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Joanne Phillips

A Writers Journey

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A to Z challenge 2013

A to Z Reflections

Today is the day when all the lovely people who participated in the A to Z Challenge 2013 give a great big collective sigh and say … thank you! Thank you to the wonderful organisers of the event – find out more about them here – and thank you most of all to everyone who commented on my blog – or just visited and didn’t comment – during April.

A to Z survivor

This isn’t just more navel-gazing – the point of the reflections post is to think about what I learned from the challenge, how it might have benefitted me and any aspects that bothered me. (You can read other reflections here.) Well, as I mentioned on Y, I learned that I could write every day, and that little 500 word sections add up to a whole body of work. I learned that there are more fantastic bloggers out there than I can count, and I’ve made some great new friends along the way. I also learned that I really do have something to say about everything 😉 The only thing that bothered me was that there were so many blogs to visit – it was impossible for me to see them all! I managed about 300 I think, and I didn’t comment on them all. But I feel privileged to be part of this enormous blogosphere, and I would definitely encourage anyone – especially new bloggers – to take part next year. I probably won’t be, as I have a punishing work schedule planned for next spring (but you never know …)

From Monday normal service will resume, with a very special Music Monday post. (What do my cover designer, Chris Howard, and Hawaii 5.0. have in common? You’ll have to come back Monday to find out.) Have a great weekend, bye for now x

Z is for … Zen?

So, it’s the very last day of the A to Z Challenge and I’m really going to miss these posts. And it really has been a challenge, thinking of stuff to say every day about the arbitrary topics I set myself at the start! I’ve surprised myself by finding that I really do have something to say about almost anything 😉 – but today’s topic – originally Zoo – has me a little stumped.

Back in March, when I was planning a trip to the zoo for my birthday (more for my daughter’s birthday, actually), I had an idea that this post could include pictures of our trip, maybe a funny anecdote or an idea for creating characters around animal characteristics. Now that just seems like too much of a stretch, plus there aren’t any photos – plus, I don’t really like the zoo!

There’s something so tragic about all those magnificent animals confined to tiny environments. Sure, the spaces are much bigger than they used to be, but it’s still a poor substitution for the wild. And the whole “it’s for conservation” line that gets rammed down your throat the entire time you’re there makes me wince – if it wasn’t for zoos, for people’s determination to bring the world to their own doorstep in Victorian times, would there be such a pressing need for conservation?

Well, I don’t want to get into all that here – I don’t know enough about it for one thing. Zoos just make me icky, is all, so today I’m going to ditch the Z for zoo and instead go for … Zen!

Yes, after a month’s worth of blogging nearly every day I think Zen is a fitting place to end. Zen Buddhism is all about achieving enlightenment and living in the present, and meditation is a central part of its practice. Have you ever tried to meditate? I found it incredibly hard, and I know it’s not supposed to be hard. Many years ago I had a boss who considered himself to be a bit ‘zen’, and whenever I said I would try to do something, he’d reply: ‘Don’t try to do it, Joanne. Just do it.’ Infuriating though he was, he kind of had a point. Sometimes trying can really get in the way of doing. Saying you are going to try and do something starts a process in your brain: this will be an effort; it must be planned for and worked for; there’s a possibility I won’t be able to do it. But if instead of deciding to try something you just did it, just made a start … well, in some circumstances the results might be surprising.

I’m going to go forward from this challenge with a new attitude. I feel incredibly lucky to have made so many new blogging friends. I feel empowered by the knowledge that I can write every day – without even ‘trying’. I feel grateful for every single comment I’ve had, and I’m focussing on the present right now – at 10.06 on the 30th April 2013 – to take stock of exactly where I am. And it’s all good 😉

Lonely Monkey Ape at Zoo
Where are all my friends? (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Y is for Yawn …

Welcome to the penultimate day of the A to Z Challenge – I’ll be quite sad when it’s over. (I bet you’ll all be relieved!) Today’s topic for Y is Yawn. When I did my list of topics way back at the end of March, I figured I’d be getting a bit tired by now, even a little bored perhaps. I thought Yawn might be a good way of representing things that go on too long – series in crime fiction, maybe, or those blasted chain-blog things. The A to Z Challenge …

A2Z-2013-BADGE-001 [Large]

But no! I’m not tired or bored – I’m not even flagging! I’ve really enjoyed blogging every day, and I have met some lovely new people through this blog and through visiting other blogs during the event. I’ve proved to myself that I can blog every day – and what that means only hit me at the weekend. It means I can write every day!

OK, I’ve scheduled some of these posts. I wrote some of them in batches of 2 or 3 because I knew I’d be away from my desk for a day or two. But I still wrote them. Averaging 500 words a post, that’s 13,000 words! Not bad for something I just squeezed in around everything else. This month included Easter, the school holidays and tons of indexing work. I’ve had a tummy bug and other things going on that took me away from my work. I’ve been helping a friend format and typeset a new book – but still I managed to write 13,000 words this month. (Or I will have by tomorrow.)

You might say it’s a shame those 13,000 words weren’t towards my novel, but I don’t look at it like that. All writing is good writing – it’s exercising the muscle. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t enjoy it, and perhaps this was a month when I couldn’t have focussed on a novel anyway. But I’ve still been writing, and interacting with readers, and making new friends. I’d call that a success.

I’d love to hear from fellow A to Zers today – how are you feeling as you near the end of the challenge? I’ll be visiting as many blogs as I can today, saying hello (or should that be goodbye?) and leaving comments. And I’ll look forward to seeing you all here again tomorrow for the very last A to Z post – Z!

X is for X factor

Not the X Factor – terrible TV programme where people are either ridiculed or artificially set up for a lifetime of dubious celebrity. My X factor is more about the original meaning of the word, which according to my dictionary is:

a quality that you cannot describe that makes someone very special

Or something, I suppose. Anyway, I chose this topic for X today so I could talk about that elusive X factor in fiction. What lifts one piece of writing above another? Why do some books stay in our heads long after reaching The End, while others we are hard-pressed to remember. I worked in libraries for years and it always astonished me how many readers would take out the same book over and over, not even realising they’d read it before. People would make comments like: ‘I got halfway through and realised I read this last year,’ or ‘I read so many books it’s hard to tell them apart.’

Really? This amazes me. Have you ever got a book out of the library and seen a page number circled? This is just one of the techniques people use to remind themselves that they’ve read a particular book. Mrs Bishop, say, might always circle page 65 – this also helps when Mr Bishop pops to the library for her, because all he has to do is skip to page 65 and if there’s no circle there he’s on to a winner.

Well, anyway … back to the X factor in fiction. Of course it should be something that sets the book apart enough that readers actually remember reading it, but also it’s more than this. It’s something that touches you deeply, resonates on many levels at once, sticks in your head like a catchy song. But how do writers achieve this, exactly?

If you’re hoping for a step-by-step guide you’re going to be disappointed, I’m afraid. I’m only just starting out on my writing journey, and if I had the answer to that question I’d be selling millions of books a week, not tens. But I do have the following thoughts on the topic which I’d like to share with you:

  • The X factor will be different things for different readers, and even then may change over time
  • Often the X factor will come from a particular character or setting – it’s not always about plot
  • What the author thinks is special about their book isn’t always what the reader will pick up on
  • Trying too hard to give your writing the ‘edge’ just doesn’t work – it’s a magic formula, often out of your control

Writers who are going through the process of submitting to agents and publishers know all about the X factor – they know it’s what agents are looking for, and they also know that these same agents won’t know what ‘it’ is until they see it. Those in the publishing industry who are trying to find the next big thing are really aimed to second-guess an X factor for the reading masses – what will ignite their imagination? What will take off and make a fortune? These break-out novels are rare beasts, but they’ve often been picked up because an agent or editor found something in it – a quality that you cannot describe – that they simply loved.

Right, over to you – what do you think creates the X factor in fiction? Which books have done it for you, and stayed in your memory long since?

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