Some Guidance Required

You know how I was saying that one day I might be able to introduce myself like this, ‘Hi, I’m Hone Rata. I’m an author’? The last month has shown me that while I might be able to say that, I can’t follow it up with ‘And I’m kinda good at it.’ Because if I have learned anything this past month, it’s that I have a great deal left to learn. A GREAT DEAL TO LEARN. Like the proper use of capitalisation for instance.

‘I’ve never read about how to story. I’ve never studied story.’

My whole life I’ve read story, watched story, listened to story, told story. But I’ve never read about how to story. I’ve never studied story. I’ve picked up a few things. Like it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. And that things should happen to people and that we should care about these people. So, I wrote this story. It’s pretty long: ninety-five thousand nine hundred and four words at the end of my last edit. That is twenty thousand more words than when I first thought I’d finished. And it’s not nearly done! Half of the notes my mentor leaves point out things I haven’t explained properly. Or mentions a character I haven’t fleshed out properly. Or weaknesses in the structure that need to be reinforced or plugged. Or worse, points out where the chapter should end.

Chapters! It’s a perfect example. When I wrote my story, especially at the beginning, I wrote to an audience. A small group of supporters I emailed my story to every night. I would put my kids to bed, watch a bit of TV with my wife and then sit down and write for a couple of hours. I’m not a fast writer, I don’t type quickly, so it’s a drawn out and laborious process. In two hours, I can write maybe a thousand words. So, I would write away into the evening or the early hours of the morning. And my chapters would end when I got too tired to go on. I’d see a break point coming up, I’d try to finish on a hook, to make it exciting for my email audience, then I’d save my document and go to sleep.

‘You need to write down the “beats” of your story, so you know where the tension rises and where it falls.’

Turns out that chapters should have a purpose beyond letting you go to bed. Who knew! They should have a beginning, a middle and an end. They should take a character on a journey, and the choices they make need to be inevitable. Each chapter should be like a little story of its own. They may or may not be made up of separate, thematically linked, scenes each one of which should kinda have a beginning, a middle and an end. These are general rules; some books don’t have chapters at all. But that’s because the authors made a choice, not because they went a really long time without going to sleep. I’m learning how to think about chapters as I write. At the same time, I’m learning how to give my characters distinctive voices. I’m trying to remember not to use too many tropes or clichés; trying to remember to show stuff happening, not just have it reported (action is more exciting). I’m struggling with expressing my characters’ emotions. And making sure things are happening while they are talking so they are not just disembodied heads chattering away (ironically, I have disembodied heads chattering away in my story, but you never hear what they have to say).

But before you can do that, you need to actually write down who your characters are and what they are like, what they think and why they are trying to achieve. You need to plan and document your world. How does it work? What’s it’s history like? It’s government, it’s economy? How does it view non-binary genders? What about gender politics? Matriarchy? Patriarchy? You need to write down the ‘beats’ of your story so you know where the tension rises and where it falls. I’m not sure my writing style suits this kind of preparation, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it; it means I have to do it after I’ve written the story. I call it postparation. And this is important because I need to know this stuff so I can use that information while I am editing – to improve my consistency, and make sure the characters are acting in a way that makes sense and in a believable way (even if they are not supposed to be sensible and the things they do are unbelievable)

‘I struggled this last week to rewrite two chapters. I couldn’t figure out a good way to tell the pieces of story I needed to tell with the characters I needed to tell it with.’

There are so many balls to juggle that I didn’t even know I was holding. So many. And some chainsaws and knives and probably a bowling ball. But there are also butterflies and doughnuts and puppies. Not every note is an error to be corrected; some are notes of congratulations, inspirational suggestion or slight adjustments that I just know will make my words sing. And there is nothing like looking back on my writing and seeing how I have improved, how my story is better. And sometimes I think that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to write a paragraph without using an adverb.

It’s hard, hard work. I struggled this last week to rewrite two chapters. I couldn’t figure out a good way to tell the pieces of story I needed to tell with the characters I needed to tell it with. I had three birds and only one stone. I just couldn’t get traction, and my deadline approached. In the end, I just decided to do it badly, make a ham-fisted job of it. Not because that’s what I want to do, but because once it’s on the page, I can go over it and refine it until the turd is nicely polished. And if I can’t polish the turd, if I can’t see the shine under the muck, my mentor can tell me where to start.

That’s the magic of this whole thing. Someone who is good at this, someone who can see the diamond in the rough, takes the time to give me advice. Tells me how chapters work. That adverbs are the devil’s work and that doing is better than telling. Leaves notes I can weave into the sheet to make music from laboured beats.

It’s invaluable; these pieces of advice, so hard to juggle today, will become second nature. When they are, then I’ll be okay at this. I’ll still need an editor; it’s really very hard to see your own errors. I’ll never stop learning. But maybe, I’ll be able to poop something closer to a diamond.

‘I’ll never stop learning. But maybe, I’ll be able to poop something closer to a diamond.’


I’ve attached a picture of the two chapters I edited this week, zoomed right out in Word. All the colours in the image are changes I’ve made. All the red dots are suggestions my mentor made on the first draft.


Hone Rata (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Ruanui, Taranaki) is an aspiring author currently embroiled in the fraught journey that is preparing his first novel for publishing. Hone is pleased to have been selected for the 2018 Te Papa Tupu writing programme. He is excited to learn new skills and apply them to his novel.

Creating Is a Wonderful Thing

It’s midnight on Saturday. I am ecstatic, my cheeks red with exhaustion and exhilaration at the same time. No, I am not clubbing or at a party with friends. Here I am, sitting alone at the wooden dining room table, my heart pumping in my chest. I’ve decided that being a writer is isolating. It’s just you and the keyboard of your computer. Except perhaps for the friends I’ve discovered in the magical worlds I create through the use of words. Mōrena Pēpi Kiore (cute baby mouse). Kia ora Keatangata (cute baby Kea). As you can see, I like cute native animals in my storylines.

‘I’ve been reading books written by writers on their creative process.’

I’ve spent five months and too many days to count, writing this novel. Waking up early every morning, my laptop open and the unnatural light of the screen searing my sleepy eyes. I’m lucky I have the flexibility of being a university student as this week I’ve spent two entire days writing. My weight has increased as the amount of exercise I do has decreased to zilch, zero, nothing. If I could show it to you on a line graph (I can’t; I’m a writer), you would see the line representing my level of physical exercise plummet dramatically. My natural tan has become steadily more vampire-like. Sometimes when I arrive at university for ‘mahi’, I go straight to the postgraduate student cafe and order a herbal tea. There I sit with my laptop and write for a couple of hours before I get into my master’s thesis (also an imminently approaching deadline). Shoot me now.

I’ve been reading books written by writers on their creative process, including Terry Brooks’s Sometimes the Magic Works and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. From Talisman Terry, I’ve learnt that taking the time to draft an outline for your novel is a good idea. I realise I might have been over-estimating my writing abilities by creating my plot on the run. As Terry says, ‘now on top of that you want to mess around with trying to figure out your plot? Who do you think you are – Houdini?’ Ouch, that one hurt, Terry. So, I write a quick outline for this novel and then find my writing output increases tenfold because when I sit down to write, I now know where I am going and how far I have to go.

‘… if inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you’

From Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth, I’ve learnt that sometimes ideas magically ascend to those of us living a creative life and therefore must be grasped fully with two consistent hands. Otherwise, it may flutter over to someone else who cares for it more deeply, ‘because this is the other side of the contract with creativity: if inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you’. I am thankful I cared deeply enough about this story so it didn’t leave me for someone else. Two-timing manuscript.

I binge-watch two documentaries on the creative process of Hayao Miyazaki, the celebrated Japanese film director and co-owner of the fantastical Studio Ghibli. I learn about work ethic from koro Hayao of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke fame, who even at the age of seventy-two was still working on his movie The Wind Rises from
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday. As a writer, those long and consistent hours would seriously churn out some big books and fast.

I am astonished to find out that koro Hayao draws the entire storyboard of his movie by hand. Every single painstaking second of his movie drawn by hand. Sheesh, writing is an easy gig compared to old-school animating. He makes up the storyline as he goes. Often the entire studio doesn’t know the outcome until the completion of the entire storyboard. What I find most impressive about this is the faith that the million dollar financiers of his movies must have in his abilities. I imagine a conversation between koro Hayao and his investors.

‘Will you spend millions financing my movie?’

‘Sure what is the storyline? Who are the characters?’

‘I don’t know; I make it up as I go.’

‘Please, take my money.’

I read online articles on the creators of manga that inspire me, like Rumiko Takahashi and her Japanese mythological tale Inuyasha. All this so that my mind and body can be enthused with the kind of magical creative energy that will help me to complete this novel, or so I fervently hope.

So here we are. The first book I have ever attempted to write and the first book I have ever completed, all in one fell swoop. All 74,250 words, 343 pages and 35 chapters of it. I can see my characters Hine and Pakū in my head, or maybe they are in my heart. I wonder about the second book of the series that I hope to be able to write and how it might tie into the first. My eyes tear up as I reread the last chapter. I know this book is good. The ending worked out well; the characters grow and develop as they should in a coming-of-age YA novel.

‘I realise that I’ve become someone who contributes creatively to literature rather than just another reader who takes without giving back.’

It feels almost sad like the magical, hair-raising, exhilarating, awe-inspiring journey is over. But then I’m also proud that I wrote my own magical story rather than just reading someone else’s. I realise that I’ve become someone who contributes creatively to literature rather than just another reader who takes without giving back. Like Terry, Elizabeth, koro Hayao and Rumiko. But perhaps what I am most excited about is the story that I’ve written for me.

It is true; this story is the one I wish I could have read when I was a child. All aspects of it – the Māori goddesses, the wars, the animals, the battles, the beautiful and glorious nature – all of it is exactly what I like in a novel. It’s a compilation, an accumulation of the favoured preferences of the lifetime (so far) lived by one precocious adult. It’s magical; it’s special; it’s loving. I realise what this feeling is. It’s pride. Like the pride one feels when their child learns a new skill. This book is my baby. And my baby has grown into a teenager. She’s still got a way to go – a bit of editing, a lot of rewriting, moving things from here to there – but she’s on track.

I hope my bubble of happiness won’t be burst when I receive feedback on the completed transcript from my mentor. But for now, I feel proud. I thank my mentors Terry, Elizabeth, koro Hayao, Rumiko and, of course, my Te Papa Tupu mentor, Simon. I pat myself on the back (figuratively) and go to bed, my mind still racing from the adventure I created solely from the colourful recesses of my mind. Which in itself is amazing.

Creating is a wonderful thing.


Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists, nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.

How Jekyll and Hyde Help Refine Writing

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde I am experiencing the dual identities of writing – which I affectionately think of as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – two different personalities sharing the one body. I refer to writing for pleasure – a sudden rush of great ideas in a story that lives and breathes as it passes from your imagination to the page, and the editing stage – the realisation your text is riddled with cliché and characters are short on personality – that some ideas will die horribly, to be removed from the document forever.

I was always aware of the schism but never fully understood the eternal struggle of keeping both egos on a tight leash. Both characters are essential to completing my project, but they compete for attention, and however hard I try, I always favour one over the other – no matter that both personalities have something beneficial to offer.

I prefer Dr Jekyll – he may appear to be civilised and mannered, spending many years and large amounts of money training to become a doctor so that he can provide a service to the community. However, there must be an underlying madness in one who allows their mind to be subject to experimentation – and such is the way when you start out writing. You have the best intentions to craft an enjoyable book – ideas and words flow forth and your fingers furiously tap the keys, and days pass and pages mount. Yet in your heart, you know your ideas are out there – that deep down you have created a story you can no longer contain – so you develop a formula to help.

You call this formula editing.

It’s at this point we release Mr Hyde – the beast in its truest form. He is free from restraint and cares little for the world you develop – casually destroying ideas going nowhere and removing characters who add nothing to the storyline. Yes, he appears uncontrolled, but he is the only side of your personality that speaks true. Very few people care for Mr Hyde, but it’s only his hideous appearance that creates the fear – how he reacts essentially distils bold ideas back to their purest form.

In essence, we should really fear Dr Jekyll, knowing that what appears on the outside is merely a shell that houses a disturbingly twisted and unrefined story.

Still, I know which friend I will be calling when a good story pops in my head … Am I wrong?

Until I write again …