Finding the Way In (meditating on the Mekong)

Early morning on the Mekong

Sometimes all it takes is one sentence.

It might seem a bit extreme to travel from Sydney to Luang Prabang in Laos, via Hanoi to hear that one sentence, but when you’re feeling lost, extreme measures might be just what you need.

So, I’d written a first draft, 105 ,213 words. I’d received very exciting feedback and some suggestions for a rewrite. Shouldn’t be too difficult to launch into the second draft then, you’d think. Except I was completely lost. I needed to lose 20,000 words. But which words? I also needed to add some flesh to a couple of the characters, put a couple of new scenes in, possibly rethink the first three chapters. All I could do was look at the 105, 213 words, printed, bound sitting on my desk weighing me down like the stones in Virginia’s Woolf’s pockets.

I packed my manuscript, notebooks and startled bunny look and headed off for a writers’ lab on the banks of the Mekong in Luang Prabang. And joined a group of five other women who are all working on some fabulous creative pieces. All understood the challenges of the creative process, the grappling with words, structure, ideas, self-doubt and criticism. It was an extraordinarily supportive and freeing group.

Writing in Luang Prabang

Every morning we sat through a guided meditation, from Jan Cornall, and were then free to write, or wander, or cry or a combination of all three.The meditations are a very powerful tool, helping you create a visual image, a jumping off point into the deep end of ideas and character. At the end of the meditation, picking up your pen and writing is the most natural step and it’s amazing how the words flow. And it’s not just the saffron-robed influence of chanting, drumming monks in the pre-dawn.

Heading Home

In the late afternoons, we would come together as a group, read, unload, and receive feedback. It was during one of these sessions that I heard the one sentence I needed to hear. My light bulb moment. One of my fellow writers has a four book deal (yes that’s right – four books!), two of which are published and she is making good progress on the third. Her advice and experience for a novice like myself, was invaluable. Over a Kir at the French bistro, L’Elephant, she said, ‘Just go through the manuscript and get rid of any unnecessary words. That’s your second draft. Then you’ll be ready to make the third draft sing.’

Sunrise over Luang Prabang

‘Just get rid of any unnecessary words.’ I can do that. I’d found my way in.

Sunset on the Mekong

It was worth every cent in airfares, hotel accommodation, shopping and eating out in French bistros to hear that one sentence.

And more than that, I have deepened existing relationships and formed new ones. And I have stood on the back of an elephant in the Nam Khan river…. but more of that later.

From First Draft to Publication

My poor blogs have been rather neglected lately as I have succumbed to a bout of writers’ block. This isn’t the first time I have struggled with this, but it’s certainly the time when I can least to afford to be suffering from this terrible affliction.

For me, writers’ block has always been a reflection of my self-doubt and the haunting fear that I’m just not good enough to achieve my goal of being a published author. I’ve had scripts I’ve written used on an internationally screened TV drama and articles published in newspapers and magazines, but that does nothing to soothe the ragged nerves I’m facing now.

I’ve recently received the kind of feedback on the first draft of my first novel, that I would put in ‘my wildest dreams’ category. It’s been read by a top literary agent who also had a reader’s report done for me and they were both overwhelmingly positive. The words ‘a very good chance of being published’ were actually used. The agent has asked me to send in my rewrites when I’ve completed them which, at my current rate of progress,will be sometime in 2015.

Motivated? No. Scared witless that I won’t be able to deliver the goods. People talk about the second novel syndrome, for me it’s the second draft syndrome. What if I only ever had one good draft in me?

But I have a cunning plan to outwit the incredibly protective critic who is only trying to prevent me from being disappointed when my dream of publication is shattered in  the bottom of an editor’s recycling bin. And this is the first part of my plan, go public! Share the news that I am rewriting and that I have a goal to finish it by the end of February 2012.

Part 2 of the plan is very exciting. I am going away on a week-long meditative writing trip to Luang Prabang in Laos with my writing mentor extraordinaire, Jan Cornall and a group of four or five others. Everyday for a week I will have to front up and write, read my work and listen to feedback. There will be nowhere to hide, no excuses available.(Except visiting temples and elephant trekking)

I arrive in Luang Prabang on the 20th November, so instead of taking part in NaNoWriMo, I am doing my own private NaNoRewriMo, but feel free to join me. In fact, I’d love a cheer squad.  And I will take you along for the ride on my journey from first draft to (possible) publication.

Hitting Your Mark - the first draft