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  • Debra Palmen

Would You Obey the Rules for Writing?

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

Before I start, it might seem incongruous, but there is a reason for featuring these pretty fairy images throughout the Newsletter. Read on ….

I’ve been beavering away on several fronts. This is a mistake, apparently. Did you know there are Rules for Writing? Ignore them at your peril the writing gurus say. But ignore them I do.

It means I need reasonable juggling skills, which sometimes I have. Sometimes I’m a headless chook. But which of these Rules would you follow or ignore:

Writing Rule 1:

You must retreat into a calm, quiet work zone that has no interruptions – preferably facing a blank wall, so you can really focus on creating your Pearls of Wisdom without distraction.

My Reality:

I like the TV on in the background. I like looking at the changing view outside my window. I like having a moggie or two snuggled up next to me. I like being in easy reach of food and drink. Is it distracting? Sometimes. But who’s setting the deadlines around here? That would be me. Except when I’m working for a magazine, then the Editor rules. But magazine deadlines are set months in advance, so I can still phaff to a fair degree. It all still gets done in the end.

Writing Rule 2:

Put your head down and write, write, write. As quickly as you can. Don’t stop to edit. Don’t stop to consider whether it’s even making sense – this really is a Rule! Produce a stream of consciousness and edit later. Apparently the human brain has a writing mode and an editing mode, and you should never try to mix the two in one session.

My Reality:

I totally edit as I write. And even then, my first draft often resembles a dog’s breakfast. With Calypso’s books, I start with an image that sparks an idea, or see something Calypso has done (usually naughty), or I overhear someone saying something funny. Yes, I’m spying on youse all, taking notes. The story grows organically from there, and I rework it continually as I think of developments and twists. With non-fiction books or magazine articles, I write a bit, edit a bit, write a bit more. I find it helps to work on something until it more-or-less makes sense before I move on to the next bit. It’s slower, sure. But I couldn’t face dealing a huge mess that I have to somehow turn into English. Bit by bit works best for me.

Writing Rule 3:

Be a Plotter or Pantser. You can’t be both.

My Reality:

There are two types of writers, they say – Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters plan their books, chapter by chapter. They’re organised and they know exactly where they’re heading next. Pantsers literally write by the seat of their pants. There’s little or no planning, it’s just inspiration. You’re meant to be one or the other. But it turns out I’m both. With my non-fiction I’m totally a Plotter, but with Calypso’s books it’s Pantser all the way.

Writing Rule 4:

Write what you know, and don’t get bogged down with too much research.

My Reality:

This is the Rule I most disagree with. Because here’s the thing: in writing Volume 1 of the Little Beasties series (which I’m thinking of actually naming Fabulous Beasts & How to Collect Them), a huge amount of research was necessary before I started to write.

For example, I didn’t know the different social histories of Eastern and Western dragons, and at what point they converged and why. I didn’t know the full extent to which Disney changed the mermaid legends. I didn’t know the best way to catch a unicorn. I didn’t know that chickens have more bones in their necks than giraffes. I didn’t know that killer bees were created rather than natural, and why some numpty thought it was a good idea to invent them.

And even though I’ve been an antiques dealer for a long, long time, I didn’t know what the best vintage collectables were for each of the animals I’m featuring, or the best prices for them. All that had to be extensively researched before I started writing. If I wrote only what I knew before my research, it would be a dang skinny book!

Writing Rule 5:

Work on only one project at a time.

My Reality:

Of all the Rules this one does make sense to me, even though I ignore it. If you flit from project to project, you stand the risk of finishing none of them. Except, what do you know, if you keep plugging away in the end you'll finish all of them. It’s certainly slower working on more than one thing at once, but it’s way more interesting. When I don’t want to grapple with yet another Christian peacock metaphor and turn that into something interesting for the Fabulous Beasts series, I do some research on the social history of chocolate for The Foodies Guide to Antiques & Collectables. When I grow tired of sourcing the hundreds of visual references needed for just one of Calypso’s books, I do a hard edit of the Fabulous Beasts’ Dragonflies chapter. And if I don’t want to write or read or edit, by golly there’s a lot of painting to do at my house right now. And gardening. And copper polishing.

So, would you follow The Rules for Writing? Which ones? They’re there for a reason, I’m assured. People who write a lot more books and articles than me obey these Rules. And it's true I am making slow progress on my book projects, but I’m happy with how they’re shaping up. I plan to present quality products, not fast products. But you can be the judge of that. Quite soon.

Meanwhile, a brief update on the radio interview I mentioned in my last Newsletter: It was fun! I was booked for a five-minute chat, but we ended up talking for almost half an hour. It wasn’t a highbrow program, by any means. Put it this way – I was scheduled between interviews with a reformed white supremacist and a modern-day Yeti hunter. But it did result in book sales, and thank you in particular to Anne who texted me from Penang to give her feedback on my performance immediately after the interview.

Finally, the next Collectorama Antiques Fair at the Nambour Showgrounds is scheduled for Saturday 1 June.

I have new vintage pictures I’ll be offering at Collectorama, including some of the lovely flower fairies by Cicley Barker and charming fairy images by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite that I've featured here. Cicely Barker was an English artist, probably the most famous fairy artist ever. Think of a plant and Cicely Barker created a flower fairy for it, so she never ran out of subjects.

Ida Outhwaite was the premier fairy artist in Australia in the 1920s and 30s. Her work often incorporated Australian animals and landscapes. The image I'm showing here, Mist of the Mountains, has quite a Blue Mountains feel, I think.

I'll be offering original bookplates from both these artists, as well as the reproductions I’ve had made and which I'll download on to the website over the next week. I’ve featured some of my favourites here – do you like them?

I also have more French copper kitchenware dating from the 1820s to the 1960s, an Italian coffee grinder from my own collection, some seriously good enamelware from my own collection and more. It will be lovely if you’re able to come by and say hello.

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