Thursday, 29 October 2020

The Curious Case of NaNoWriMo and Two Very Different Writers

This image of this writerly couple is © Susan Bruce 2020.

It’s that time of the year again where writers all over the world hit their writing desks on November 1 and start pounding those keys in a frenzied attempt to write 50,000 words in a month. Yep, it’s NaNoWriMo time – National Novel Writing Month – and we’re all invited. All we have to do is to head over to the NaNoWriMo site, enter a project and start creating. 




Image by Hazi54 from Pixabay 

Well it depends. If you are like my husband, the inimitable Marc Z Jeffrey, you will thrive during ‘Nano’ as it is affectionately called. If you are like me, then maybe not. 


Marc amazes me. He can pick a story and run with it. He rarely gets bogged down but seems to able to ride the waves of writer’s block like a world championship surfer on Boomer Beach. If he can’t write one day, he makes up the word count the next. He types about a third faster than me too. There I am, plodding away, and his fingers are racing over the keys. NaNoWriMo is his element.


Marc has ‘won’ Nano five times (he thinks – he’s lost count!). That means that despite working long hours he’s managed to get 50,000 words on paper in 30 days. And that’s not typing the indefinite article 50,000 times!


I asked Marc why he liked Nano and he gave me the following answers:

1.    November is a good time to write because there’s no sport to watch on free-to-air TV. It’s also before Christmas ramps up. December is too hard with parties and finding time to buy great presents for his wife (okay, I added that bit).

2.    It’s a social thing because people here and around the world are writing at the same time. You can join ‘write-ins’ with other authors (in person and online) and feed off their energy in a frenzied Sharknado of writing (okay – I added that last bit too).

3.    Nano gives us a good excuse to write. I mean, we know we don’t need an excuse to be creative, but the rest of the world hasn’t always got that memo. Because Nano is a focus for one month only, Marc finds he faces less judgement from non-writerly people. I must note that no one in this household has that attitude other than our dog (and sometimes the bird who wants to whistle football songs… endlessly). The cat loves it when Marc writes because she gets to sleep on the fleecy blanket in his study. Our dog thinks we should be playing with her all the time and that this writing stuff is a huge waste of time. Some might say she’s a dog, not a person - and so doesn't count as 'people' - but she has a huge personality, so she has to qualify. Let's call her a non-human person (NHP).

4.    It allows him to neglect household chores ­(which in our house means the ‘dishwasher’ breaks down – a LOT!) 

5.    If he succeeds in writing 50000 words he has the best part of a novel written – albeit very roughly.


Image of this non-human person is © Susan Bruce 2020.

When I asked Marc what the disadvantage of Nano was – he said: you have to edit the novel you write! Marc loves editing other people’s manuscripts. He can spot an errant apostrophe at a thousand paces and grab a past participle by the scruff and drag it kicking-and-screaming into the present. But he never seems to get around to editing his own work. The good thing is that there is work ready to polish – but the bad is that you need to actually polish it. 


Harsh, but fair?


But what about me? What is it about Nano that works/ doesn’t work for me?


1.    I don’t care about television sport as much as Marc does. I probably prefer writing in winter because it's cold and wet outside; but November is an okay time as we can set up our computers on the patio on a warm night and have a romantic evening, typing. Yes. I know... 😎😆😂

2.    I love the social aspect of Nano. I’ve made great friends from attending write-ins at cafes. I might not have got much writing done on those days, but I’ve made friends who continue to inspire me in my writing journey.

3.    I don’t need an excuse to write – I can neglect housework anytime! The above mentioned canine NHP sees it as a challenge to disrupt me whenever I sit down to work.

4.    It’s an opportunity to try new things. If you write outback romance but have yearned for years to write a tentacled shape-shifter urban fantasy detective mystery (Christmas themed) then you might be able to use Nano to get this story out of your system. Or maybe it could spawn a whole new direction for your career. Hmm spawn...


Image by M W from Pixabay

The main problems I’ve experienced in Nano are:

1.    A lack of preparation. I never seem to hit NaNoWriMo when I have a story ready to write. On the occasions when I’ve ‘won’ Nano I’ve ended up with a tale with faulty foundations that needs rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. NaNoWriMo seems to suit ‘pantsers’ – those who write by the seat of their pants. These daring souls – like my afore mentioned spouse – have no fear of the unknown (on paper anyway) and can boldly go where they’ve never gone before. Me? I'm not a total plotter - and I try not to lose the plot 😁 - but I like to have a roadmap. If I know where I’m heading, I’m happy to improvise along the way.

2.    I like to edit as I go. Nano also works well for those who like to write and edit later – or not – as the case may be. The NaNoWriMo website encourages you not to edit as you go. However, I like to spiral edit – editing the section I wrote the day before, before writing new stuff. This slows me down but I don’t seem to be able to work any other way.


I’ve decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year (no typing Sharknado for me). I may still sign up and harness some of the collective creative energy Nano generates, but I’m not going to try for 50K words. 


But please, tell me what you are doing. Have you signed up this year? Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? Did it work for you? Why/why not?


Susan J Bruce, aka Sue Jeffrey, spent her childhood reading, drawing, and collecting stray animals. Now she’s grown up, she does the same kinds of things. Susan has worked for many years as a veterinarian, and writes stories filled with themes of suspense, adventure, romance and overcoming. Susan also loves to paint animals. 
Susan won the ‘Short’ section of the inaugural Stories of Life writing competition and won the 'Unpublished Manuscript' section of the 2018 Caleb prize. Susan is the editor of'If They Could Talk: Bible Stories Told By the Animals' (Morning Star Publishing) and her stories and poems have appeared in multiple anthologies. Her e-book, 'Ruthless The Killer: A Short Story' is available on Amazon.comYou can check out some of Susan’s art work on her website


 IMDB 2013, ‘Sharknado’, viewed 28 October 2020, <>. I’ve never actually seen Sharknado but from the preview I really, really want to. It looks hilarious. They made six movies in all.

Monday, 26 October 2020

How to stay friends with your writing partner/s

In the last 12 months I’ve been part of two different writing collaborations. In the first, I’ve been the ghost-writer, pulling together the words to tell fantasy/sci-fi stories created by a pair of lifelong friends. In the second, I’ve been a co-collaborator, co-creator, and co-writer with another children’s writer, creating a series of junior readers for the general market.

While they’ve been completely different collaborations, both have been fantastic to be part of. Previously, I fulfilled the old, romantic stereotype of being the writer who worked alone in his/her garret (my desk was in a laundry for a while). Solo writing has its benefits, but self-motivation can become burdensome, and there is a certain amount of heartache that comes with loneliness. In contrast, working collaboratively can be a real blessing… if it’s done well.

Here are some tips that can ensure your collaboration gets off—and stays off to a good start.

Be on the same page

Right from the outset in both collaborations, my teams been very clear what the goals of the projects are and who the audience for the work is. 

It’s worth having frank discussions with your team at the beginning about what you’re all hoping for, what you’ll be contributing, what priority you’re putting on it and the processes for writing and production. 

It’s important to lay boundaries around the project, particularly in terms of finances and time. What would your exit strategies be? Is there a point at which you’d both say ‘this isn’t working’? 

Even in a small collaboration, it’s worth drawing up contracts or memoranda of understanding about your expectations of each other. Sadly, it's well known for the best of friends to have fallings out, particularly if there is money involved.

Know and value your gifts and skills, and your partner’s gifts and skills

In my fantasy/sci-fi collab, I’m the wordsmith. That’s why I’m in the team, and that’s what I get to contribute. The guys can suggest ways of putting things to me, but in the end, I’m the one who has the control over the words and phrases. On the other hand, they are the ones who direct the plot, the settings, and the action. 

They’ve given me a bit of leeway with adding character depth, and if I think the story isn’t working well, I’m welcome to speak up. But basically, I’m the writer and they are the creators. It’s their story—in my words.

In the junior reader collab, both of us are writers. We have different styles and voices, so we work together to blend into a combined style. I think she’s a better writer than me. She has unlimited clever ideas as well as an excellent sense for story structure and tension and she pays more attention to detail. She’s great when it comes to working with our very talented illustrator and audiobook narrator. Also, (an indispensable talent!) she keeps excellent administrative records. 

What I bring to the team however, is speed, the ability to get stuff done and stay out of the circular trap of chasing perfection, and proof-reading skills. Also, I’m good at wrangling websites and building sales systems. The reason our team works so well is because we know each of us contributes something unique and excellent.

I think you'll agree that our illustrator has added huge value to our junior reader collaboration.

Ditch the ego

There’s no room in a good collaboration for my ego—or yours. Our feelings and pride must come second to the goals of the group. Even my greatest piece of literary prose needs editing. If it doesn’t serve the story or the goals of the collaboration, it should get scrapped. Being able to take editing and criticism with a happy heart is possibly even more important in a team than on your own as a solo writer.

Find a good workflow

This often takes time to set up. In both collaborations, it’s been a case of trial and error to figure out a system that is efficient and streamlined, so we can get the work out there. It’s not smart to be making last minute, panicky changes!

Allow for mistakes

Collaborators aren’t perfect. I include myself in this. I have made plenty of errors in both collaborations and have been blessed by the graciousness of my teammates in overlooking or working through them. Mistakes are a great opportunity to examine what went wrong and straighten things up so it won’t happen again.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Starting out with frank and robust communication is going to serve your collaboration well. I don’t usually like to disagree with people, but there have been times when I’ve needed to say, ‘No, I think that needs changing,’ or something similar. Being up front all the way through eliminates guesswork. And if you’re honest with genuine regard for the other person, you should be able to get through the project without harbouring resentment or bitterness—and have a fantastic collaborative relationship.

Cecily Paterson is a YA and children’s writer. Her new collaboration with Penny Reeve is a junior reader series, 'Pet Sitters', under the pen name Ella Shine with illustrations by Lisa Flanagan. The stories feature best friends, a grumpy talking cat and a variety of... well, interesting animals. 

Sign up here to read the first story in the series and hear more about the series.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Omega Writers Announce the Winners of the 2020 CALEB Awards

By Iola Goulton

On behalf of Omega Writers, I'm thrilled to announce the winners of the 2020 CALEB Awards for unpublished authors.

The award ceremony was held on Saturday night via Zoom. While there was no chocolate, there was plenty of fun and laughter as writers from Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan met to celebrate our achievements over the last year.

Let's introduce our winners!

Adult Nonfiction

Susan Barnes for 10 Blessings of God

Susan Barnes

Susan Barnes has been writing Christian articles for over twenty-five years and has hundreds of devotions online and in print. Susan has a degree in Christian ministry and has been involved in pastoral ministry with her husband since 1993. She is currently the interim pastor of a small church near Albury.

Susan wins a $400 voucher from Cecily Patterson at The Red Lounge for Writers. The Red Lounge for Writers exists to help beginner and intermediate writers become better at their craft. They offer a useful writing blog with tips, examples and advice, as well as their flagship 'Write Your Memoir' online course.

Young Adult Fiction

Jean Saxby for The Craving

Jean Saxby has a degree in science, a Diploma of Education and has taught for over thirty six years, including Drug Education. She is an illustrator, writer and blogger. She loves hanging out with family and friends, enjoys the beach, is interested in early Medieval history, and  downloads far too many books from Bookbub.

Jean Saxby  

Jean wins a $400 voucher from Iola Goulton at Christian Editing Services. Iola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer and freelance editor, specialising in Christian fiction. Visit Christian Editing to sign up for a free two-week email course, Learn to Revise Your Novel.

Adult Fiction

Mindy Graham for To Dance in the Shadows

Mindy Graham writes contemporary Christian romances with characters whose courageous love makes their brokenness beautiful. She consumes books like some people drink coffee. Mindy lives on the east coast of Australia, and when not reading or writing she loves listening to music, baking, and going for walks through the bush or along the beach with her husband and daughter.

Mindy Graham

Mindy wins a $400 voucher from Tim and Nola Passmore at The Write Flourish. They offer manuscript assessments, editing, proofreading, one-on-one mentoring and workshops for writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, Christian inspirational material and academic or technical work. Contact The Write Flourish now to discuss how they can help you add the right flourish to your manuscript.

New Releases

Nola Passmore (writing as Nola Lorraine) has released her debut novel, Scattered, published by Breath of Fresh Air Press.

Kristen Young has released her debut novel, Apprentice, published by Enclave Press. The second book in the trilogy will be published next year. Kristen won the 2018 CALEB Award for the unpublished manuscript that will become the final book in this trilogy.

Here are some of the new releases from members of Omega Writers over the last year:

Other Achievements

There is more to the writing journey than publishing a book. We also celebrated a range of other member achievements:
  • Emily Maurits has signed a contract with Christian Focus publishing for a children's biography of the Christian abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, to be published in 2021.
  • Mindy Graham has finished her first full-length fiction manuscript, and finalled in four writing contests.
  • Anna Kosmanovski has finished the first draft of her first full-length manuscript.
  • Christine Dillon has finished the first draft of her fifth manuscript.
  • Jean Saxby has a website and blog posts with the themes: Live a Better Life and Towards Recovery:, which is a resource for people who are looking for support during COVID 19, want to change their habits or need help with addictions and compulsions—for themselves or their family.
  • David Rawlings became the first Aussie author to win a Christy Awards with The Baggage Handler (in the Debut category).
  • Steph Penny has finished the manuscript for Surviving Childlessness. It is due to be designed and printed in November by Book Whispers. This book has been about four years in the making, so it has been a long wait!
  • Jo-Anne Berthlesen has completed her seventh fiction manuscript, currently titled Down by the Water. It is an historical novel set in south-east Queensland from 1909 to 1926 and loosely inspired by her grandparents’ story.
Congratulations, everyone!

Encouragement Award

The winner of the 2020 Encouragement Award is Steph Penny, partly for being the only person to respond to my request for best blog posts, but mostly for consistently encouraging others through her blog and through social media. Steph shared three blog posts she's proud of that I recommend reading:

  • Fearless at the Cliff-Edge - I wrote this blog early on in the COVID-19 pandemic about being safe in God, and what that means - and doesn't mean.
  • I Wanted A Family - this blog addresses the grief of childlessness and spins it around to show how our eternal family are already with us and awaiting us in heaven.
  • Leaving Legacies - this blog discusses some of the ways I am leaving legacies in the absence of children, and it was recently featured during World Childless Week (14th-20th September 2020).

Steph wins her choice of $200 in editing services from Iola Goulton at Christian Editing Services, or two enrollments in the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge (one for her and one for a friend).

Several other members of Omega Writers chipped into the Zoom call with shout-outs for people who have encouraged them in their writing journey. To find out who and why, click here to watch the replay.

Congratulations to all our winners!

With Thanks

No writing awards would be able to function without the judges, so I'd like to give a big thank you and lots of virtual chocolate for my wonderful team of judges for giving up their time to judge the submissions and provide our entrants with lots of valuable feedback. 

I would also like to thank Susan Barnes and Amanda Deed for organising the awards Zoom call, Adam Collings for patiently and efficiently organising the online entry forms and payment portal (even when I asked at the very last minute), and Judy Rogers for volunteering to send the certificates and trophies to the finalists and winners.

2021 CALEB Award

The 2021 CALEB Awards will open for entries on 1 April 2021, in the following categories:
  • Picture Books
  • Children’s fiction (early reader to middle grade)
  • Young Adult fiction
  • Adult fiction
  • Memoir/biography
  • Nonfiction excluding memoir/biography
Published books with a copyright date of 2019 or 2020 will be eligible to enter.

Monday, 12 October 2020

What Makes a Good Book Dedication?


Over the last few weeks, I’ve been giving out gift copies and review copies of my debut novel. Some readers have told me they really enjoyed the book. However, a few people have also said they loved the dedication. I’m glad they liked it, because I put a lot of thought into it, but it got me thinking about other dedications I’ve read. What makes a good one? What things do you need to consider? Do you even need one?

First, let me make a distinction between a book’s dedication and the acknowledgements. The acknowledgements page is usually the place where you thank people who have helped with the book (e.g. beta readers, editors, publishers, experts you consulted, supportive family and friends, and the nice people who let who stay in their 5-star hotel while doing research on the beach—I wish!).  A dedication sometimes includes a vote of thanks, but it is something more. In a dedication you’re saying, ‘This person is important to me and this book is my gift to them.’

Do You Need a Dedication?

Not necessarily. If you’re a podiatrist and you’ve written a book on treatments for tinea, would your loved ones want you to dedicate the book to them? Maybe, but it could give mixed messages. If you’re a prolific author and you’re up to Book #40, it might be difficult to think of something new to put in a dedication. The choice is yours. Don’t sweat it if you really don’t have a burning desire to dedicate it to someone.

To Whom Do You Dedicate Your Book?

Of course there are no right or wrong answers. Many authors dedicate books to family or friends. Some write dedications to thank people who were particularly involved in the development of the book. Sometimes the content of the book itself may give you some ideas about possible recipients of your dedication. For example, if your heroine has had to overcome a lot of obstacles to succeed in the world, you might like to dedicate it to Aunty Dot who also overcame a lot of barriers in her life. Other times, a more generic dedication might be warranted (e.g. to readers in general or to those who have had to grapple with the issues discussed in the book). Some Christians also dedicate their books to God, but I’ll say more about that a bit later.

Do You Need to Ask Permission to Dedicate a Book to Someone?

It depends. You might want to keep it as a nice surprise. That was the case with me. I wanted to dedicate the book to my parents, so I kept it secret until they could hold the book in their hands and read the dedication for themselves. However, I was also confident that my parents would be pleased. It might be worth running your dedication past the recipient ahead of time if (a) you don’t know them very well, (b) you consulted them in a professional capacity, (c) the book contains sensitive material, or (d) you’re thinking of putting some personal information in the dedication that may not be public knowledge.

Should Dedications in Christian Books Be Different?

We could have a big discussion here about what makes a book ‘Christian’. Some have obvious Christian content, while others may have a more subtle Christian message or worldview. It’s not my intention here to open that whole can of worms, but one issue of difference might be that a Christian author has to think through whether they include God in their dedication or not.

Terri Blackstock typically dedicates her books to ‘the Nazarene’, which of course is a reference to Jesus. Carolyn Miller dedicated The Elusive Miss Ellison to Joshua and ‘the Giver of the Ultimate Gift’. Karen Kingsbury also combined family and God in her dedication to Someone Like You:


Dedicated to my husband, David, and our beautiful family. The journey of life is breathtaking surrounded by each of you. And every minute together is time borrowed from eternity. I love you more than words. And to God, Almighty, who has—for now—blessed me with these.

Some authors also include a scripture. For example, Jeanette O’Hagan dedicated Akrad’s Children to her husband, but concluded with a paraphrase from Song of Songs 8:6-7: ‘Drenching rivers love’s flame will not quench.’

I thought long and hard about this question when I was writing my dedication, but I decided to thank God in my acknowledgements instead.

And finally, I would like to thank my Heavenly Father, who planted the first seed of an idea and watered it as it continued to grow. ‘You are He who took me from my mother’s womb and you have been my benefactor from that day. My praise is continually of You’ (Psalm 71:6b, AMP).

Tips for Writing a Dedication

It can be short and sweet, but think about the wording. Apart from the cover and title, this is the next impression someone will have of your book. I always feel a little disappointed if I read a beautifully-written, well-plotted book, but the dedication just says something like ‘For Anne’. Really? After 80 000 words of beautiful prose, you couldn’t think of anything better to write?

Think about the mood you want to convey. Humorous? Heartfelt? It’s often a good idea to match the mood of the book with the tone of the dedication. If you’ve written a gut-wrenching book about childhood trauma, it’s probably not a good idea to write a flippant dedication. However, a touch of humour can also show the reader something of your personality. What do you want readers to think or feel when they read your dedication?

Can you somehow tie the dedication to the themes in the book? This isn’t always necessary, but it’s a nice touch if relevant. For example, in her book Unnoticed, a revisioning of the Cinderella story in an Australian historical context, Amanda Deed dedicates the story ‘to lovers of fairy tales and of happy ever afters’.

Don’t leave it until five minutes before your deadline. A good dedication takes some thought. Put the same effort into it as you would a beautiful passage in your book.

Finally ...

Do you write dedications for your books? What dedications have you read that left an impression on you? I’d love to hear your examples. Here’s what I wrote in my inspirational historical novel Scattered:

For my parents, Lex and Dawn Wildermuth, who’ve nurtured me from infancy; 

and my English birthmother, Monica Hope Sewell (Monny), who died ten years before I started searching for her. 

You have all helped make me the person I am today, and I am forever grateful.

Author Bio

To find out more, please visit her author site:

She’d also love to connect with you on social media:







Thursday, 8 October 2020

CWD Member Interview – MP Ashman

Most Thursdays this year we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals. 

Today’s interview: MP Ashman 

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from. 

I have always wanted to be an author, ever since Primary School, and never really pursued anything else. I was born in Maryborough but have spent most of my life in Toowoomba. I don’t mind watching football on TV, but I would rather do archery as a sport (which I do). 

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc). What do you write and why? 
Although I generally write whatever comes into my head at the time, my present project is a series called “Time Twins,” about a part of twin sisters who are not really sisters at all. They are, in fact, the same person, with one of the girls originating from a parallel universe. As a side effect of their existence in the same universe, the two girls develop psionic powers, which they use to great effect in defense of others, as well as themselves. Of course, there are also negative consequences, which will be further explored as the series progresses.

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it? 

Although only the first book in the series is currently published, a couple of civilians have given favourable reviews. I hope everyone gets the chance to enjoy these characters as much as I enjoy writing them, especially as their story is further built upon. 

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? 

What helps you the most? At present I spend most of my time writing, usually from around 8:30 in the morning to 15:00 in the afternoon, with a half hour break at 10:20 – or thereabouts – and another at 12:00, to around 13:00. As to the writing itself, I will usually go with whatever comes to mind at the time, though with my current series I do have semi-detailed plans, just to make sure the essential elements remain consistent throughout each book (there are around 20 titles to follow the one currently on offer. 

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why? 

To be honest, I have never really read any. I just usually follow my own instincts, which works well enough for the writing process. It’s publicity and marketing where I experience serious drawbacks 

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be? 

Adele Jones, for suggesting this opportunity. 

Question 7: What are your writing goals for this year? How will you achieve them? 

The goal for this year is to complete the rewrite of the second novel in the series, though it seems unlikely that will happen, as there is a lot of work to do, and never seems to be enough time. Hopefully, it will be completed by the early half of 2021.

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?

I think that depends on the subject of the book. In the present series, for instance, I see the main characters as being Christian, though faith is not the focus of their story. But, seeing as how the focus of the series is about achieving individuality when you’re no longer one of a kind, I do expect that God will come into it (so to speak), at some point in the narrative. Other than that, I try to avoid using bad language more than necessary or having anyone other than a villain expressing sinful behaviour.

MP Ashman was born in Maryborough Queensland in 1985, but the family soon moved to Toowoomba, where Ashman has spent the majority of his life. Discovering a love of writing at eight years old, it was perhaps due to books such as The Neverending Story that his initial interest was in fantasy fiction. Many years later, however, he began to carve out his niche in science fiction with the initially self-published offering Time’s Child (in 2014). However, this and other self-published titles were withdrawn from the market in 2016, with a view to seeking traditional publication. The main characters of the Time Twins series were initially conceived in 2003, while Ashman was still at school, but it would not be until many years later that they would find their voice and their story. Ashman continues to live in Toowoomba with his family, including his cat, Prue. 

Monday, 5 October 2020

Just Keep Pumping

In her bestseller The Artist's Way Julia Cameron recommends a routine she calls 'morning pages.' Each day, we're urged to set aside a block of time for free flow writing and honour the commitment no matter how we feel. Whether our writing seems like pearls of wisdom or trite rambling, it must go down on paper. When we're in a writing slump or a tired mood, it's easy to write such a habit off as a colossal waste of time. Why add to the glut of writing out there when we have nothing to say?

I always gave the nod to Julia's advice without being hyper-vigilant about it. Common sense tells me it's like keeping the pump primed, thinking of those old outdoor water pumps from former generations. If we go through the motions of cranking the handle a couple of times daily, it'll help prevent squeaking and stiffness from setting in. The same goes for that hardened plug of tomato sauce near the neck of the bottle, which has been exposed to air over a long period of time. If we simply give it a regular shake and squeeze, it has no time to congeal to something that's hard to budge.

It makes logical sense to think that our creative brains run on the same principle. Sure, we also like to believe that they're subject to wonderful phenomena like divine inspiration, but I've noticed that the guy God tends to inspire is the one who always has his pen or keyboard handy. 

At last I've read some interesting evidence to back this principle up; not with morning pages as such, but with making sure I squeeze in some daily writing time. In his book Atomic Habits, author and journalist James Clear recounts an experiment that took place in a class of undergraduate photography students. Half the students were assigned to a 'quantity group' and instructed to just keep churning out photos. Their assessment would be based on the sheer number they managed to submit by the end of semester. So those guys and gals rushed off to start snapping their trigger happy fingers whenever and wherever they could.

The others were assigned to a 'quality group.' The teachers told them they didn't care about numbers, but just wanted one or two of the most awe-inspiring and professional photos they could manage. So this crowd walked away thoughtfully to start researching techniques, gaining a solid knowledge base and waiting for ideal conditions. 

The staff were quite surprised themselves to find that the best quality photos consistently came from the quantity group. It wasn't just that the quality group sabotaged themselves by overthinking and building perfectionist mindsets, although this certainly came into play. The quantity group simply expanded their skill sets quicker by vital practice. Even though they were focused on sum total rather than excellence, the process of actually getting out there and having a go over and over again ensured that an admirable, sound quality was a welcome pay-off.   

I've sometimes found myself a bit bogged down in recent years, what with moving house, kids growing older, doing a bit of study, and most recently the anxiety of our Covid era. I'd decreased my own personal blog output from two or three to just one a week, which felt sensible. But it also made it easier to keep drafts sitting there for months, just because I balked at the thought of facing them. I did the same with the creative projects I was working on. Just because there was no urgency and nobody to care whether they appeared or not made it easy to slow right down. That hasn't really been the blessing I expected it to be.

From here on out, I'm committing myself to working on some writing every day, no matter what the result turns out to be. Because the notion that 'just dashing something off' is a slapdash approach might be one of the biggest lies we feed ourselves. What if it's really what gives us our impetus and our well-oiled edge? 

I'd love to know how all of you have faced this issue too. We are the Christian Writers Dowunder. (And some of us are also artists of various kinds.) How is your writing or art routine going? 

Paula Vince is a South Australian author and former homeschooling mother of three children. She lives in the beautiful coastal region of Adelaide. Her novels include the award-winning Best Forgotten and Picking up the Pieces, along with Australia's only collaborated Christian fiction novel, The Greenfield Legacy. She regularly blogs about matters related to books and literary appreciation on her own blog, The Vince Review. 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Writer Burnout: How I am accepting that I'm not a machine


I write for a living.

I also write for fun.

This has caused a few problems.

When you write during your day job and free time, you never get a break from the keyboard. Unsurprisingly, writing my fiction has been a difficult task for me, because it felt like work. But over the years, I came up with a system that enabled me to handle that.

When I was a sub-editor for a newspaper, I worked nights and wrote my novels in the morning. Because all I did at work was editing, I was using different mental muscles -- writing my novels, while difficult, was doable.

But things changed when I decided to switch careers, hopping from journalism to the glitzy world of digital marketing. I am a content strategist, and I spend my days writing, editing, analysing data and thinking about new content to create for the companies I work for.

The effort of trying to make my career change a success and trying to build a fledgling indie author career at the same time, took a toll on me.

I have not written a new book for nearly two years.

Writer’s block aka writer’s burnout is real. Don’t let the gurus tell you otherwise.

Crispy on the inside and outside

First, I tried to write at the fringes of my day. I would stare at the blank screen early in the morning or after work, hoping something would come out. It usually didn’t work and what words that emerged felt like tiny droplets squeezed out of the dry, hard rock that my brain had become. 

It didn't make me look forward to writing. In fact, it did the opposite, I began to put off writing. It used to be fun - now, it’s just work. Worse, sometimes it was torture.

I blamed myself. Why was I so lazy, so unmotivated? My friends said that my eyes would light up when I talk to my novels. But if my novels meant so much to me, why couldn’t I write them? I felt like a defective machine. 

Then, I stumbled on Becca Syme’s series of podcasts on YouTube - the one about writer burnout was a revelation.

The road to writer burnout

In the indie publishing word, the word “hustle” reigns supreme. Get your butt in the chair. Write 10,000 words a week. Write a novel a month. But Becca was not about that. 

According to Becca, everyone is gifted with certain strengths. If your writing process is not aligned with your strengths, it often results in burnout.

She also says that people write in different ways. They ideate in different ways. And we should not blindly follow a publishing guru’s prescription on how to “write better”, because what worked for them may not work for us.

“When burnout is the problem, no amount of discipline is going to get the writing to happen again. It has to be a recalibration or a filling of the tank or a rest. There is no other fix,” she wrote in her book, Dear Writer, are you in writer’s block?

Image by ergoneon from Pixabay

Forgiving myself for being human

I believe part of the reason why I suffered from writer burnout was because I blamed myself for not being able to level up as fast as the superstars of the indie world. You know those - the one-book-a-month wonderkids that earn six-figure incomes. 

I used to have an indie author acquaintance who once told me this: “I have a full-time corporate job and I still write a book a month, you have absolutely no excuse!”

It turns out that I do.

My brain worked differently from hers and comparing myself to her was futile.

In the last two years, although I didn’t produce anything new, I learned ways to realign my strengths to my writing processes:

Guard my emotional reserves

Due to my highly empathetic nature, I tend to get blocked when things are not stable in my life or in the world, or when I'm going through emotional turmoil. All my mental energy would go to maintaining my emotional stability. There'd be no energy left for my writing. 

These days, to protect my mental reserves, I avoid unnecessary stimulation and negativity. I write when the day is young and the pressures low. Keeping this up takes a lot of discipline, but it has made a difference in my life.

Give myself time to dream

I prefer to “think over” a story in my head for some time before putting it on paper. Sometimes, for months! I know a story is ready to be written when I can picture it vividly in my head - as if it’s a movie playing in my head. So I have learned not to pressure myself to write, but to dream more instead.  

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Seek inspiration to refill my well

One concept I discovered that made me go, “Aha!” was that the ideas for fiction doesn't come from some magical void with inexhaustible resources. 

Writing nonfiction is very different from writing fiction writing. When you write nonfiction, you have references such as interviews, research and more. That’s why it’s often easier to write non-fiction.

However, when you write fiction, you're literally recreating something out of nothing. And that takes a different kind of mental energy. But saying that we create something out of nothing is not quite right either. 

Fiction is the culmination of the observations, insights, information and inspiration that we absorb in our day-to-day lives. So, what happens when you stop this flow? Your resource for your fiction dries up.

Ask yourself: What makes you go, “Oh gosh I need to write that?” 

What makes your imagination go, “Wow!” 

For me, filling my creative well meant watching movies and television shows - experiencing stories. (I wrote one of my short stories, Blood of Nanking, after watching the Christian Bale movie, The Flowers of War.)

Music also spurs my mind to imagine amazing scenes for my books.

In the last two years, I've been so busy with my career transition that I stopped reading books and watching television -- at least things that were not related to improving my career. 

Revitalising the creative wells

So where do we go from here? 

One of the first things I did was to forgive myself for not being a machine. 

That’s a funny way to put it, but yes - we often get angry that we are human being that’s can’t write like machines! (Incidentally, I did come across a how-to-write book called Be a Writing Machine. Hah!)

I also try to stop guilting myself to write.  

I have learned to accept that this is where I am right now. I am literally building my career from the ground up again and that takes a lot of energy and I shouldn't expect miracles from myself.

I also decided to take one tiny step at the same time towards making my indie publishing dreams a reality.

I am now at the editing stage with two of my novels. I'm so close to completion that at times, I want to rush towards the finish line, but I tell myself: Edit one chapter a day - that's all I can manage now. And if I can’t meet that schedule, I'm not gonna blame myself. 

I am also curbing my tendency to jump into new, shiny projects. I have been a little obsessive about my blog because, perhaps, I felt so paralysed with my fiction that I wanted to feel successful in something creative. My blog was a convenient outlet and writing non-fiction was easy for me. I think that’s great, but I tend to use it as a way to distract myself from my problems with my novels.

But best of all, I’m now watching more television without guilt, knowing that I'm actually filling my well. I'm taking walks. I'm trying to dream about my characters -- perhaps I will try free writing again; it worked well for me last time. (Free writing is where I just let my mind wander and my hands type whatever my brain dreams about.), 

If you are struggling with writer burnout or writer’s block, please realise that it's not your fault. It's not because you're lazy or unmotivated.

Perhaps your writing process is not aligned with your strength. Maybe something’s happening in your life right now and you need to focus on that. 

We are humans, not machines, and we have to accept that we can't do everything -- no matter how much you want it.  

Refill your well, friends. Well-being comes first.

Elizabeth Tai writes for profit and pleasure. She blogs about personal finance and simple living at and you can learn more about her fiction at