Writing Character Arcs (or Falling in Love with your Characters)

‘But does Winnie actually want a husband and children, or is she happily single?’ my mentor Brooke asked as we discussed my book, Letting Go. ‘What does she want from life?’

‘Ahhhhh,’ was my rather inarticulate response.

I didn’t know. It suited my purposes for this particular character to be childless, but I hadn’t considered why she was childless. I hadn’t considered lots of things about her. Winnie didn’t even have a last name.

‘I think you need to write character arcs for your six main protagonists,’ Brooke told me.

I duly wrote down ‘character arcs’ in my notebook, and underlined it twice for good measure.

Later on when I started searching ‘how to write a character arc’ I learned it was a way of mapping the journey or growth of a character throughout the story.

“A character arc maps the evolution of a personality through a story. It’s a term that writers use to describe their protagonist’s journey from a place of comfort to rapid change and back again: hence, an arc. Characters will find their strengths and weaknesses tested over the course of the story — so that by the time they arrive at the story’s end, they are a changed person.” https://blog.reedsy.com/character-arc/

In this particular book, I have six primary characters. I knew some of them intimately, but others I realised, I was using as little more than plot devices. If I was treating them so appallingly, why would readers care about them? I needed to show all six of my main characters some love by spending some time with them and getting to know them better.

So even before you attempt a character arc, you should complete a character profile. This is where you describe your character’s physical, social and emotional details – pretty much as if you were filling out an online dating profile.

“Hi! My name is Winnie. I’m 35 and work as a paralegal. I could have gone to law school to become a lawyer but have a chip on my shoulder about my family so I decided to go travelling for a decade instead. I wear my clothes like a uniform so I don’t have to make decisions about what to wear each day and carry an empty Keep Cup around and pretend to drink coffee so I don’t have to have conversations with people. I don’t actually like coffee. I don’t think I like people either. I am single and don’t have kids. But my author hasn’t told me yet whether I am happy or sad about this, so… yeah. She’s a bit disappointing really.”

There are a lot of free character profiling tools online that you can download. One I found was thirteen pages long and had over 120 individual questions you needed to answer for your character. Topics include the character’s bucket list items at different ages throughout their life and what they do in the middle of the night if they can’t sleep. It’s comprehensive and you can find it here but with six characters it was a tad more thorough than I required.

So I made my own.

As I went through my first draft, I began pulling out small details and quotes to add to each character’s profile/arc. Sometimes it was an observation by another character, sometimes it was backstory – but eventually, I began building up a detailed summary of each character and I could see how deeply I understood some of them – and where others were a complete mystery.

Unlike my other novels which have been inspired by the true stories of real people, the characters that populate Letting Go are wholly figments of my imagination. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that I have a world of people living inside me, people who are unlike anyone I know in real life, but who are begging to have their story told. If I was anything other than a writer, that could be a significant problem.

Naturally, Brooke was correct and once I completed my profile/arcs for my six characters, I could see the gaps in my story. I was then able to go back and stitch up the holes – sometimes it required a whole scene, sometimes it was just a matter of adding a small detail.

I don’t believe you need to know everything about a character you are writing before you start, or even after you finish. No one is ever fully known to another – sometimes we don’t fully know ourselves. But if you’re going to spend months or years writing about a character, you should be a bit informed about them. This isn’t a blind date.

 

You’re very welcome to use my Character Arc and Profiling Tool – if you think I have forgotten anything important, drop me a line.

Addicted to flashbacks

It has become apparent that I have (amongst other terrible habits) an over-dependence on the use of flashbacks. It’s so pronounced in fact that a chapter I have just rewritten was about 75% flashback. Ouch.

I went searching for confirmation that I was not alone, that other, better writers had terrible habits too, and it hadn’t ruined their lives. I found this fabulous paragraph on Medium, in an article by Clare Barry called ‘Everyone’s a copyrighter, right?

“Virginia Woolf had a beautiful habit of swapping the narrative perspective mid paragraph. Jane Austen used double negatives. Charles Dickens was the king of run-on sentences — and E.E. Cummings didn’t give a flying cockatoo what you thought about capitalisation. That man capitalised whatever word he damned-well pleased. Or didn’t. Don’t get me started on Hemingway, whose grammar was a mix of playful creativity and 46% malt whisky.”

I’m not so much a whisky girl, as someone who boils the kettle in the ensuite so I don’t have to venture into the kitchen and risk running into family members who might want to engage with me. It means my book is relying on instant coffee but it’s a small price to pay for uninterrupted writing time first thing in the morning.

My dependence on flashback is because I am writing a highly structured book that follows six characters throughout a month. As you move through the book, each character has a day, but as in real life, sometimes interesting things happened yesterday, or three days ago.

My beloved mentor, Brooke Dunnell, recently pointed out that a chapter I had written started with a single sentence in the present day (a Sunday) then promptly jumped back to Wednesday, then Thursday then Friday before returning briefly to Sunday a few lines before the chapter ended.

When I colour-coded the chapter to see how bad the damage was, it looked like a United Colours of Benetton advert from the 1990s.

Letting Go over-reliance on flashbacks Ch 9

There are some generally accepted rules when writing flashbacks, the first being ‘don’t use too many’, but I’ve already established I’m a rule breaker (sometimes I even have UHT milk in my early morning bathroom instant coffee!).

But another important rule is that you need a trigger to start the flashback, as well as to bring your reader back to the present time. In real life when you suddenly stop to think about something that has happened in the past, it has usually been triggered by one of the senses – you see something or smell something that takes you back. The same should happen to your characters. Simply starting the sentence:

On Wednesday, when Winnie shared the waitress’ suspicions, Katharine had laughed…

is lazy. This admittedly is one of my current sentences, but it’s still early days of my flashback recovery, so I need to take things slowly.

Another rule is the flashback needs to advance the story – you can’t just drift backwards to discuss the weather or show off your beautiful literary turn of phrase; if you’re going to use a flashback, it needs to progress the plot. A good comparison is when someone starts describing their dream to you – they’re often wildly disconnected and boring as hell to the listener – you do NOT want your flashback to read like this. It must have a point that you couldn’t have made in the present time.

That being said, I realised that if I could re-write my flashback sections into the present time, I probably should. I couldn’t change the timing on all my flashbacks, but there were certain things – like a phone conversation – that could be moved.

The other good advice I received from Brooke, was to delay the first flashback for as long as possible. This means the reader can be established in the present day, before whisking them back to the past.

This is the colour-coding of the chapter after some work. I still have flashbacks, but they start much later in the chapter and there is significantly less of them.

Flashback chapter after some work

Working through this one chapter has made me much more cognisant of my addiction to this literary technique, and I suspect I have a fair bit of work ahead of me to reduce my overall reliance on them. But I have no doubt that one day my book will be much more than a mix of flashbacks and instant coffee.

Why You Should Keep a Record of Rejection

In 2010, with a toddler, a newborn baby in my arms and the knowledge that we would be trying for a third baby in the not-too-distant future, I went to a career counsellor.

Prior to having my children, and I’d spent close to a decade working at various universities in three states. My last job had been as the manager of a clinical trials group, and I had been told that I was always welcome to return to my job – as long as I was prepared to come back full time under the same conditions.

I wasn’t.

At this stage I had three degrees, none of which were particularly practical, and an ad hoc career path that could be broadly defined as ‘researcher’. I’d worked part time for 18 months after my first daughter was born, but, along with the rest of the company, was let go when the GFC sent the small start-up crashing to the wall.

The career counselling process was comprehensive and over three months and multiple sessions, we whittled our way through what I was qualified for versus what I actually enjoyed doing, my values and priorities and a range of psychometric tests that matched me to a range of careers, many of which I’d never even heard of.

The end result: writer or event planner.

I love planning a party and in another life probably would have made a fabulous event planner, but with three small children, working on other people’s events on weekends and in the evenings didn’t sit well with me.

Besides, I had wanted to be a writer since I was in primary school. I just hadn’t considered it to be something you could make a career out of [spoiler alert: I still haven’t made it].

One of the first things I did was sign up for a website which advertised itself as sharing advertising income with its writers. You would be paid every time person a read your articles, and in a sense this was true. I just hadn’t realised it would average around a cent for each reader. Still, not one to be deterred by common sense, over the next nine years I penned around 650 articles earning me a little over $10,000. I’ll save you the effort – that averages $15.38 an article or approximately $1,111 a year.

The other thing I did was start a spreadsheet of all my writing submissions.

In the first heady months of ‘being a writer’ I made a few ill-judged tenders, sending poorly written, totally unedited pieces out into the world.

The first entry in my spreadsheet is Text Publishing. Under ‘Article Details’ it says ‘selection of unedited baby emails [short stories]’. In the ‘Outcome’ column it says ‘Rejected (mail)’.

That, dear reader, is the optimism only complete ignorance and entitlement brings.

I look back at that with a stomach-churning mix of shame and bewilderment, hoping they don’t keep a file of their worst submissions, a black-list of names they pull out every Christmas to add further merriment to their festivities.

I spruiked a subset of those stories a few more times to magazines and even the ASA Mentorship Program (oh the shame) before good sense finally caught up with me and I moved my personal ramblings to a blog called Relentless where they fared a little better.

The next entry in my spreadsheet looks totally different. This is because I actually submitted something that had been asked for: a short story for the West Australian on the theme of summer. In the ‘Outcome’ column, it is highlighted in red, and says ‘First Prize, published 22/1/2011. (Prize: Macbook Air). You can read it here.

Like most of my writing to that point (and since), it was rushed and over-enthusiastic. Self-editing wasn’t a concept I was familiar with, and I emailed it off so quickly I neglected to even give the story a name. But for whatever reason, the writing gods decided to smiled on me, and in January 2011 I saw my name in print for the first time, and won a spiffy new laptop to boot.

Despite the fact they spelled it wrong, seeing my name in black and white was a heady feeling. Addictive. Energising. Encouraging. I knew I had to keep going. I had many more stories I wanted to tell.

As I scroll through the spreadsheet now, almost a decade on, there are far less red ‘published’ entries than there are ‘unsuccessful’ or ‘no response’. My hit rate is around 1 in 6. That’s to be expected. Some of the rejections sting more than others. The silence can be hurtful, especially when something sits on someone’s desk for months on end, languishing in purgatory. I’d rather just know, so I can move forward, look for a new home for that piece of writing.

But the overwhelming feeling I get when I look through the spreadsheet is pride.

I don’t look at the lengthy column of ‘unsuccessful’ outcomes and think I’m a failure. Instead I look at the long list of stories I have written, of articles I have submitted and I feel proud that I have put myself and my writing out there.

I am creating worlds out of words, and while not all of them have found a permanent place in print, in the words of Wayne Gretzky, ‘you miss 100% of the shots you never take.

So in effect, I’ve decided my spreadsheet is not actually a record of my rejections, but a compilation of my creations.

 

Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”


― Nelson Mandela

 

Spending the $50million

I’m sure you’re familiar with that marvelous feeling, after you have bought a lotto ticket but before the draw, where the possibility of winning the $50 million dollars is so real and tangible you can taste it. When you are making lists in your head, spending your winnings, deciding which holidays to go on, which homes to buy, which magnanimous donations you will be making.

I am living the writers equivalent right now.

I have written the stories, entered the competitions and between now and the time the long lists are announced I can indulge in daydreams about winning the prize. In reality, I probably have more chance of winning the lotto than one of the many literary prizes I have entered, but until the lists are announced anything is possible. And what are we as writers, if not able to visualise a future with written-to-order happy endings, specifically designed to meet our own requirements for maximum pleasure?

The literary equivalent of spending of the $50 million prize is dreaming about your story as a physical book. It is seeing your name in print. It is imagining yourself running your hand over the cover, smelling the fleeting new book scent.

It is imaging your acceptance speech, the welcome cramp in your hand signing books for readers, the pride of seeing your novel in the window of a book shop.

It is imaging a future where you can move from saying I am a writer to I am an author.

The disappointment that comes with seeing the list of names on which yours is missing, is real but blessedly brief. Reality quickly crowds back in. You may spend a day or two deflated, dejected, rejected but then you take a deep breath, swallow that lump away and push forward. Pick up that pen again, keep writing, do it all again.

No one ever actually expects to win the $50 million lotto prize. I don’t expect to actually win any of the writing competitions I have entered.

But I can still dream, and until I hear otherwise, I’m spending the fifty million.

When should you say goodbye?

It’s certainly not my favourite thing to do, but every now and then I follow my business mentor’s advice and think about boring things like SEO and search terms. Deep down I’m a writer, and my greatest joy is putting words on a page and sending them out to the world. Worrying about whether those words make it to the right audience or land on the first page of Google isn’t something I tend to worry about, until reminded by my mentor (and my bank balance) that in fact, they are quite important.

Fundraising Mums - comprehensive fundraising ideas for schools and sporting clubs

Digging around in my website’s rear-end sounds like a rather private and uncomfortable activity but what it really involves is me looking at the search terms people have used before winding up on my Fundraising Mums page.

For example, type in ‘how to run a cake stall’ and up pops Fundraising Mums ‘How to Run A Profitable Cake Stall’. Type ‘lessons from fete’ or ‘escape room for kids’ and my articles will pop up.

But sometimes people type in rather more obscure search terms only to be directed to my page. One of my favourite requests is the very specific ‘how much onion on average on a sausage’ which directs you to my Bunnings sausage sizzle article (answer 10kg of onions for 400-600 sausages).

I have been writing for Fundraising Mums since 2015 and I started it on a rather cynical yet optimistic note. I have always been heavily involved in the P&C, fundraising and events at my daughters’ school. I will be at my local primary school for thirteen years as a parent – I figure I should roll my sleeves up and get involved – but if I was going to do the work, I may as well write about it and share what I learned. There are over 10,000 schools in Australia and over 6,500 community sporting clubs. I figured if there was just one person in each school and club who wanted fundraising ideas then I would have a readership.

Like most things though, being a primary school mum is a phase that eventually you pass through and leave. My youngest daughter is now in Year 3, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. While that doesn’t necessarily mean I will no longer be involved in fundraising at all, it does seem that a natural end is upon me. One I am seriously considering embracing.

According to a 2009 survey, 95% of the 133 million blogs in existence had not been updated in 120 days – and were considered abandoned. Today, there are over 500 million blogs in existence (five of which belong to me) which if I extrapolated, would mean there are 475 million abandoned blogs littering the virtual highway (three of which belong to me).

I am trying to decide if I should add another to that number?

When is it time to say goodbye to a project that you have nurtured for years? Should it be an economic decision? A question of time? Or is it when you have lost the joy?

woman looking at pig

I don’t think I could completely abandon Fundraising Mums. It’s been my primary project for the last five years, and represents thousands of hours of my time spent researching and writing. I see my stories making their way out into the world, to places I never imagined. Ireland, India and Germany feature in the top 10 countries of FRM readers. I have built relationships with readers and advertisers alike. I am proud of the work I have done.

But over the past year I have been drawn in a different direction – away from the real world into the fictional worlds I have created in my novels. It’s there I want to spend my time.

The closure of schools, cancellation of sports and decimation of the events industry has been reflected in the readership of Fundraising Mums. I fear that by the end of the COVID-19 crisis there will be fewer Australian fundraising businesses than there was at the beginning of 2020. There will be casualties and perhaps Fundraising Mums will be amongst them.

But as long as I write a new story every 120 days then at least it won’t be entirely abandoned.

Just neglected.

 

Weasel Words and Tips for Writers

‘I could see her looking at me, as she readied herself to tell me about my overuse of weasel words in the nicest possible way. I felt my face tighten as I braced myself for the impact of her words.’

Or

‘She looked at me, ready to tell me about my overuse of weasel words. I braced myself for the impact of her words.’

 

Recently I had the good fortune of meeting with Perth writer Louise Allen. I had won a manuscript appraisal as part of the Twitter #authorsforfiries auction, which saw me handing over the first 10,000 words of my novel.

It’s a luxury at the best of times to be able to sit with a fellow writer and talk about nothing but your own writing, but to be handed a mirror to hold up to your work, to identify the flaws, is equally valuable.

 

weasle words

 

Louise made the following comment about the paragraph above:

“you could do away with ‘Isabelle watched’ and go straight to ‘Isabelle’s mother studied the image.’ The reader knows Isabelle’s watching, because it’s in her POV. It removes a step between the reader and the action, and brings the reader into the story more.”

Weasel words are the fodder of the new writer, adding extra words thinking it deepens our writing (it doesn’t) or adding layers that end up removing the readers from the story.

Taking Louise’s sage advice I turned my gaze on another recently finished manuscript, determined to make sure I hadn’t repeated my sins.

Turns out I’m prolific with my use of weasel words. Hundreds of them peppered my novel like a 1980s Pepper Steak. Unfortunately for me, your use of weasel words is a bit like a golf score, you want it to be as low as possible.

I did a search and find on the following phrases and was shocked by the numbers I saw:

51 instances of ‘I looked…’

23 times I wrote ‘I could hear’

93 cases of ‘I could see’ and ‘I saw’

127 instances of ‘I felt’

And a whopping 274 times I used ‘just’.

 

It took a couple of days and some seriously strong coffee but I managed to remove about 80% of all my weasel words. The effect of course is to cut the parachute strings and drop the reader directly into the story.

You can’t remove all instances of these phrases. Sometimes the word is fulfilling an actual function and not just bad writing.

For example:

I felt my face turn pink  = bad

I felt frumpy in comparison = fine

 

I just stared up at him in adoration = bad

Perhaps he’s only now just discovering who he really is = fine

 

I could see that she was uncomfortable = bad

I tried to sit up so I could see him better = fine

 

I saw Adam purse his lips = bad

My face went red as I saw huge boxes of condoms on the table = fine

 

I could hear the smile in his voice = really bad

I could hear the rush of air as the paramedic pushed the needle into her chest = fine

 

I plan to continue writing the same way I always have, letting the words flow through my fingers without censorship. But now I have a weapon in my editing arsenal, and before I even consider hitting send or publish – I will be doing a search and destroy on my weasel words.

A character by any other name

While my novel has been inspired by real-life people, it is ultimately fiction and so all my characters needed new names when I began to write.

A character’s name is so important, it is worn like an item of clothing that one cannot remove. It distinguishes you and discloses things about you, more than we realise. Choosing a name for my characters was an exercise in finding monikers which were historically accurate, and for some, a fun way to recognise family and friends.

My character Charles is loosely based on Walter Blair, a student who attended Claremont Training College at the same time as Doris and who sadly died in WW1. Although Walter died at the age of 21, there are a number of images of him that survive – his role in the College football and cricket teams meant there were plenty of team photos from his time at the College. This meant that I was able to use some of his physical characteristics when writing the character.

Walter needed a different name when he became a character in my book. Very little of Walter Blair’s life actually informed the character, and besides, Walter was the name I was using for my protagonist’s father. Charles was an easy decision as it was a common name of the time, and to choose his new surname I chose that of a friend whose first name was actually Blair, a moment of quick word association. This was how the character became Charles Morgan, a name that I felt was strong and somewhat refined, and could easily represent a man born into a family of well-bred lawyers at the turn of the twentieth century.

Today, while researching the second convoy of ships to leave Western Australia for the front, I discovered that there was a real-life Charles Morgan from Perth, who also was a Corporal, and who also served with the 11th Battalion, just the same as my fictional character. Real-life Charles Morgan was killed in action in France in July 1916. I also found Private Charles Morgan, a farmhand who served with the 10th Light Horse, the same Battalion as my character John.

I admit I am devastated, and disappointed with myself that I hadn’t thought to check sooner. It was a good name and will be difficult to think of my character by another, but out of respect for the real-life Charles Morgan’s who enlisted in WW1 from Perth, I now need to find a new one (or at least a new surname) for my character.

Immediately after my discovery about Charles, I had a moment of panic when I thought about my other main male character, John O’Meara. This character was loosely based on the real-life John Regan, and even though I kept the same first name, I chose another surname to represent his Irish heritage.

A quick search on the National Archives turned up dozens of John O’Meara’s who served in WW1 as well as the record of a John O’Meara who was a patient in a Queensland mental asylum. However none of them enlisted from West Australia, and so I am content to keep the name.

So now I am on the lookout for a new surname for my character – and I welcome any suggestions.

pexels-photo-261510.jpeg

Reference:

http://www.diggerhistory.info/pages-conflicts-periods/ww1/1aif/1div/03bde/11th_battalion_aif.htm

Starting a New Blog – Mistakes I am Not Making This Time

Today marks the launch of my fourth blog: Fundraising Mums. Actually, if I’m being honest there was that other anonymous blog I started a couple of years ago and then freaked out and stopped publishing. It’s still out there in the virtual world, gathering dust and confusing people.

But Fundraising Mums is the first blog I have set up with an actual business plan. It is not just a place to collate memories like Relentless, nor a way to improve my clicks at WeekendNotes like Perth Food Reviews, and it is not all about me like shannonmeyerkort.com

Fundraising Mums was created because I identified an actual gap in the market and I wanted to fill it. I did my research, engaged professionals to help, I marketed, I sought advertisers, I spent three months working on it before I hit publish.

I am pretty happy with it today – but I cannot wait to see it in six month’s time when it really hits it stride.

Mistakes I made with Relentless

The biggest mistake I made with my first blog was not really thinking about the name I gave it. I was at a blogging workshop with the inspiring Amanda Kendle and even though I should have realised we would be expected to make (and name) a blog, I did not prepare. So gave it the first name I thought of: From Mum to Me.

Did you just wince? Or screw your face up? Because you don’t know what that means?

In my head it meant: I am starting this blog at a time when I am so heavily involved in being a mum to my (then) two daughters that I no longer remember who I am, or what else I am other than being a mum.’ The blog was meant to represent my journey from being ‘just a mum’ to being ‘me’.

But apparently that wasn’t immediately clear to others. You can read more about my ridiculous decision here.

After a year or so and the arrival of Baby Number Three suddenly it dawned on me that the blog should be named Relentless. Because that was what my life with three kids was like.

But it is not that easy to change the name of your blog – there is all this technical stuff with URLs and the like – not to mention the fact that you just confuse people.

Lesson 1: choose a name that not only suits your blog now, but will stay relevant as the blog grows and changes. You must LOVE it and it must make sense to others immediately.

Some might argue that Fundraising Mums is a sexist title that excludes not only Dads but teachers, coaches, grandparents and anyone without kids. I totally get that and I will wear the criticism, but it struck me as being a catchy title that was inclusive of about 90% of potential readers.

Mistakes I made with Perth Food Reviews

There were a few mistakes I made with Perth Food Reviews.

The first was that I was trying to break into an extremely full market already brimming with some top-notch and well established bloggers. Perth simply did not need one more food blog, especially when it was blatantly clear that my primary intention was to send traffic to WeekendNotes.

I am proud of my restaurant and cafe reviews on WeekendNotes and I think they are really useful, but I was constantly being asked by friends ‘where can I go in xxx to find yyy type of food’ or ‘where is the best xxx in Perth?’.

WeekendNotes doesn’t have the ability to search on questions such as this, so my thought was to create a new blog where people could search for particular types of food (Asian versus pub grub), certain styles of restaurant (fine dining versus share plates) or on particular requirements (child friendly versus views).

It was all rather noble, but apart from the cent per view I would receive if people actually clicked through to the WeekendNotes article, there was nothing in it for me. So I lost interest.

Which is a pity because I put in a lot of time setting it up, but it hasn’t been updated in ages and with the rapid rate restaurants go out of business here in Perth and new ones spring up, it is probably already outdated.

Lesson 2: don’t start a new blog unless you are really invested in it. Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and be prepared to commit both time and energy in the long term.

I see Fundraising Mums as a long term project, and it utilises all my talents and interests from writing, reviewing, researching, storytelling and project managing. I have hundreds of story ideas – my problem is going to be finding the time to write them all. The other point of difference is that this will be the first of my blogs that I monetise and offer advertising for. I have always been reluctant to put adverts on my other sites thinking it will annoy readers, but when people come to FRM they will WANT to see adverts for innovative fundraising companies. Win win.

Mistakes I made with shannonmeyerkort.com

I’d like to say this is a perfect site considering this is the one you are currently reading, but I acknowledge it is a small group of you who visit (thank you) and the content – while hopefully relevant and interesting to writers – is highly specific and also very personal. Readers often want broader information with no obvious author.

They don’t want to hear my voice, because frankly, they don’t care.

And I respect that.

I am the first to admit that I tend to spend more time on blogs that are less personal. Why? Because I make the (perhaps incorrect) assumption that the information is more universal and therefore, perhaps more relevant to me and my situation.

Lesson 3: personal blogs will attract like-minded followers who will engage and support you, but chances are you will have far fewer readers than a blog which is more universal and objective. Decide on your tone and style as well as your content, as this will influence people as to whether they want to feel involved personally, or more remotely.

Fundraising for schools is relevant to me (next year all three of my children will be at school) but it isn’t personal. I can invest more of my time in FRM without necessarily investing more of myself and my family. There is already plenty of that here and on Relentless. FRM is more business-like and while I really enjoy sharing great products and ideas, it’s not all about me, and frankly, that’s a good thing.

What are the main lessons you have learned from starting your own blog? What mistake won’t you be repeating?

PS. I have actually released my first book on Amazon: The Brutal Truth About the Third Child. You can buy it here. It will actually be FREE for July 1 and 2.

But that’s a story for another day.

Loving Something Doesn’t Mean It Will Love You Back

I am in the final throes of a Graduate Diploma of Professional Writing at university, and I was very excited to finally do a unit dedicated to writing for children. I thought it would be a shoe-in. I am a mother of three little girls, I read picture books til my head spin. Every room in my house is graced with some form or another of stories for children.

How hard could it be?

My first assessment was to write a picture book. In four weeks.

I laughed out loud when I realised this: because if it was possible to write a picture book in just four weeks, then everyone would be doing it and we would all be millionaires. We certainly wouldn’t need to go to uni to learn how to do it.

I had what I thought was a brilliant, quirky made-up idea, wrote my 300 words, developed some great concepts for the illustrator and sent it in for marking.

When I saw my grade (16/30) I thought there had been a mistake. Was I really just three percent off failing? I never fail.

After speaking with the tutor and reading her well-reasoned comments, I had to admit – reluctantly, bitterly, sadly – that yes, it was a totally crap book and kids and parents would probably hate it. (NB She didn’t actually say people would hate it, those are my words).

That was if they actually understood it.

It was a bitter pill to swallow. Just because I am a writer and a parent does not automatically mean I am cut out to be a picture book writer. And just because you want something doesn’t mean it will want you back (a lesson for more in life than just writing).

I also realised that my strength as a writer lies in telling stories that are based in fact. Yes, I am known to embroider the truth a little, to elaborate, exaggerate and mess around with little things like chronology, but everything I write – from stories about having three kids on Relentless, to reviews on WeekendNotes, to the fact-based short stories about my historical houses that won me awards – are all based on truth.

Why make things up when the truth is available?

So although my brush with failure is a smack in the face to my pride, it is also quite liberating. I realise it sounds like I am just giving up, but I am not. It has made me realise something about my abilities. Write what you know is a well known adage in the writing world and I knew I couldn’t afford to break the rule twice.

So for my second assessment, a junior fiction novel, I have based it on people and events from my own life. It is a veritable Frankenstein of truth, albeit repackaged with new names and a cutesy protagonist.

Stay tuned and I will let you know how I go.

Why You Should Never Google Yourself

Faced with a list of tiresome chores and no writing mojo to be found anywhere, I decided to indulge in a little private time this morning. I did something we all do, but rarely admit to.

I Googled myself.

The first page was pretty much what I expected. My blogs shannonmeyerkort.com and Relentless came up, as did my profile on WeekendNotes. There was my LinkedIn profile, gathering cobwebs and dust, various reviews and old academic papers, plus lots of mentions of my Brutal Truth About the Third Child.

I was chuffed to see my Master thesis get a mention on Google Books. Zero reviews and zero stars… probably because the only copy is sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.

I had really begun to enjoy myself. No nude photos. No websites dedicated to destroying me. No embarrassing Facebook shots that someone else had posted.

But then a site came up that I didn’t recognise, and I got a little squeezy sensation in my stomach. Had someone stolen my words or had they written someone awful about me?

This is precisely why they say don’t Google yourself. Sometimes it’s better not to know what others are writing about you.

But I had to find out. Besides, it was in Italian.

There was a picture of me and my family (a picture they don’t have permission to use, but we’ll ignore that) and my name. I could guess at a few of the words: ironia, testimonianza, blogger Americana.

Uh, hang on.

I went back and hit the Google translate button for the page. Then, in a fabulous mash of Italian and English, appeared an article that was designed to look like I had been interviewed, but really was just a bit of a cut and paste of my Brutal Truth article.

The translations are even better than my original article: “You can doze and sleep all day and as a priestess stroll touching your belly waiting for a football.”

Some of it is pretty funny because it still makes sense:

“Are you happy of nausea and vomiting because it means you can have five minutes to get you in the bathroom?”

And other parts are completely mystifying:

“Rilavi reluctantly the vestititi used with a normal detergent, throw some broken play, refreshments sheets cradle. Your son has already managed to dismantle all sure that you put in the house and survived, so it is not necessary to reposition the newcomer.”

I liked how the Italians automatically assumed I had sons.

The French version of my ‘Letter of Apology to my Middle Child’ described it as “a mother issu[ing] an apology letter to his middle child”. And I thought I had difficulty with French pronouns.

“Shannon notes that this has forged the character of its small second. She teases threats, disputes, compromises. All you seem to want, and that is so hard to give is my complete attention. It’s hard because I have three children, a house to manage and my writing.”

I particularly liked being referred to as an ‘its’. Thanks French people.

The Portuguese translation of The Brutal Truth was possibly my favourite, especially how they introduced me:

“Shannon Meyerkort is a writer, blogger and mother of three girls under seven years. His love for writing is not simple, because it implies that you are sitting to do so.”

I love how they aren’t beholden to gender assumptions about mothers being women. How refreshing.

The translation seems to make things worse than they really are:

“It seems that is six months pregnant by the time we hit the second quarter. Sit persecuted and cries a lot.”

And then go a little hard-core with the language:

“People who have just given birth, begin to upset her with all the talk bullshit about babies.”

Then they go hard-core with the parenting:

“Push your child out of the crib, take them cuddly and dispose of them in a weekend.”

That’s a bit rough, even for me.

I haven’t yet ploughed deeper into the world of Google to see if the Chinese have their own translations of The Brutal Truth, but if it’s ever found, please let me know.