Beyond beginnings …

It seems fitting that our topic for January is beginnings. 2017 brings with it many changes and hopes after a particularly unusual and tough year for many.

As for me, I’m hoping that with the new year I will carve for myself a fresh beginning with my writing. You see, I had a tough time with it during 2016. With three kids, four after school activities, three separate schools, two P&C committees, and only one me it was a rather time-poor year. And as a writer who thrives off the total immersion method I found myself unable to pen new words. Basically I just couldn’t get my head in the story. The same with reading. I found myself reading the same pages over and over again, unable to move forward because there was never enough time or head space for imagination.

Yet, beginnings are the one thing I didn’t struggle with. Whatever sucked up my creativity seems not to have affected my ability to pen first chapters. I have a grand total of five beginnings that are so darn intriguing (no modesty here) that I’m determined to make them full stories this year.


Getting past Chapter One can be a chore.


So what is the trick of getting beyond the beginning?

  • Stick to it: don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by shiny new ideas. Write them down then come back to story number 1.
  • Plot it: If you’re having trouble finishing a story, plan out where it’s going next. In fact, plan it all the way to the end.
  • Make time: If, like me, you’re strapped for time get up half an hour earlier, stay up half an hour later, write in your lunch break. Whatever it is you need to do to snag a few minutes of writing time, do it.
  • Don’t edit: you heard me. Don’t read yesterday’s words before writing new ones. That chews up valuable writing time and makes it impossible to move forward to new words.

Let’s hope that 2017 is a productive writing year!

I plan on sticking to these golden rules to finish my stories. Do you have any tips for getting beyond the beginning?

Happy writing!


Stacey NashStacey Nash is going to write lots of great words this year. To find out more about the great words she’s already had published or to connect with her on social media (where she tries to be engaging), check out these places:, instagram, twitter, facebook.





Beginning where the story starts

To celebrate the new year, most of this month’s posts will have a theme of “new beginnings”. 

One bit of advice you’ll often hear from agents and various other bookish folks — such as editors and competition judges — is to make sure your book starts in the right place. People are time-poor and there are a lot of competing entertainments, more than there were when I was a wee lass. Smart phones! Augmented reality! Reality-cooking-soap-TV shows! You need to hook the reader from the outset, draw them into the story. Start where the story actually stars, with the inciting event — not beforehand.

I’m basically giving you that same message, but thought I’d do it with song an example.

The inciting event — the first big, life-changing incident that triggers the plot — in my first novel, Isla’s Inheritance, happens at a Halloween party. That event is in the first chapter of the novel, and always was … but the first draft of that chapter started with Isla and her cousin Sarah receiving the party invitation and sorting out costumes. I’m still fond of that scene, because it sets up the relationship between the two characters, and Sarah is a lot of fun to write. But it wasn’t the best place. Isla thinking about whether she had time to get her homework done before the party wasn’t exactly the sort of thing that hooked the reader.

In my defence, it was my first novel, and I learned by making the mistake. :p

The fact my opening sucked bugged me all through drafting the book, so after I’d finished and taken the time to get a bit of distance from the writing, I went back again. (The distance is crucial. As I said, I was fond of the costume-choosing scene, which meant I needed to take the time to see it for what it was.) I cut the first part, and started the scene instead with the two girls and Sarah’s older brother, Ryan, arriving at the party. Fixed it!

Yeah, nah.

That was the version of the book I started querying. I entered it in PitchWars at the end of 2012, and the feedback I got from mentors really shook me. I was still starting in the wrong place, dammit! Again, I was still taking time to establish the characters. I had Sarah and Isla giggle over an old school crush. Dance. I thought I was setting the scene, but it was still slow.

I went back and amputated even more from the scene. By this point I’d probably removed around 2000 words (sob). Now it starts with Isla, at the party, meeting Dominic — her eventual boyfriend — and getting invited to participate in a séance. Sarah doesn’t even appear until the end of the chapter.

If you’re getting told your book starts too slowly, have a look at what you’re trying to show the reader in your opening scene. For example, say you start with your character jogging, thinking about their life (apparently this is a very common beginning, as is staring into a mirror). You want the reader to see upfront that your main character is a physical creature who has problems that need pondering. Instead, why not start with the manifestation of the problems. You can always have the character jog later, or mention the athletics trophies being knocked to the ground during the zombie attack — that sort of thing.

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, such as if your character is doing a marathon and they rupture their Achilles tendon on the first page or get hit by a car, because the rest of the story is about their healing journey.

I’d like to think I’ve learned this lesson now. I’ve started (and finished; OMG!) five other novels, and all of them have a much quicker beginning to the plot. But I learned it the hard way. Avoid my mistake, grasshopper!

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer. Her first novel, Isla’s Inheritance, is currently free in ebook format at all good (and some dubious) ebook retailers. You know, if you want to find out what happens next. 😉

Note: the featured image at the top of this post is from Shutterstock.

Cassandra Page

Four ways to see your writing anew

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

Drafting a novel is like hiking through a huge forest. Your approach to the impending journey may vary: some of us come up with a detailed map, set their feet on the path and power on through, while others see the edge of the trees, think “let’s see what’s in there”, and wander in. Most of us have approaches somewhere in the middle: we might know where we want to end up, but not have a specific path in mind. Almost all of us get distracted by things along the way; sometimes the distractions turn out to be just that, while other times they are a valuable addition to your journey.

But there’s an idiom that also applies to a writer who is in the middle of or has just finished drafting a novel.

I can’t see the forest for the trees.

Whether you love your work or hate it, when you type THE END, you are not seeing it clearly. Everything from being able to discern the dead wood — those scenes, characters or chapters that don’t move the story forward — to spotting typos is harder. You don’t have the altitude. You’re still in the trees.

So here are four ways to see your work differently. To get a Google maps perspective on your forest.


This is the first and most important, which is why I gave it shouty caps. If you can possibly avoid it, don’t jump straight back into editing. Give the manuscript a few weeks to stew. Read a book (or five). Write something else. Go on holiday. Spend some time with the loved ones you’ve been neglecting. You’ve written a novel, which is a thing to be proud of. Celebrate, but not by re-reading it.

This point should be applied in conjunction with one or more of the other suggestions, below. The only exception is if you’re up against a hard deadline that doesn’t give you the luxury of time. I’m not talking about a pitching contest you want to enter — there will always be more pitching contests — but something with legal ramifications, like a contractual requirement.

2. Read it in hard copy

Speaking of trees (sorry about that, forests of the world)… This is my favoured approach. I wish I could get the necessary distance while still reading my words on a screen, but that’s the place where I drafted it, and I just can’t. On paper I can see misspelled or misused words, tracts of exposition — they all leap out at me. Usually I do a dirty word search before I hit print and make those amendments to the soft copy. Then I sit down with a pen and have at it.

This does have the drawback that I have to enter my edits onto the soft copy afterwards. It’s tedious but, for me, worth it.

3. Change the appearance of the words

If you draft in Arial, try looking at your manuscript in Times New Roman. Or Comic Sans MS, if that’s what floats your boat — just remember to change it back before you submit it to any agents or publishing houses. I know some people who actually format their book and read it on their Kindle, to try and put themselves into the role of a reader rather than the author.

As an aside, I do this with all my blog posts. I write them in Word, do one proofread in the WordPress data entry screen, and then do a final check in the blog preview screen.

4. Read it aloud

Obviously this is better for picking up line edit problems — passive sentences, overused words, that sort of thing — rather than structural problems. Although if you get bored reading a scene maybe that’s a sign the scene could go. There are also text-to-speech programs that you could use if you don’t want to read your 150,000-word opus aloud for fear of never being able to speak again. (And, um, if that’s your first novel I also recommend reconsidering the length…)

I’m tempted to add a fifth point here that says “see point one”, but I won’t. You get the idea.

Do you have other tricks that you use to let you see your words afresh?

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author and professional editor who has almost finished drafting her sixth novel and is itching to get stuck into the edits. 

Cassandra Page

Finding Time in a Busy Life

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

I forgot today was my day to post here. Usually we try to have our posts up in the morning, and it was dinnertime when I had an OHNOES moment and realised I hadn’t done anything. Then my son and I had a karate class to go to, so here I am: it’s after 9pm, my legs are tired from kicking invisible bad guys, and I’m drinking tea from a Lady Rainicorn mug and eating crackers and olive dip.

It’s not my finest moment.

I know I should go easy on myself — I have a load of excuses I could give you for why I forgot (single mother working full time, yadda yadda yadda) — but the thing is that, despite everything going on in my life, I am usually pretty good with stuff like this.

How do I do it? I’m glad you asked. 😉

I set reasonable goals. My standard word count goal per week when I’m drafting is only 2000 words. This count excludes writing-related things that aren’t actually writing. I accumulate my word count over two or maybe three writing sessions of up to an hour each, either in between washing and other chores on a weekend or on a week night once the boy is in bed but before I pass out. I don’t watch TV pretty much ever, which helps.

If I want to slack off and do something for fun, I bribe myself. Last month I blogged about rewarding yourself for good behaviour. Sometimes, for me, it’s more like extortion. “Want to play Minecraft? You need to write at least 500 words. GO!” (Yes, I play Minecraft. My friends moved interstate and we have a server; it’s actually a relaxing way to spend an evening, building ridiculous things made of one-metre-square blocks.)

If I can’t write when I should, I do another productive thing. This ties into the previous point. There are always other things I could be doing: blog posts, reviews, synopses, queries, advertising, researching, plotting, scheming… you get the idea.

I schedule things. I don’t mean appointments and whatnot, though I do that too; I mean on social media. WordPress lets you schedule blog posts (and I expect Blogger does too). Tweetdeck lets you schedule tweets. Facebook lets you schedule posts to pages (though not to personal accounts — not yet). Hootsuite lets you schedule posts to a bunch of social media pages (currently Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, WordPress, Instagram and YouTube). This functionality is great if I have a blogging afternoon, where I write two or three posts and want to space them out rather than spamming my readers.

It is also how I manage to post my blog posts on schedule … today notwithstanding.

Are you a writer, a parent, or both? How do you manage to keep everything straight? Do you make lists? Plan obsessively? Wing it and hope for the best? I’d love to know I’m not alone!

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy author who just forgot, okay?! :p

Cassandra Page

Four Awesome Writery Rewards for Good Behaviour

When people imagine what writers do — even what I imagine I do, when I’m between manuscripts — is sit at the keyboard, fingers flying and words magically pouring out like rainbows from a unicorn. We may occasionally steeple our fingers like Mr Burns as we contemplate some fresh torture, or gloat after we execute a particularly tricky or torturous scene.

Richard Castle booyah

But that hasn’t generally been my experience. In fact, sometimes writing can be downright painful. (Certainly Richard Castle must have felt that way, or he wouldn’t have procrastinated about writing to the point where he started pretending to be a detective. In fact, the animated gif above was the only one I could find where he was even in the same shot as a computer! Procrastination level = master.) Even when it’s not actively painful, writing can still be tedious.

Johnny Depp slinky

Beck mentioned back in January that rewards are one of her strategies to get herself to write, and I use them to get my butt in the chair too. So here are some ideas you might consider as ways to reward yourself for good behaviour — whether that be writing 500 words, finishing a chapter, or finishing an entire novel.

Get a massage. Whether you’re a pen-and-paper drafter or a master of keyboard-fu, writing inevitably involves a lot of sitting, hunching and the occasional fist-to-forehead moment. All of that can wreak havoc on the old back and shoulders. A professional therapeutic massage can work wonders but, if you can’t afford that, why not beg, guilt or entice your significant other or a friend into giving you a shoulder rub?

Do that thing you like to do. Watch your favourite TV show. Go out to see a movie. Play that new computer game. (Or an old favourite — I’ve been playing a bit of Minecraft with my son.) The important thing here is that the reward isn’t too over the top relative to the achievement, because there can be a fine line between reward and procrastination. Don’t spend four weeks binge-watching TV after writing 100 words, or run off and join the police force for “inspiration”. Unless you want to, of course.

Look at the Sims writer go!

Look at the Sims writer go!

Buy yourself a present. What better way to celebrate writing the thing than by reading a thing? Buy a book (or five)! If you’re worried about reading fiction in your genre while you’re drafting, why not read something else? Even non-fiction? Or you could buy yourself some other treat: an awesome new t-shirt, comfy slippers, a charm for a bracelet, or a new DVD. (See my previous point for an awesome one-two combination: buy the DVD and then watch it. Now that’s booyah!)

Eat cake! Or chocolate. Ice cream. Bacon. Pizza. Nutella straight from the jar. Whatever floats your boat. The point is that it should be something you wouldn’t normally do. Or I suppose you could be healthy and go for a run, but I can’t really provide advice on that. 😉

My message here is basically this: do what you gotta do! Because the hard times are temporary and the end is totally worth it.

Benedict smiling

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer who has managed to trick and cajole herself into writing four novels. You can find out more here.
Cassandra Page

Writing What You Know: Setting Your Books at Home

Write What You Know. It’s one of the biggest — if not the biggest — piece of advice given to new writers. It has its flaws, of course. Unless you’re writing an autobiography, you can’t write something that is 100% based on what you know. Even if your main character has the same job as you, and lives in the same place, presumably there are some differences between your life and theirs? (I hope?)

It’s even harder when you’re writing speculative fiction (a broad church that includes everything from sci-fi to high fantasy to dystopian time travelling steampunk). But that’s where copious research and a vivid imagination come in handy. My most recently completed manuscript is the first one I’ve finished that isn’t an urban fantasy, and I set it in a fantasy equivalent of Ancient Greece. Despite my name, I don’t have a drop of Greek blood (Mum just liked the sound of Cassandra, to her Greek obstetrician’s horror). 

My search engine knows my research predilections so well that if I just type in an “A” it suggests “Ancient Greek” as the first two words of the search. Stalker.

However. I’ve released four urban fantasies, and “write what you know” is the reason that they are largely set in my home city of Canberra. In my mind, Melaina (from Lucid Dreaming) and Isla (from the Isla’s Inheritance trilogy) live in the same Canberra, too, not alternate versions of the same city. I love the idea of them running into each other at the mall and each not recognising the other for what they are.

Yes, I said Canberra. I’ll wait a second while you reel in shock. Go on — I won’t judge.

Canberra: the nation’s capital. Reviled across Australia as (allegedly) the soulless, out-of-touch political heart of the country. As Canberrans love to point out, though, almost all the politicians that live here for part of the year are FIFO workers from other parts of the country — so if they bring a deficit of soul and a tendency to replace their leaders every other Tuesday with them, whose fault is that? We didn’t vote for them! 😉

Canberra is, in some ways, an overgrown country town. The city sprawls over 812 square kilometers, but has a population density almost a fifth of Sydney’s, and just over a third of Melbourne’s. What that means is we have a lot more green spaces than either of them do: reserves running through suburbs; low mountains covered in walking trails and with lookouts perched on top; parks for the kids to play. It’s a great place to raise a family.

And the perfect place to set a story when your supernatural population likes green spaces.

The National Museum, from Mount Ainslie. How's the serenity? (Photo credit: Cassandra Page)

The National Museum, from Mount Ainslie. How’s the serenity? (Photo credit: Cassandra Page)

Werewolves and fairies would love it here. There are places with hardly any iron or steel, and green corridors a wolf or other shifter could sneak through. Vampires would have to be careful how they hunted given the lower numbers of humans to snack on, but depending on their appetites they’d do alright too. They could eat the politicians.

I admit that I wondered at first whether setting a supernatural tale here would somehow lack credibility, and whether I should instead pick Sydney or Melbourne, even though I’m less familiar with them. But then I thought, if Sookie Stackhouse can run into vampires in a tiny town like Bon Temps, why can’t Canberra have its own supernatural stories, that element of magic?

When I see the sunlight sparkling off the surface of Lake Burley Griffin on a crisp autumn afternoon, or the glittering lights of the city from Mount Ainslie at dusk, I think that magic is already there. All I’m doing is telling people about it.

So, here’s my advice, in no particular order:

  • Write what you know
  • Research what you don’t
  • Make up the fantastical bits
  • Set your books where the story demands they be set, even — or especially — if that’s not the trendy location
  • Just write

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose young adult urban fantasy Isla’s Inheritance — the first book in the trilogy of the same name — is currently FREE. Get you some! #ShamelessPromotion

Cassandra Page

Karate, exercise and researching fight scenes

I am just about the least sporty person you’ll ever meet. In high school, I was the one that walked when I was meant to be running, the one who used to squeal and duck my head whenever a ball flew at my face. (In my defence, my depth perception and peripheral vision are poor, so it was a valid self-defence mechanism.)

Still, I used to walk everywhere, so I was quite fit … until I got a desk job. (As Scooby Doo would say: “Ruh roh!”) Since then, I’ve occasionally gone on exercise kicks, but usually they’ve ended when I’ve injured myself in one undignified way or another: torn Achilles tendon, sprained ankle, strained calf muscle.

But this year I started karate, and, oh my glob, I love it — so much so that when I did strain my calf muscle back in August, I went to see a physiotherapist and then was back at classes two weeks later. There are lots of reasons I enjoy it, including the fact that I can meet (and sometimes perv at) new people and the fact that, as Suse blogged last year, exercise is a great form of stress relief.

But since AOR is a blog about books, here’s a bookish reason why I really love learning a martial art, and why you might consider it too.

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

Here are things I’ve been shown how to do recently at karate:

  • How to throw a punch or elbow strike for maximum impact
  • How to do various types of kicks
  • How to block someone else’s strike at me
  • How to fall correctly so I don’t knock myself out
  • How to get away if someone grabs my hair from behind
  • How to throw a man taller and stronger than me
  • How to throw someone off me when I’m on my back and they are kneeling over me (yes, like that)

I’m not saying that I could do all those things perfectly in a self-defence situation, because I’m only a wee orange belt … and frankly, I’m hoping I never have to find out. But I understand the theory and I know what it’s meant to look like when competent people do it properly (see, all that perving is for a good cause!). The “write what you know” mantra means life just got a little easier for me when I next sit down to write a fight scene.

Doing martial arts a couple of times a week obviously isn’t going to be for everyone. Another option would be a self-defence workshop, especially if you want to add a bit of extra realism to your protagonist’s attempts to flee the Big Bad. I’m hoping to get to one of those next year as well.

Something to think about, hai?

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer who really doesn’t spend all that much time perving in class … especially if any of her senseis read this.

Cassandra Page