Ten Things That Writers Can Learn From "Finding Nemo"

At the weekend, I was watching Finding Nemo (again) with my boys. They love it. I love it. It’s in my top five favourite films of all time, which is really saying something bearing in mind I’ve seen it more often than the rest of the top four put together (and probably the rest of any top ten, if I ever went that far with a list).

(Yes, I know the (frankly disappointing) trailer for Finding Dory is out now. I care not for being topical!)

While watching Nemo, my thoughts drifted again to my own writing journey. This is dominating my thoughts at the moment… maybe yours too. And I realised that there are a bunch of things for writers to take away from the film, even leaving aside the obvious “write something even half as good and you’ll probably go a long way” point. I’m sure these lessons apply for many other paths through life too, but I’m working on Chuck Wendig’s principle that the internet is 55% porn/ 45% writers, and writing for the minority.

So, in time-honoured tradition, here are my top ten Finding Nemo takeaways for writers:

  • 1) The start of the journey will not be auspicious
    There may be a thousand writer-eggs born that start the journey, with protestations of “I’ve always wanted to write a novel“, but then the barracudas of life sweep in and suddenly the field thins down to… just you. Damaged, possibly emotionally and physically, but determined.
  • 2) The path to your ultimate goal is not easy, or linear
    There will be numerous challenges along the way. It does not matter how you reach your goal, only that you do reach your goal. If life offers you a chance to speed along on the writing equivalent of the East Australian Current, then take it. (And if any fellow writers have any insight as to what the EAC is for us, then please let me know in the comments!)
  • 3) Strange bedfellows will help you on your journey
    You will come across many types of people that you would not ordinarily hang around with, let alone rely on. These may turn out to be your greatest allies. “Fish are friends, not food.”
  • 4) Push yourself beyond your limits to achieve
    Even if you prefer the comforts of your writer-cave, rubbing yourself continually against the anemone of reassurance before venturing the smallest distance, that won’t take you very far. Embrace new experiences and challenges… You will have to risk rejection, in fact risk everything, to achieve your goals.
  • 5) Trust in your friends
    You cannot complete the journey alone. You will need the support of partners/ family/ critique partners / beta readers / fellow writers to make it. Take a small handful into your confidence, and trust them completely. If they tell you to move to the back of the whale’s throat, you move to the back of the whale’s throat.
  • 6) Understand the industry / agents / publishers
    Rejection is not personal. You are a fish. Those in the industry are birds. As Nigel the pelican says to Marlin and Dory:
    “Sorry if I took a snap at you at one time. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat.”
  • 7) Creating a buzz will help you succeed
    If “the whole ocean’s talking about it“, then it may just help you over the finish line when all hope seems lost. This buzz is created organically, without seeking attention.
  • 8) Plan thoroughly
    If your plan is immaculate, and executed to perfection, it is still no good if it leaves you floating on the sea in a plastic bag, with no obvious means of bursting the bubble to finalise your escape. “Now what?
  • 9) Success may not be what you expect
    Achieving your goals may result in you ending up back where you started, physically, but in an entirely different place, mentally and emotionally.
  • 10) Never give up
    The most important lesson of all comes from Dory. “Just keep swimming.”

 

So, those are my top tips for writers from Finding Nemo. Do you have any to add to this list, or advice gained from other unlikely sources?

 

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Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/roome/313385621

A Writer, not a Fighter – Pt 2

As seems to be the rule of trilogies, this one is darker, more intense, than part one 🙂

 

It’s words that pay the writers’ bill…

This starts off fun, but goes downhill,

When books are pulped or in landfill

And critics only make you ill

Putting you beneath the grill

Making sure they get their fill

‘Cuz they’re the whale and you’re just
krill

 

Tune in tomorrow for the concluding part of this epic (ie over-long) trilogy!

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How the SCBWI Conference Blew My Mind

I spent last weekend in Winchester at the annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference, in the company of nearly 200 wonderful writers and illustrators. I’ve come back absolutely buzzing with inspiration and ideas, buoyed by meeting dozens of new people, armed with a host of invaluable tips on craft, and possessed of new insights into the industry around children’s books.

I need to catch up on family life and more mundane matters now, but here are five things I learnt at my first conference  :

1 – Expect … Anything!
If a well-spoken man wearing a suit and bowtie comes on stage, do not be surprised if he starts with a clip from Pulp Fiction and invites the audience to dance along with Travolta and Thurman. This is apparently completely normal. All three keynote speakers (Sarah McIntyre/Philip Reeve, Jonny Duddle, and David Fickling) were wonderful, engaging, and interesting, in very different ways. I found myself humming the “eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep” song to myself many hours later, and again as I type this…

2 – Dare to share…
Scoobies really are the warmest bunch. I met dozens of people that I recognised by name from the Facebook group. I’m a social wallflower, but the atmosphere so was friendly that it was never an issue for me, and I met so many lovely folk, including two of my online critique group who I’d never met offline. (Hopefully all of my crit group can meet up at a future event/conference.) Special thanks to Liz Miller for introducing me to so many people, and being my personal guide (not to mention transport) to the conference!

3 – Writers are people too…
When I realised that the writer of my younger son’s favourite picture book was at the pirate party, I had to box my introvert and say hello. I told him that my son (nearly 3) is a late developer in terms of language, and can’t yet say mummy or daddy… But he does try to say “no ship, no food, no way home” and other lines from Ten Little Pirates. Mike Brownlow seemed genuinely touched. One of the reasons I write picture books is to hopefully one day be on the other end of this, having inspired a similar reaction in a child 🙂

4 – Nearly everyone loves to dress up as pirates
Some had suspiciously good outfits (my personal favourite was Katherine’s treasure map dress, hand-illustrated and wonderfully detailed… even down to the location of Duddle Island)… Are there lots of secret weekend pirates in SCBWI?

5 – I need to raise my game…
The creative energy was invigorating, but a snapshot into a school visit by Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve – complete with songs, games, outrageous costumes, amazing illustrations and bags of FUN – sets the bar pretty high for the rest of us! Inspired by George Kirk (and Reeve and McIntyre), I’ve asked my wife for a ukulele  for Christmas… Neighbours, beware!

Sadly I didn’t get to talk to everyone that I wanted to say hello to… So I guess I’ll need to go back next year and put that right 🙂

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Photo is of the engaging and piratical Jonny Duddle talking about his book, The Pirate-Cruncher

OctPoWriMo #31 – The Song Goes On

Step off the dance floor
Draw breath. Relax. Have a drink.
Song changes; goes on.

So, OctPoWriMo has come to an end. I’ve published a poem a day during this month (actually quite a bit more, when you include other challenges), and I’ve tried to engage most days with the daily prompt… if I haven’t, it’s been at least a response to the prompt, even if in a “two-fingered” sort of way! I respond well, generally, to challenges and prompts, and have been pushed beyond my comfort zone this month, with varying results. Will I ever write a paradelle again? Not unless money changes hands…

I need to scale back for a bit now, and focus on re-drafting a picture book text ready to submit for critiquing at the SCBWI Conference in Winchester in three weeks time… poems have superseded the picture book writing lately, and I need to create some time to finish a draft of a heartwarming Christmas story… written entirely from a villain’s point of view (naturally).

So, thank you to everyone for your likes, comments and follows, and hope you will join me, at a less frenetic pace, for whatever I come up with next. What will that be? I genuinely have no idea. Watch this space and find out as I do 🙂

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10 Crucial Lessons for Rhymers… from Monty Python

or, inevitably, WHAT HAVE THE PYTHONS EVER DONE FOR US?

We are all products of our environment. Some wear their influences on their sleeves; others may not even be aware of tapping into their formative influences. I grew up in the 80s with Monty Python, a child of Python-loving parents who mercifully spared me the sketches that didn’t work (there are many), but instead exposed me to the films, the highlights reels, the comedy albums (on vinyl, no less), the Live at the Hollywood Bowl fan-fest. And here I am now trying to write rhyming picture books and other entertainments…

Here are ten lessons that rhymers (perhaps storytellers of any stripe) can take from the songs of Monty Python. Some of the links are NSFW…

1) CHALLENGE EXPECTATIONS
Have your main character do something unusual, that goes against type and challenges expectations. You’ve got a knight called Brave Sir Robin?

“When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled

Yes Brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out…”

Or take a rugged, “manly” lumberjack, and then tell us that he likes to “put on women’s clothing, and hang around in bars.”

Or take the less-travelled perspective:

2) PLAY WITH WORDS
Have fun with the language, whether that’s homophones, (“sail the wide accountancy”)

lists,

or

or non-sequitors for comic effect
“We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spam a-lot

I have to push the pram-a-lot!”

3) GET THE TONE RIGHT
The gentle, plinky start of “Finland” sets the tone perfectly for an homage to a country “where I quite want to be”…

4) ENJOY YOUR RHYMES
Repeating the same end rhyme throughout, and even using it as an internal rhyme, can be fun…
“Half a bee, philosophically,
Must, ipso facto, half not be”

5) DON’T TALK DOWN TO YOUR AUDIENCE
The Galaxy Song, and the Medical Love Song, are examples of introducing a range of language and ideas that go far beyond what might be expected of the “everyman”. If the narrative, and the rhyme, is strong enough, you can introduce unfamiliar names and ideas very quickly.

Don’t talk down to your audience. Raise them up.

“Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power”

(I love the punchline at the end of this song)

6) MAKE YOUR RHYMES UNEXPECTED, OR UNUSUAL
All I know about philosophers, I know from this:

“Heideggar, Heideggar was a boozy beggar…

John Stewart Mill, of his own free will
On half a pint of shanty was particularly ill.”

And what about one of the greatest thinkers in history?

“Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle”

7) REPETITION, repetition….
A good example of repetition, and letting your characters grow, is the theme song from Life of Brian, with “a boy/ teenager/ not a girl/ a man called Brian”

“… his voice dropped down low
And things started to grow…”

8) DIVERSITY IS IMPORTANT
Monty Python made an effort to address diversity, in their own particular fashion, with “I Like Chinese” and “Never Be Rude To An Arab”…

“I like Chinese, I like Chinese,
They only come up to your knees”

It’s vital to reflect the diversity of the world we live in, to keep your characters relevant, and grounded in the reality of the time.

9) BE PREPARED TO MAKE MISTAKES
Viewed through modern eyes, neither of these songs have aged well… but how do you future-proof your material from the differing standards that will inevitably follow? You can’t. Write what’s in your heart, rather than chasing the trends of the day (or anticipated trends of tomorrow). If you never make mistakes, it just means you’re never trying.

Which leads us to our final point.

10) KEEP TRYING
There is only one way to finish this list. A song that has a ridiculously catchy chorus, a perfect balance of repetition/ variation/ progression, fun rhymes, a playful, changing rhyme structure… it’s even got whistling.

So, when the rejection emails start to pile up around you, put the kettle on, grab a slice of cake, and listen to this:
“Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say…”

I'm Back!

Hi everyone, I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday down in North Devon. A beautiful part of England… unfortunately we couldn’t even rely on decent weather in August, so had to suffer four waterlogged days, battling trenchfoot and hypothermia (only a slight exaggeration), before the sun eventually came out. Check out one of my holiday snaps below…

By the way – I think it says a lot about me that if you call your attraction The Big Sheep, then I’m going to put that on the “must visit” list! We did manage to visit a different beach every day, rain or shine… put that down to the stubbornness of those who live as far from the beach as is possible in these Isles.

I’ve come back with lots of ideas for new poems that I hope to share with you in the coming days and weeks. Hope you enjoyed the scheduled posts I left while I was off – it was a bit of a clean out of some older material, hence being a smorgasbord of poems, limericks, and zombie stories… variety is good though, right? 🙂

Thanks to everyone for your likes, shares and lovely comments. I couldn’t respond to each as I normally do, as we didn’t even have phone reception for 23.5 hours of each day, let alone an internet connection! My wife did discover on day three that if you hung off the back of the sofa at an awkward angle, you could just get a tiny bit of phone reception (as long as it wasn’t too windy… or cloudy… or a bird wasn’t flying past the window… it was very rural!)… amazing the lengths you go to to maintain a feeling of being “connected” to the world, once you’ve got used to it!

Now, if only there was some way to combine that beautiful North Devon scenery with a decent broadband connection…

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Haiku Challenge – "Bust" & "Must"

Two contributions from me for Ronovan’s weekly haiku challenge – “bust” and “must” being the theme words. Check out lots of great haiku on Ronovan’s blog: https://ronovanwrites.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/ronovanwrites-weekly-haiku-poetry-prompt-challenge-57-bust-must/

#1
My writing career
Has many needs, and one MUST:
Agent deal or bust!

#2
Raucous wedding brawl;
Black eyes, bust lips, bruised knuckles.
It must be true love.

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