Author Spotlight: Serene Conneeley

Conneeley_Into_the_MistsToday’s author is a very special guest, the first in a string of published Nanowrimo participants who will be appearing on The Dabbler throughout the next two months to give you some encouragement, inspiration and maybe even some great advice. She’s actually had two Nanowrimo novels published, but I’ll leave her to introduce those herself.

Please give Serene Conneeley a warm welcome and enjoy her advice.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your books?

The books I wrote during NaNoWriMo are the novels Into the Mists (2012 NaNo) and Into the Dark (2013 NaNo)… and this November I’ll be writing the third in the series 🙂 They’re loosely considered YA, since the main character is seventeen, and have a fantasy element, a bit of mystery and some magic, while being set in the real world. My favourite review of Into the Mists came from someone who said it was her favourite novel since Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier – Juliet is one of my all-time most-loved authors, so that was awesome!

My first two books were Seven Sacred Sites: Magical Journeys That Will Change Your Life, which is part spiritual adventure story, part history, part travel guide, and A Magical Journey: Your Diary of Inspiration, Adventure and Transformation, which combines writing exercises to unleash your inner wisdom, ways to harness the power of the phases of the moon and the seasons of the earth, and a space in which to write the story of your own life. Then I wrote three books with my friend Lucy Cavendish, The Book of Faery Magic; Mermaid Magic: Connecting With the Energy of the Ocean and the Healing Power of Water; and Witchy Magic, which combine environmental aspects and connecting with nature along with rituals and healing methods and ways to make your life more magical. I also created a meditation CD, Sacred Journey: A Meditation to Connect You to the Magic of the Earth, because I love encouraging people to connect with nature and the seasons to bring magic, strength and wisdom into their life.

  1. When did you first decide you wanted to become a published author?

There was no great plan, it just ended up that way 🙂 I’ve always been a writer (and I’ve always been shy – I prefer writing to talking, and can express myself much better with a pen than with spoken words, hence my desire to write). I’ve been a published journalist since I was fifteen – I wrote for a national surfing magazine while I was in high school, became the first student editor of my university paper and wrote a lot of the content (I studied politics and journalism, but running the paper was more useful in terms of learning as I went, writing constantly and making contacts), and have been a journalist all my life, everything from entertainment reviews and interviews to articles on health, environmental and social issues, to features on self-development and spirituality – I’ve worked for teen mags, kids mags, women’s mags, newspapers, spiritual mags, even a heavy metal mag a while back 🙂 Around ten years ago my magazine articles led to a book deal for my first book, Seven Sacred Sites, so I guess my books began as an extension of my journalistic (published) life…

  1. How did you find out about Nanowrimo?

A friend of a friend did it several years ago, and I was intrigued, but I was always doing festivals that I exhibited my non-fiction books at, like the Mind Body Spirit Festival, in November, so I never had the time to do it myself. Then in 2012 I had to skip the festival – so I was suddenly able to do NaNoWriMo, which was exciting and also a little bit daunting 🙂 And I did it the following year, and will do it again this year too.

  1. How much planning did you do before starting Nanowrimo?

I planned to do a lot of planning – but it hasn’t worked out that way. The first year I’d thought that I would have all of October to spend on plotting and planning, but I didn’t end up finishing the launch and promotion and website for my previous book until October 31, so the next day I just started writing furiously and discovering what would happen as it spewed out onto the page. And the same thing happened last year, and looks set to reoccur this year. So now I’m wondering if I’m just a make-it-up-as-I-go-along type anyway – a pantser as it’s known in the NaNoWriMo universe, for flying by the seat of my pants (I relate to this blog, although in reverse:

I find the process of different writers fascinating – some plan meticulously, and I really admire that, while others don’t plan at all, which can be stressful, and it seems that I’m the latter. Which makes sense I guess, since I’m a bit impatient, but I’ve also discovered that I really love seeing where the writing takes me, watching it unfold as I go and not knowing what will happen in the end. There’s a certain alchemy to the journey that I love, so although I always say I’ll plan next time, maybe I never will. I also really love the forced nature of NaNoWriMo – I could have started book three already, and tried to find time to write it amongst my busy life, but part of me thinks it would take much longer that way, that I would procrastinate too much, and second guess myself, and get bogged down in editing as I go, and wait until inspiration hits – which is never a guaranteed event – so I think I’ll be the most productive if I just wait until November 1st and write it all then.

Of course I’ll spend months afterwards editing and revising and rewriting and the rest of it, but there’s nothing like the pressure of a November deadline to force you to bang out a first draft 🙂

  1. What was your first Nanowrimo experience like?

It was awesome and scary and fun and frustrating and intense and exhausting and wonderful and terrifying, all at once. I had no expectations the first year (2012) – I just figured it would be a great writing exercise, and a great challenge (and I always love a challenge!), and that it didn’t matter what came of it, whether I made it to 50,000 words or not (although I was determined to finish it), or whether the story was good or not (I was fully prepared to discover that I was terrible at fiction and that it would stay in my bottom drawer forever). Yet by the end of it I had a story I really loved, and which people have loved reading. Of course there were days I hated it and wanted to quit, many days when I struggled to force myself to write, many days when I thought my story was crap and not even worth completing – but there were also days when I surprised myself, and really liked how the story was unfolding.

My second attempt, in 2013, was a little more challenging, as my husband and I went to Scotland for a month, from November 1 to 30. A lot of people told me not to bother writing, but I believe you can find time for anything if you really want to, so I took a crappy little laptop with me and managed to hit my 50,000 words by the time I flew home at the end of the month. It was hard, as some days there was a lot of driving or whatever, but I compensated by occasionally writing 4000 words in a day to catch up 🙂

There was more pressure this time – a lot of people had loved my first book, and I’d announced I was writing book two of the series, so there was pressure to finish it, and pressure for it to be as good as the first one (which I was prepared to concede might have been a fluke!), and to come up with a storyline! But I made it through, although this one was more difficult, and much more complex, and a lot of what I wrote during November didn’t actually end up making it into the final story, because I changed a few major plot points and characters as I was going, so I ended up ditching several chapters from the first half of NaNoWriMo and writing new ones over the next few months. And I’ll soon find out what my third attempt will bring 🙂

  1. What advice would you give people attempting Nanowrimo this year?

Tell people you’re doing it, to make yourself accountable. I posted my word count on Facebook each day, and I would have been embarrassed if I’d given up – which is partly why I publicly stated that I was doing it 🙂 I also had a few friends who were doing it, and that definitely encouraged me to keep going. Not that I would have quit – I’m pretty stubborn – but seeing other people’s word counts in my buddies list definitely spurred me on (I discovered a competitive streak I didn’t know I had), and I know that me posting about my progress (and the triumphs and challenges and frustrations and joys) kept other people inspired too. Plus, don’t despair if you don’t finish – no matter what happens, you’ll still have a lot more of a book written than you otherwise would have.

Three of our group of ten got to 50,000 words (and beyond) by November 30 – which is higher than the overall average – another two passed 20,000 words, and everyone else made an awesome start, and had the beginnings of a tale for next year.

Don’t be discouraged, and don’t be afraid of the blank page. I absolutely love the process of NaNoWriMo – my first time I started with just the vaguest wisp of an idea – that a girl goes to stay with her grandma in England and finds a cottage in the mists she’s not sure really exists… That was it, and each day when I started writing, I didn’t know what was going to happen – I’d just start writing, without stopping, scrawling sentences one after the other, and words would just flow out of me, and a whole story eventually emerged.

Which leads to my most important suggestion – be fearless. I had to stop worrying about how good what I was writing was, and just write. With my non-fiction books, if I had a migraine or felt uninspired I would do some research, or edit previous chapters, or do something else related to the project that didn’t involve writing. But with the knowledge that I had to rack up 1667 words each day (and more if I’d slacked off a bit in previous days), I didn’t have that luxury – I just had to write. And that was really freeing. My inner editor was switched off, and I wrote without thinking, almost stream of consciousness, and I never looked back at what I’d written either, I just kept going forward. And I was surprised (and happy) when I realised that by just keeping on writing, I’d figure out how to get from one scene to another. Each day I’d start with no idea of what would happen, yet by the end of that session I’d worked out how to progress the plot. Writing so regularly helped too, because I was thinking about the story all the time, and I’d often solve a problem in the shower or while working out, when my mind was free to wander. I loved writing long hand too – even though it was annoying to have to type it in at night, it somehow seemed to flow better using pen and paper rather than a keyboard… I’m often asked what the secret to writing a book is, and they’re always disappointed with my answer – but it’s true. To write a book, you just have to sit down and write it. Day after day after day. Seems obvious I know, but people always hope for a magic spell, a shortcut of some kind, but it doesn’t exist.

  1. What are your plans this coming November?

I’ll be writing book three of my trilogy! Part of me is more nervous than ever – I’ve stated that it’s book three, and announced the title, and the publication date, yet I have no idea what will happen in it. So I’m trusting that I’ll be able to write it out again, and that by putting pen to paper and making myself write, the story will Conneeley_Into_the_Darkemerge. Plus I’ll be continuing with my day job as editor of a bunch of preschool mags – November is a crazy time with Christmas deadlines and long hours – and working out every day. Maybe the “secret” of succeeding at NaNoWriMo is just making time for it – I would scribble down 900 words on the bus to work in the morning, and that again coming home, and was often more productive on work days than weekends… I kept a pen and paper with me at all times, so if I was waiting to meet someone I could scrawl out a section, or if an idea came to me I could write it down. NaNoWriMo is a challenge for sure, but it’s definitely doable if you really want to do it

Serene Conneeley is an Australian writer with a fascination for history, travel, ritual and the myth and magic of ancient places and cultures. She’s the author of seven books (two fiction, five non-fiction), editor of the preschool magazines Little Active Learners, Little Friends and Spider-Man, and has worked for publications including Cosmopolitan, Dolly, Woman’s Day, The West Australian newspaper, Hot Metal, Spellcraft and Your Destiny. She’s a reconnective healing practitioner, and has studied magical and medicinal herbalism, bereavement counselling, Reiki and many other healing modalities, as well as politics and journalism. You can find her at