Vivienne Merrill

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Vivienne Merrill

Vivienne is an Assessor for The Story Mint.
At The Story Mint we choose our assessors carefully. This is because we want only assessors who recognise every writer is on a path of continuous improvement and that their role to guide and assist as a mentor would.
We are delighted to have Vivienne as one of those mentors.


1. How you get your inspiration?

Vivienne: I really believe that inspiration comes when, as Woody Allen said, [I] “show up at [my] desk” and actually work at writing. I always remember that most people find it easy to begin a piece but many find it impossible to finish… Keeping interested, curious and caring about people, experiencing all you can in life, usually brings all the inspiration a writer needs.


2. What is your writing routine? (if you have one)

Again, I feel the only way to keep my writing alive is to “book” a regular time for writing and stick to it. Even if you only have a short period of time, your brain soon registers that there is a special time for writing.


3. Do you have places or people you draw inspiration from?

I do find regular reading keeps me alert to the written word and can trigger an idea for a piece of writing. Train journeys help my thought processes and I like people-watching. The journey to the city (Wellington, NZ) takes an hour, so there’s plenty of time for all of this. I also belong to two small groups of like-minded writers. This is vital in keeping me honest with my writing efforts.


4. Do you have topics you particularly like to write about?

With my writing for children, the work has to centre on children’s activities and always be told through their perceptions, actions etc. I do like writing about the impact major life events have on people and the fallout that sometimes occurs. My first YA novel was about a teenage girl attempting to come to terms with her brother’s suicide and also having to deal with her parents’ struggles.


5. Why did you choose the genre you have as your specialist area?

I think the genre of children’s writing chose me. I was at home with small children and I began writing for the NZ School Journal, small stories and poems, plays – anything that didn’t require huge chunks of uninterrupted time. I do enjoy “living” in this world and I consider it a bonus when something is published.

My adult work has been mainly poetry and short stories and I use competitions as deadlines. I have won or been placed in several national competitions. One of my short stories “The Leaping Place” was broadcast recently on the National programme of Radio NZ.


6. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?...and what you do to get over it? (if you do)

I’ve heard other more luminous writers say there is no such thing. I agree to a certain extent but I’ve had long periods of time where my life has somehow pushed away the desire for writing. The good thing is, however, that I still keep thinking and writing down notes for when I want to write again. A good way to return gently is to have a kitchen timer and set it say, for ten minutes at first and tell yourself you will not leave your desk until you have written something. This could be some “free writing” – just put a word at the top of the page and write about it for the ten minutes without worrying that someone will read or edit this work. Julia Cameron’s books have excellent ideas for these kinds of writing exercises.


7. What are you looking for in a piece of writing?

When I first read a story/poem or article, I read as a reader. The subsequent reading/s are more critical and I take notes on anything I feel works well or (and always just my opinion) places where the writing may need attention to lift it to a publishable standard. I’m always excited when I find a writer who has a fresh approach or an intriguing voice. Nothing is new – it’s the writer’s uniqueness which makes something special.


8. How you define a ‘good’ piece of writing?

It’s when something appears simply and clearly written with nothing that makes me stop reading.


9. Your advice: techniques for writing well

Always put your first draft/s away for as long as you can. The next reading should be as a critic – look for clichés and other errors that clog the pace and dull the interest. This is where belonging to a group of other writers in person, or online, can be a wonderful help. Writing courses are readily available but it takes careful choosing before you commit yourself as they can be expensive.


10. Give some writing tips for a writer starting out

A beginning writer must read and write. Read as both a reader and then as a writer – take notes where you feel the writer succeeds and why. Take notes where you feel the writer did not succeed and decide why. The way to choose a genre is to ask yourself what you like to read. Which section of a bookshop or a library do you hurry to? Maybe, this will become your writing genre.


11. Vivienne what are you working on right now?

I’m writing flash fiction, short stories, and working on a YA historical novel. I work as a tutor for a correspondence college.


12. Why have you agreed to be an assessor for The Story Mint?

I really enjoy helping other writers towards publication with suggestions and encouragement. Also, it is my belief that a friendly, caring mentor can save a beginning writer many years of struggling to raise their work to a publishable level.


13. What attracted you to the concept of The Story Mint?

I really feel the process of workshopping – sharing ideas and experience – is both helpful and stimulating. When this works well and people open themselves to others’ ideas and suggestions, I’ve seen great results.


14. Have you tried the Style Guide and what do you think of it?

I have submitted a short piece of writing to the Style Guide and I was astonished at the wealth of information that I received. I’d really recommend this as I found the process both stimulating and encouraging.