RW5: aaargh, finishing stuff, and Jones and Mahy

Request Week is now over and the comments are closed, but I’ll continue working through the rest of the requests. Cause I’m honorable that way.

Marrije wants to know about

the pluses and minuses of living in several places (i.e. nyc and sydney) and how you do that logistically.

I hope you understand, Marrije, that a question like that is a license for me to whinge. You have been warned.

My answer in short: Aaaaaarrrrrrggggggghhh!!!!!!!

We’ve been saying for a while that we live half the year in Sydney and half in NYC. But it’s not true. It never has been.

We haven’t lived anywhere for six months straight since we lived in Sydney for almost two years way back in the olden days. The last time we were three months anywhere was San Miguel de Allende. In 2006 I spent time in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, San Francisco, Bologna, Madison, New York City, Kyoto, LA, Seattle, Lexington, London and Bangkok.

I have no idea how we do it logistically. Every time I think about it my head explodes. I long to live somewhere for a year without packing and unpacking my bags at least once a month. (I’d prefer that somewhere to be Sydney.)

Pluses: Lots of different friends in lots of different places. Seriously, the list of cities I could happily live in just grows and grows. Seeing more of the world is wonderful. (The whole airplane/airport thing I could live without.) There are still so many more cities I’d love to see: I’ve never been to Istanbul or Paris or Rio de Janeiro or Dublin or Capetown or Amsterdam or Tokyo or Moscow or Kinshasa.

Minuses: Too much jetlag and travel (seriously I think we lose at least two months every year to travel and dealing with jetlag. Not good.), getting sick A LOT, being desperately homesick for at least one month of the year (I know, I’m a big baby), never knowing where my favourite coat is, the book(s) I need are always in the other city, doing my taxes is a nightmare, feeling like I’m missing all the important moments in my family and friends’ lives, missing my family and friends (doesn’t matter where I am, I’m always missing someone), whingeing about it all way too much.

A lurker asks:

what if (hypothetically of course) one is an adolescent writer, who writes sporadically – poems, first pages, occasionally a whole short story! – but never finishes? should i (or one . . . or . . . never mind) push myself to finish a novel if i hope to be a writer someday, even if the process starts to feel stressful and rushed? and any tips to how to reach the end? or should i take my time and enjoy the ride? i’ve never been able to stick with a story more than a couple months MAX on my own. i’ve tried several times to write a nano-novel or similar timed bits but always give it up as more hopeless than usual. i love starting to write novels—just never finish them. thoughts?

Scott has written about this one in detail. Read him! There’s gold in that there advice.

Like he said the only way to learn how to finish a story is to, you know, finish a story. Circular but true. Personally, I don’t reckon writing’s much fun until I have a complete draft to mess around with. You’re denying yourself the best part!

That said I didn’t feel that way when I was a beginning writer. I wrote more fragments than finished stories and novels, and I almost never wrote more than one draft. Finishing and redrafting were skills I learned (to love) later.

My biggest advice to beginning writers is to have fun, enjoy yourself! I have more to say on the subject of beginning writers getting overly obsessed with the publishing rather than the writing part here. Which is not what a lurker was asking about, but is a tiny bit a propos.

Orangedragonfly asks:

if you could sit down and have lunch with any person who ever lived, who would you choose and why? (this is a standard question for me. i ask everyone. i love to hear the responses.)

Diana Wynne Jones and Margaret Mahy. Because they are the two geniuses of my field. I would love to sit down and talk writing with them. Or anything else really. They are goddesses.


  1. jenny d on #

    i feel we should personally and jointly embark on a mission to sit on a roundtable discussion (lunch afterwards) with you, me, mm and dwj, i so completely agree with you about singling out those 2 as geniuses of the first order! i still reread them both obsessively, the charms of their novels have lasted at least 25 years for me and i continue to devour their new ones…

  2. Anonymous on #

    are you saying that you think to many peeps get serios about righting before they shuld? i think i do that. i make it seem like a job. and i get upset all the time. and i don’t like it any more.

    ive never heard of mahey. what should i read?

    im sorry you hate your life! 😉

  3. marrije on #

    thanks for the explanation, justine, and i very much enjoy your whinging :-).

    thinking about your year planning makes my head explode too, if it’s any comfort. i may be your opposite with respect to going places – just a tad too stay-in-one-place (viz. the jetlag i get flying to london from amsterdam, years of wobbliness after moving house), i’ve never been south of malta or west of oxford or east of berlin or north of, um, somewhere in sweden.

    people who fly around a lot are utterly fascinating to me. so worldly-wise and good at coping, even if you do say aaaaarrrggghhh a lot in the process.

  4. Justine on #

    Jenny D: Wouldn’t that be wonderful?! Except that I have to admit I quail at the thought of either one of them reading my books. What if they thought they sucked? Seriously the thought of Mahy or Jones hating, or worse, being bored by my trilogy . . . Gah! I don’t think I could go on!

    Hmmm. Perhaps I am sharing too much?

    Anon says: are you saying that you think to many peeps get serios about righting before they shuld?

    Basically. Writing is something most people can do. Writing well enough to be published is a whole other thing. I think some people get themselves all wound up trying to get published when they’d be a lot happier if they treated writing as a hobby. I love dancing but I’ve never aspired to do it in front of an audience.

    Of course, every time I say something like this the people who are really talented, whose writing I’d love to see in print think, “Oh my God, she’s talking about me! I should quit trying to get published.” *SIGH*

    Marrije: So you’ve never really been outside Europe. Does Malta count as part of Europe? Are you interested in trying other continents? Or are you too afraid of jetlag?

    I thought London and Amsterdam were the same timezone. And isn’t that like a one-hour flight? That’s not jetlag, sweetie, that’s just being allergic to London. You’re not alone.

  5. marrije on #

    amsterdam and londen are one hour apart, justine, and i don’t really have jetlag of course, just that mild dislocation where you have to check your watch oftener than usual and the bbc is suddenly displaying the correct time in stead of living one hour in the past.

    the jetlag isn’t what’s keeping me from traveling, i think. just the logistics of kids and a business and not being terribly itchy for new countries. though it might also be slightly pathological, since i used to study indian languages (sanskrit!) and had no inclination whatsoever to ever visit india. i recollect much saying of aaaarrrghh when anyone mentioned the possibility of me going there…

  6. Justine on #

    It’s so weird to me that Europe has more than one timezone given that it’s not that much bigger than New South Wales which is just the one timezone. Europe is so teen tiny!

    Were you ever itchy for new countries? I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to travel. I mean even now when I whinge about it, I still want to keep travelling.

  7. marrije on #

    nope, never! isn’t that weird? stick me in a large chair with a book about foreign countries and i’m much, much happier than with the real thing. but who knows, maybe i’ll become one of those ‘grey mail pigeons’ as we call them, people who start traveling like mad when they are retired.

    europe is indeed tiny. it is quite lovely, though! and very warm – I’m wearing a skirt today and don’t feel cold at all since it’s 7C outside. which will make you cringe, i bet 🙂

  8. Justine on #

    That is weird. But, you know, if everyone in the world wanted to travel all the time that’d be chaos.

    This convo has reminded me though of another plus of all this travel. I’m much more adaptable than I once was. Dump me anywhere and I’ll be able to figure out the train system etc pretty quickly. And I’m a positive genius at finding all the good food 🙂

    You’re mad! Seven c? Warm? Oh my Elvis! I’d die! Nothing below 20C is warm.

  9. Amanda Coppedge on #

    I think if I ever met Diana Wynne Jones or Margaret Mahy–much less DWJ AND MM–I would just fall over dead. No chance for intelligent conversation or lunch. (I won’t tell MM you mispelled her name, btw. 😉

    Can’t tell you how many times I checked Howl’s Moving Castle and The Tricksters out of the library when I was in middle school.

  10. Amanda Coppedge on #

    That is, of course, if you don’t tell her I misspelled “misspelled.”

  11. Justine on #

    Misspelt Margaret Mahy’s name? I don’t know what you’re talking about . . .

  12. Rebecca on #

    “doesn’t matter where I am, I’m always missing someone”

    Me too. But I guess I really shouldn’t be complaining, as I’m only split between two cities. And they’re relatively close together.

  13. orangedragonfly on #

    i meant to comment on this thread earlier…i actually thought i did. oh well. my brain is a bit off the past few months (since i got pregnant); i tell my husband “the baby ate my brain.” 😉


    dwj and mm are wonderful choices. i agree..they are goddesses! (my answer to this question changes with my whims; i actually chose you and scott once.) i think it would be so great to just be able to soak up the presence of someone i admire. of course, most of the time i have to add to my answer “but i’d be terrified of looking/acting/speaking like an idiot!”

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