do they charge, then, to represent an author?

    Most literary agents charge an agency commission on their writers’ earnings. The usual commission is around fifteen per cent, though this can vary. This applies for the life of any contract which an agent negotiates, not for the life of the author!

    Does this mean that if I join an agency, then later wish to leave, I can do so?

    Of course — members of the ALAA do not contractually bind their authors. Authors are free to leave their chosen agency at any time. Keep in mind, though, that an agency commission applies for the life of any contract which an agency negotiates. This means in most cases that as long as a book is in print for which an agency has negotiated the publishing contract, that agency continues to earn their agency commission on the author’s royalties for the sales of that book.

    If I send say a hundred pages for an agent to consider, will they be likely to read them all?

    An agency may look at a few pages, or they may read the whole thing. Literary agents assess manuscripts for their own purposes, and they have to be economical with their time.

    I think I need some guidance to help me improve my work. Will a literary agency read my manuscript and provide this kind of advice?

    If a member of the ALAA decides to represent an author’s work, they may offer detailed editorial advice, depending on the author and the material. Some authors don’t want editorial advice, and some do. Some manuscripts need a lot of editorial work to bring out their best, and because of a widespread world-wide decline in the amount and quality of editorial services provided by publishers, many agents now find that they need to provide this service.

    Do you charge a fee for this editorial work?

    Agents who are members of the ALAA do not charge any fee for editorial advice of this kind: this is part of the ALAA code of practice.

    Other agents (not ALAA members) may offer editorial advice for a fee.

    Also, this site does have a list of freelance professional writers and editors whom you can ask to provide manuscript assessment services for you. Look under ‘Literary contacts’ at the top of this page. They will read your work and provide a written report on its strengths and weaknesses, with advice as to how to better shape your work and therefore improve your chances of finding a publisher. The charge, for an average novel, was about $350 in 2005. This service has no connection with the work of any member agency, and a positive report does not oblige any of our agent members to consider your work.

    There are many other small businesses that offer similar manuscript assessment services, for approximately the same fee. They can usually be contacted through your local writers’ centre. We have a list of writers’ centres on this site, again under ‘Literary contacts’.

    E-mail is easier and cheaper than postal mail.
    Should I submit my work via e-mail?

    Most agents ask you not to send manuscript submissions or samples by email, unless and until you are specifically asked to.
    Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright © Australian Literary Agents’ Association and the individual authors 2004. It is made available here for personal individual use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.

    The URL address of this page is

    Contact: Jenny Darling Associates in Melbourne: Phone 03 9827 3883


Continue reading “Approaching a literary agent”

How to Bring Your Writing to the Next Level

10 HINTS FOR SELF-EDITING (re-blogged from ‘Write to Done’)

The old cliché “practice makes perfect” applies to the editing process. Many best- selling authors note that the art of writing is really the art of re-writing!

Polishing what you write can make all the difference. Take diamonds. In the raw, only experts can spot them. But once they are cut and polished, they sparkle and shine.This is what good editing can do to your writing.But there is a problem.

The old cliché “practice makes perfect” applies to the editing process. Many best-            selling authors note that the art of writing is really the art of re-writing!

The good news is that self-editing is a skill that can be developed.

Sound good? Let’s get to it.

1.Get Some Distance from Your Writing

In many cases, the reason you find it hard to go back over your work is that it   makes you feel bad. It may be that you don’t feel satisfied with your work and   worry about how it will be received. You may also been just plain bored with it! Whatever the negative emotion, a way to face it is to imagine that you are sitting  down to edit someone else’s work. That can help give you the distance to see your  writing from a fresh perspective. And take comfort from the fact that many  successful authors hate their first drafts too!

“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact,    the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first  drafts”.

Anne Lamott

2 Give it a Rest

Another way to get distance from your writing is to leave at least 24 hours from  the time you finish until the time you start your serious editing attempts.Your brain knows your work and so will fill in the gaps where missing words are, or will autocorrect spelling errors without you even realizing it!

When you come back after a break, you will be able to see your writing without     the additional “help” from your brain

3 Change the format

This is an old editor’s trick for catching bad phrasing, double or missing words.  Print it out, read it on Kindle, magnify the screen or change the font and font size. Read your writing slowly out loud. A nice trick is to have Adobe Reader read it to you. The dull computerized voice   will quickly help you pick up the errors your brain omits!

4 Change locations While editing

Self-editing can be a boring process and you may find your attention start to          wander. When you find your attention drifting, Cal Newport, a prolific writer and college professor recommends that you try moving physical locations. He tried this experiment when working on a particularly challenging piece of  work. He found himself moving every half an hour, and each time the move brought about renewed energy for the task.

5 Eliminate distractions

Catching those small, pesky errors requires that you pay close attention to your    work. If you are attempting to multi-task, by juggling between email, Facebook,  and Twitter, they are going to find their way into your final piece. Set yourself small and manageable distraction-free time chunks and focus solely     on editing.

6 Remember Who You Are Writing for

Knowing your audience and holding an image of one reader in mind while you        edit will help you write in a way which is appropriate. This will affect your choice of words and tone. If you are writing a blog post you will tend to be conversational and use contractions – isn’t instead of is not. You’ll speak in the first person and avoid the passive tense.If you’re writing an academic piece, you’ll make different choices. Editing with   one reader in mind will ensure consistency.

7 Start With the Big picture

Start with the big picture – the core message and overall structure- and check for    clarity, consistency and flow. Ask yourself how well the different parts contribute        to the central message or narrative. You may find yourself making big structural changes at the point, even eliminating big chunks of writing, which is why doing a line by line edit at this stage isn’t a good idea. And be sure to be able to answer the question “what’s the point?”

8 Cut Out the fluff

Be brutal! Readers have short attention spans these days, and even if you are writing a novel, a short tolerance for long rambling sentences (I’m not commenting on whether  this is a good thing, it just is a trend). Look for times where you repeat yourself, state the obvious, or add extra information that doesn’t need to be there.

9 Grammar, punctuation and Spelling (gpS

)Many of us have words that we like to use regularly that find their way into every  few sentences. Some of the most common habit words are “so”, “just”,“actually”, “literally”, and “very”. Keep a list of your common offenders and then search and see if you can replace   them without altering your intended meaning.

10 Read Your Work Backwards

The final tip, is to read over your work, starting from the end. This helps to   combat a common pattern where we pay good attention at the beginning, but our attention wanes as we get further into the piece. This way, you can be sure that     your conclusion is as tight and polished as your introduction.

Following these tips will help you become a better writer, help you avoid the        embarrassment of making obvious mistakes, and ensure your work is more   convincing and credible.


Copyright Mary Jaksch, 2015