1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.
5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10. Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualisation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
Publishing News and Blues
• Awards Season: As I’m sure anyone with a passing interest in literature and/or feminism is aware, the inaugural Stella Award, celebrating great books by Australian women, has been awarded to Carrie Tiffany for Mateship With Birds. In other congratulatory news, the Miles Franklin shortlist is out (with an all-female cast) with the winner to be announced in June, and for the second time in its history the Vogel award goes to: No one. Step up your game, young writers!
• Stop the TOC: O’Reilly Media, who refer to themselves as a “technology transfer company, have decided to no longer continue the forward-thinking Tools of Change conference. For seven years the event allowed people from all areas of publishing to connect and correspond on all the changes that have been a result of digitization. Instead O’Reilly will focus on Atlas, a “tool for collaborative writing, one-touch publishing in all formats and an interactive online reading platform that takes full advantage of the digital realm.”
How to Read and Why: Before one can write, one must read—and prolifically. In this book renowned educator, Harold Bloom, takes you through his most revered poems, short stories, plays and novels. With each he asks “Why read this?” and gives a revelatory response. If you’re in a reading slump, or need some inspiration, this is the book to do it.