Smart People Talking: C.S. Pacat

C.S. Pacat is an Aussie author making a global name for herself with her ‘Captive Prince’ trilogy. The trilogy started as a web serial which went viral, and caught the eye of Penguin USA.  While at Brisbane’s 2016 Oz Comic-Con, C.S. Pacat joined Isobelle Carmody and Marianne de Pierres in a panel conversation about the writer’s life and the issues within, called ‘Writing As A Day Job’.

Be strategic about the publishers or agents you approach. Don’t send to all your top choices at once.

It’s also important not to spam every publisher or agent. Be selective. Figure out who works in the genres you write in, decide who you think best fits with your work and your career goals, and gradually work your way down the list. Remember, though, to give them time to get back to you- and do it without constantly harassing them. If you seem like you’re going to be a lot of effort to work with, it’s not really going to help your cause.

I really love fanfic. I think it’s a really vibrant art form. It’s still underground and still feels taboo. You learn a lot in that forum.

A lot of writers and artists are anti-fanfic and fanart, calling it plagiarism and artistic theft. And there’s a grain of truth to that, if we’re honest. After all, at its heart, fan works are borrowing someone else’s toys for a brief, unpaid play date. But allowing fans to explore the work in their own way has far more benefits than issues. The more a reader connects and invests in the universe you’ve created, the more likely they are to keep returning to it when you release the next book. The more likely they are to talk to other people about your work passionately and often. And sooner or later, fic writers and readers create a community around the work.

Increasingly, fanfic is the starting point for successful stories- after all, 50 Shades Of Grey started life as a Twilight fanfic, and Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter world began its days as Harry Potter fic. Fic writing is a safe space to hone the skills in an established world, and a form of writing education that we can’t dismiss out of hand. It may not be the most popular of art forms, but that doesn’t change that it is actually an art form.

In a lot of ways, fanfic is better placed to discuss taboo issues and themes. There are stories that traditional publishers won’t touch due to their controversial nature, and yet fanfic can go wherever it wants so long as there are a few trigger warnings in place.

When you’re writing fanfic you only need one idea. In original fic, you need to make the audience care. I was shocked to my core at how little the lessons I learned writing fic worked in my original work.

Fanfic takes away the need to design characters and universes. You already know the characters, the politics, the fashions, the verbosity- fanfic takes all the nitty-gritty elements out of your hands and lets you gambol about with nothing more than a story idea. It’s fun, but it’s very different to writing original fic.  In fanfic, chances are good that your readers will already care about the primary and secondary characters, because they already know and relate to them.

In original fic, you need to make the audience care about people, places, and experiences that they haven’t had before. You need layers of story, rather than a single thread. It’s a vastly different experience for the writer.

Ideas can take literally years to gestate.

Ideas take work and time to come to life, but part of that work is sitting back and giving yourself permission to contemplate it, rather than leaping in and trying to beat an idea into submission.

There’s a reason so many people liken the creative process to giving birth. There’s a whole bunch of stuff happening under the surface that you need to let happen without interference.

When you start out, you have good taste. When you work, your work is way less good than your tastes. That taste gap is really disheartening. You have to persevere and learn through the struggle.

We start off with dreams of being amazing writers, and skills well beneath where we want to be. That prospect sees a lot of writers quit- the vision doesn’t survive the reality, because the reality can’t compete with the vision of what it was meant to be. A lot of writers, no matter how popular or successful they are, can easily rattle off a list of the things they’d change in their first novels.

The more you write, the better you write. So write. Then write some more. And more and more until you can look back at your early works and see just how far you’ve come.

There are two options when you’re told that this imaginary space doesn’t include you: change yourself, or the world. We’re writers- we can write the world, we don’t have to accept it.

As a child, C.S. Pacat read ‘The Hobbit’, and realised that although she wanted to be out in the action, as a girl and a child, she’d have been relegated to the background, hidden safely in a cave while the menfolk sorted out the problems. It didn’t sit well.

There are a lot of issues with representation in literature, even now. And Juno Diaz has a point- the easiest way to make someone, or a group of someones, feel like a monster is to deny them a reflection in the cultural landscape. Far too often in movies, TV, and even books, the bad guys are the ones that fall outside the scope of the cis, white, able-bodied, hetero-normative ideal. Or those groups and many others simply don’t get mentioned.  Whitewashing is lazy writing- don’t be lazy.

Writing is about exploring the world and its stories. That can’t really happen if only one group gets their stories told. Even though it’s a harder prospect to write outside of your own sphere of experience, it’s a part of writing that needs to be more fully embraced by a lot of writers. Having said that, don’t just assume you can guess how someone else experiences the world. If you’re writing character from a different social or cultural sphere, then at least give a realistic, fair portrayal. Talk to people in that group, and look at the ways to respectfully include those characters (it’s called respectful research. Learn to love it.)

Also? As a reader or a writer, do your bit to support writers outside the mainstream (mostly white male writers) lists. Read outside the mainstream, and talk about those books. Help celebrate the voices from within those ‘other’ groups that are doing their bit to shape the stories our societies tell.

Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s quite a grueling endurance activity. There are all these tempting drop out points where things get really tough. You’ve gotta not be one of the people who quit at them.

Nanowrimo is a fantastic opportunity to push through and learn how to carve writing time into your daily life, but you’re not going to get to December 1st with a novel ready to send out to publishers. It’s a long-term investment in time and energy, and it’s easy to get disheartened when it’s not going your way.

Surrender control. If it takes longer to make the best work possible, it takes longer. All you can do is keep working daily. A lot of writers hold themselves up to a standard that gets shot to hell the second something goes wrong. Be flexible in your routines and remember that there will be times when your best laid plans will fall apart on you. People get sick, work gets busy- there’s countless moments where life has to come first. Besides, the more time you spend panicking that you’re not getting your novel written fast enough, the less time you’re spending actually writing.

So breathe. Remember that the work you do isn’t easy- and it isn’t meant to be. Good stories take time and energy. Step back for a moment when you need to, but always step back into the fray again after you’ve caught your breath. You’ve got this!

I’m starting to learn that I need to transform myself from someone who can’t write a book to someone who can. You have to change yourself to get it done. There’s a lot of things you have to change.

A lot of people say they don’t have time to write- and sometimes, it’s true. But often, there’s an underlying issue at play. Do you have bad time management skills? Do you need to research but don’t know where to start? Are you scared of failure or success? If there’s not an immediate crisis stopping you, think long and hard about what’s actually stopping you getting your writing done. Then figure out a couple of ways to try dealing with the problem.

If it’s time management, or fear or failure or success, there’s a wealth of resources available to show you how to better manage your time and your fears. If there’s research, break it down: time periods need info on lifestyle, fashion, food, technology, transportation- the things you need to know for your character to get from point A to B without screwing up too badly (unless, of course, you want them to screw up badly. But even then, how will they know they’ve screwed up if there’s no contrast with the people around them?). Figure out what elements you need to know to get through the scene. If knowing the technical schematics for the car ferrying your kidnapped hero to the abandoned warehouse isn’t going to serve the story (and let’s be honest, it’s probably not), you don’t need to research it.

Writing was what I did when I had a scrap of time. I had no hobbies beyond writing, so I had to learn to switch off at times and refresh.

If you ever make it to the point you’re writing for a living- congrats! But remember that your life can’t be just about writing. Have hobbies outside of your writing. Carve out time to socialise, or to take time to do the things that make you happy. It honestly will make you a better, more productive writer.

The tyranny of solitude is not good for mental health.

We like to pretend that writers are solitary creatures, but that’s not actually a healthy way to live. We need friends, and time away from screens or pages. We need to laugh, and breathe fresh air, and fall in love, and do all those things that are part of living a full and social life. Yes, it means less writing time. But there are only so many stories we can create without external stimulus. The best way to find stories is to go out into the world and live in it.

This sucks if you have social anxieties, of course, and there’s a massive addendum about doing what’s safe for you, rather than what you think you should be doing. We’re all different- do what works for you.

But also? Writing groups are your friend. They let you spend time talking with other writers, or picking their brains to help figure out a plot point, or sit around writing with them. Writing can be a social activity, even if it’s just the kind of social that means sitting in the same room as someone else.

 

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