In this sixth episode of the Gracewriters Podcast, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss how to work out what to write. First we must decide the form of writing we will explore, from books to blogs to poetry, journalism, copywriting and more. Then we need to generate a stockpile of ideas for our writing.
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Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, accredited editor, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, author of sweet romance
- Donita Bundy, author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- Ways different writers choose the form of writing they will explore.
- Where to get ideas for different types of writing.
- The role of faith and prayer in creativity.
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- What questions bother you in your own writing practice as a gracewriter?
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com.
Belinda Pollard: Welcome to episode 6 of the Gracewriters podcast. How do we decided what to write? I’m Belinda Pollard, I’m the founder of Gracewriters, I’m an author, editor, speaker and blogger. I’ve been helping people write and publish books for more than 20 years. You can find links to my books and websites at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Joy, I live in Brisbane in Queensland and I write sweet romance and you can find me on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy and I’m a writer, a blogger and a creative writing teacher. You can find out all about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: How do we decide what to write? It’s one of those vexing questions that so many writers face. There’s the smaller project issues of what to put in a particular project, how to get ideas for a particular project. And there’s those bigger questions, what form do we write: non-fiction, fiction, poetry, screen plays, blogging, copywriting, freelance journalism. There are so many different ways that we can use our gift of writing. Alison, what have you discovered for us in your research about this issue of how we decide what to write.
Alison Joy: I think first up, it’s important that people realise, or people who write realise, that if you’re going to write something it’s going to be something that you’re going to spend a lot of time on, so it’s got to be something you really like. Or actually more than like, probably love it, because liking it will probably get you to maybe the first 50 pages. You’ve got to have something about the plot, the character, maybe the setting that you really love that will help you get through those rough times, those times when you doubt yourself and you doubt your ability. And you probably will have false starts along the way. You might try a few different forms of writing before you find something that you’re happy with and something that clicks.
Belinda Pollard: And I think that’s okay too, to have false starts. It’s encouraging for people if they realise that probably a lot of the writers they admire have tried various things before they decide exactly which path they are going to take. Would you agree?
Alison Joy: Yes, definitely. And then you’ve got some that are so talented they have so many different forms of writing that they dabble in.
Belinda Pollard: Yes! Yes, I was actually looking for a Georgette Heyer book the other day and she’s written so many different genres. How am I supposed to find the genre that I want in the mess that is the many, many books on Amazon? This is not a problem that my readers are facing currently, although it may be in the future. Donita, what do you think?
Donita Bundy: Yes, I think, as Alison said, it has to be something you love and because we are all so different we all have different loves. I’m traditionally not someone who stays in the one spot for very long, geographically or even job wise, so I tend to jump around because that’s what takes my interest. But I must admit, when I started writing my novel it was something that had been with me for many, many years and it had been churning away for a very long time. So it’s a matter of, I think part personality, life experience, what we’re used to and the different way that we enjoy communicating, I think is how it will come out.
Belinda Pollard: How do we decide what form to write? My experience: I studied journalism straight out of high school, I learnt editing, I was very involved in the world of words and later on when I wanted to do freelancing and deciding what formats to write, I tried some freelance journalism that was quite difficult actually – to make a living doing freelance journalism – because they want to pay quite small rates. But I also explored the possibility of doing some freelance work for Scripture Union, a publisher in the UK who was publishing Bible devotionals. So I had a hunt around, I found the connections, I found someone who knew someone who knew someone who could introduce me to the person that I could send some of my writing to and they came back to me and said, “Let’s give you a shot. Try doing this one.” I had a very tight briefing document that I had to follow so there wasn’t that much opportunity for my ideas to be coming from outer space for this one because I was commissioned, and I was briefed, and I had to follow what I was asked to do.
I write crime novels because I love reading them. I wrote a humorous memoir about my dog because my aunt said, after I’d included funny stories each year about this ridiculous dog and probably actually more honestly my ridiculous behaviour surrounding the dog, she said to me, “You really should write a book about that dog.” So I did.
My non-fiction, I write a whole variety of non-fiction from blogging and stuff that’s developed out of my workshops that I give to writers. Really just things that I have thought might be useful to people.
So, what about you guys, what sorts of forms have you ended up writing, or would like to explore, or are thinking about in the future, and how did you arrive at the process of deciding, yes, I’ll write this thing.
Alison Joy: Okay, for a start I’m going to segue a little bit, my son is also a writer, and he dabbles in a lot of things. He has one particular thing that he likes, but he has done flash fiction competitions, he’s written for a project we have here in Brisbane called the Short+Sweet Festival, which means 10-minute plays. He’s also done full length plays, he’s working on screen plays, he’s working on TV series. He’s got all these ideas so it’s like where does he go, where does he go, where does he go? Me, I’m just boring, I like to read romance so that’s what I write.
Belinda Pollard: That’s not boring, that’s great.
Alison Joy: No, I mean I don’t have a huge range of, “I’ve got to write this and I’ve got to write that.” I’m attempting blogging but I’m not quite sure that that’s succeeding at the moment but, hey I’m giving it a go.
Belinda Pollard: I know that you’re someone who has written virtually from the beginning, aren’t you Alison, even from when you were a child. Was it romance novels back then? What did you write back then?
Alison Joy: No. My goodness. I’ve got one called The Adventures of Super Mutt! We didn’t actually have a dog, when we were growing up, but our neighbours had one and I based it on the neighbour’s dog. Probably short stories, I liked writing them, I don’t know they were as successful as I’d hoped, but…
Belinda Pollard: Fiction, a love of fiction would you say.
Alison Joy: Yes. Yes, and I did the whole teenage angsty poetry phase too. So, I’ve got a bunch of those I’ve found recently, so I went, “Woohoo!”
Belinda Pollard: Perhaps you need to publish them in a book.
Alison Joy: I don’t know.
Belinda Pollard: Or not. As you choose!
Alison Joy: And the other thing I always used to do was, if I had a particular TV show that I liked, and I’m not naming any because that will date me significantly, but if I didn’t like it I’d just write my own version.
Belinda Pollard: That’s interesting.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Alison Joy: Or I would cast myself in one of the roles.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic, I like that. What about you, Donita, what sort of forms have you found yourself writing?
Donita Bundy: From an early, early age I was drawn to poetry, rhyming text more than anything. I just really loved playing with words and then journaling. I went through many years of difficult times, really difficult times and someone suggested I journal, and I did. And so I did that every day for years. And then when I came to writing my book, my first – I like to say my first, it is my only one so far. And the inspiration for that came from dreams that I had since I was nine. So, I had characters, I had plots, I had stories, I had context that had been brewing away that I’d know intimately for so many years. But then when I wrote my manuscript and I sent it off to a few agents, I got someone who was really interested, and they said, “Yes, I’d love to work with this. This is what you need to do. You need to go and make a website, write a blog and do all the other things. Do some public speaking and all this kind of thing.” And I was like, what do you put in a website and a blog when you’re no one with nothing in the writing world.
So, then the next thing was, well what do you blog about. So I, having a Bachelor of Ministry and having experience in the church, having experience as a chaplain, I thought, well the thing that I know best about is Christian topics, and life in the Christian world and how our faith translates into life. And so, even though it wasn’t a writing blog I thought well at least I’m practising writing and the discipline of writing regularly and short passages, and so that was a really good skill. Then part of that process that I was suggested in the public speaking turned into what is now me teaching creative writing in high school. I have two classes a week and of course, I don’t ever ask my kids to write something that I haven’t written myself, and so we travelled through short stories, whole different genres. I do a unit of poetry and we have competitions that are open around Brisbane, that the kids can enter in. So, I’m writing with them and for them, as examples and I get to experience a whole heap of writing because of what I was first advised to do. Now, it’s amazing, nothing helps your writing better than teaching it and writing regularly. So as a result I’ve got my novels, I’ve got my blogs, I’ve got poetry, I’ve got short stories and I’ve just started journaling again because there is just never enough time to do everything so I just add more.
Belinda Pollard: Sorry, Alison.
Alison Joy: I was an early childhood teacher, when I was going through college, every time we had our English subjects, one of the lectures made a point of always reading children’s books and because I’ve mainly taught in the pre-school area I was interested in children’s literature. So I guess I’ve got a few – see I’m not totally romance after all – I’ve got a few children’s picture book ideas stowed away in the bottom draw too.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. What would be your tips for someone who is longing to get into writing in a bigger way than perhaps just in their job or whatever they’re currently using writing for. They want to get into, perhaps, some more creative style of writing or explore new opportunities. Any tips or suggestions for what to start with? Perhaps a journal?
Donita Bundy: No, I would say that I think that adage, write what you know, is really helpful. Like I said, when I started my blog, everyone was saying, write about writing but I was still such a newbie at writing. I didn’t feel I had the authority to do that and I wanted to write something that was genuine, and I had enough material for. So, to ease myself in to that, which would be a regular thing, I took on that, write what you know and then from that, so on my blog I don’t just have Christian writing, I also have poetry or short stories or things from daily life that might be a bit funny to read or light-hearted. But to start with the process of what you know, and then from that with the confidence, branch out into things that you want to experiment with.
Belinda Pollard: I found on my writing and publishing blog, at smallbluedog.com, I initially, because it was virtually an online brochure, because I didn’t quite know what I was doing, my first blog posts were extremely stilted and professional sounding, but I started to loosen up as time went on and emojis snuck in and a whole bunch of other stuff started happening and I start to really enjoy it.
So, I think it’s okay to start awkwardly, it’s okay to be all elbows when you first start experimenting with writing and trying to find your voice, your passion. As Alison said at the beginning, so important to find something that you really love, but don’t worry if you don’t immediately know what it is that you really love. It might take some muddling around. Muddling is a very time honoured and precious process for the writer, we need to spend that time muddling.
What about when it’s time to actually get ideas for a piece. I know that’s one of the really common questions that people ask writers, at writer’s festivals, “Where do get your ideas?” So, Alison and Donita, where do you get your ideas?
Alison Joy: Oh, goodness, I don’t have any problem with ideas because they just come to me all the time. So, I think everybody’s different, every writer’s different, some people struggle with ideas, some don’t. I don’t particularly, I’ve got so many and I don’t know where to go or what to do with them all. I’ve got a book that I write in, I try and keep a notebook next to my bed to write stuff down when it comes to me and I rewrite it into another book and sometimes you get ideas that will work, some you can combine with other ideas, different books, it’s just a thing. I think if you’re looking for ideas though you have to read, maybe in the genre that you’re interested in and read and read and read. And you got to fill up your own creative well, I guess, so you’ve got something to draw on.
Belinda Pollard: Yes.
Alison Joy: But there’s lots of things, sorry Donita, did you have something you wanted to add?
Donita Bundy: I was just thinking, for me, it’s like I’ve said before, it’s my dreams but also the people that I connect with every day at the school and in life, and family and friends. I’m really drawn to interesting personalities and characteristics and as I’m writing, or I meet people, I think, I’d love to put you in a book, or I’d love to take those qualities and really apply them to a character. So, the people and places really inspire me for ideas.
Alison Joy: I think, it’s a varied process like the book I just released, at the start of the year, Brushstrokes of Love. That was, I got the idea for that from a road trip I did through the Cape Otway area. The book that I’ve got currently with my editor, I got the idea from a newspaper article several years ago, and that was just, kept that in the back of my mind. And I do a bit of line dancing for exercise and every time I’m there I’m getting all these ideas for country music type romance books, so it’s just varied.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. But doesn’t exercise prompt ideas! Do you find that?
Alison Joy: Yes.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: I find when I’m going walking, ideas are sort of coming in, almost like attacking magpies, swooping me. There’s ideas coming in. The place that I get masses of ideas is the news and I think that’s partly because I’m from that journalistic background and even, many years ago when I was a timid little television journalist in a country town and I had to come up with two stories a day. I just learnt to be voracious looking for story ideas and interesting people and you had to continually be producing, so it was that constant pressure to find an idea and to find a person and to keep moving. I continued using that when I went into freelancing. I used to, this was back in the days, obviously, of real physical newspapers and I would get them delivered to the house and I would be cutting out stories and sticking them in files. I ended up with so much news print, it’s a wonder the house didn’t sink into the ground! But there were all of these ideas that I would get, and I still get ideas from the news.
I’ve got another friend who is also a writer, she’s in the US and we sometimes shoot each other ideas. She sent one to me about this interesting bacteria that’s in water and it can cause, if it gets up your nose, it can cause this problem and she sent a thing to me saying, “This would be good in one of your books,” and I said to her, “No, it would be good in one of your books.” And she did, she wrote a book where that was the murder weapon! So, there is weird, like when I’m travelling, I’m thinking… with my first novel, I’d been reading Agatha Christie’s, And Then There Were None, and then I went travelling around New Zealand and I was getting all these stories about this incredible landscape that was constantly a danger to people, and I thought, “This landscape would made a really good murder weapon.” So that’s the kind of ideas that you have when you’re a nascent crime writer, I suppose, you’re looking around and seeing ways to kill people, which is not always very nice!
But, then we must also mention gracenotes, because that’s what we as Gracewriters like to include and there’s all kinds of ways that you can be pulling in those ideas for gracenotes. I think, too, I’m working with an author on a particular book and it’s a really deep and quite difficult book, and so we’ve been looking for the ideas to resolve some of the issues and I’ve found that actually praying when I go on my walks, I’ve had some quite remarkable, out of left field solutions come to me when I pray, when I’m on my walk and I even pray aloud. Fortunately, the places that I walk are not crowded so no one’s seeing me walking along muttering to myself. I’ll become known as the funny old women who walks along and mutters. But, don’t underestimate when you’re looking for ideas, the power of talking it out loud. Whether you’re talking it out loud to another writer, or just to your cat or your dog, often it helps those ideas to come. Do you guys find that?
Alison Joy: Yes, because my son writes we often have conversations and just bounce things off each other. Totally different genres, by the way, absolutely nothing similar at all. And I always have a notebook handy or try and always have a notebook. So if you see something or get ideas, you can just scribble it down straight away and I know he’s the same, always scribbling away.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, I get ideas for blog posts, even when I’m watching, at the moment I’m watching church online because I have an elderly mum, so we’re watching church online and sometimes I’ll get ideas in the midst of the sermon, so I’m pulling out my little notebook out of my bag and jotting stuff down. Sorry, Donita, you were about to say something.
Donita Bundy: Just for my kids in the class, when we have a short timeframe and I say, “You need to come up with an idea today,” and working with the different ways people think and some kids you need to talk to and as soon as they start discussing, the ideas come. Other kids: free writing. I just say, “Just start writing and ideas will come,” and so there’s the free writing. Others need to sit and stare out the window for five minutes and then I say to them, “You now have to write 10 lines in 10 minutes,” because staring out the window is great but there has to be the pressure to then write.
And then I also say to them, “Okay, five minutes, you write as much as you can in five minutes, and then we are going to build on that.” So just seeing how some kids, and I think it’s a good representation of all of us, we have different ways of finding inspiration and it’s tapping into what best suits you. Whether it’s walking, sitting, reading, forcing yourself, the discipline. Find out what works and then go to it. And for me, in the shower, walking (not in the shower), but those two things, brilliant ideas and the praying as well.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, fantastic. How about I pray for the Gracewriters before we finish up. Heavenly Father, we thank you that you are the Creator and you are full of creativity and that as people made in your image you have transferred that to us. I pray for all the Gracewriters out there, who are at the moment wrestling with what form they might write, and I pray that you will give them inspiration and opportunities and possibilities and open their minds to those. I pray for those who are looking for ideas and or maybe evening juggling 57 ideas and not sure which one to pursue at the moment. Please give them wisdom and excitement and a love for their writing and we commit them to you, in Jesus’ name.
Thank you Donita Bundy and Alison Joy and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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