How essential is research to a writer?


Its everything!

I can’t speak for any other writer out there, but when it comes to my own books, they are the end product of seventy percent research time plus thirty percent writing.

When I finally decide on a topic, I spend many months finding out everything I can about it. It doesn’t matter which of the genres I write in.

Without comprehensive research, no story gels. More often than not, as I spend ten hours a day, seven days a week for maybe four to six months reading up on the subject, I will come across a sentence in some dusty tome which gives me the inkling of an idea for the story. As for my resources, here at home I have an extensive research library of my own. Plus I also make use of the internet. Although, having said that, there is a lot of disinformation and plainly incorrect articles on the net.

To give you an example, take most things which appear in Wikipedia with a large pinch of salt. Never rely on just one source! Use Wikipedia by all means. But check what is there with reputable sources like the British Museum, British Library and other institutions. Many of the better universities across the planet can also prove invaluable when it comes to research, especially these days via the internet.

Another excellent source for me are serious documentaries on television, particularly when it comes to history, geography and the universe in general.

So, to sum up – research is the key to a great story unless you are merely engaged in writing what the Victorian’s termed ‘A Penny Dreadful’, or a potboiler if you prefer. But remember this, even they needed a degree of research to be beleaved by their readers…


Is screen writing an art form?


Without a shadow of a doubt, the answer has to be categorically no!

My fellow writer and friend here in the UK, Andrew French decided that he wanted to turn one of his books into a screen play. So, with ‘how to’ suggestions from someone involved in the scriptwriting industry here, away he went.

Andrew said to me yesterday, “I don’t want anyone else adapting my work. It wouldn’t be the same.” From that point of view I can completely understand why he did it. After all would you allow a total stranger anywhere near your baby? No neither will the author of a given work, if they’ve got any sense… Far too many good stories have been ruined in the past by total Philistines ie editors. Or in this instance scriptwriters!!!

When you read a book, through the use of your imagination you become part of it to the point where if you close your eyes, your right there with the characters. Not so with a script. With the latter what your reading is nothing more or less than simplistic writing in the form of an instruction manual for totally unimaginative ninnies, devoid of everything that you experience when reading any work of fiction.

Give me the book over the darned film any day…


Why Do Writers Write?


You may as well ask why do painters paint, or sculptors sculpt. Like them, we have a burning desire within us to produce something for posterity. In our case, for your reading pleasure. The serious writer isn’t in it for the money, only the story. Nor are we attempting to become famous during our lifetimes, just to be read.

Sculptors use chisels and other tools to release that statue trapped inside the block of marble. Painters use brushes, palette knives and all manner of paints and pigments to produce that painting which you admire in an art gallery. Whereas we use words to paint a picture for your imagination to feast on.

By its very nature, writing is a solitary occupation. You have to have a writer’s soul and a total commitment to the craft, not to mention a steely determination.

An editor or a teacher of English can give you an explanation for every part of speech in the English language, be it verb; adverb, noun or pronoun, etc, etc. But if you are a writer, what a particular word is formally categorized as by the academically minded is utterly irrelevant? Leave that kind of thing up to your editor. Does a sculptor need to know how to make a chisel, or a painter how to make a paint brush? No. In our case what matters is knowing how to use words to their best effect. To achieve that takes years of practice.

To aid us in writing that story for you, we employ our equivalent of brushes and chisels by spending endless hours researching and fact-finding as well as using our dictionary and thesaurus for the best choice of word, plus reading the works of others.

So, the next time you feel the need to pass judgment on a book you have just read, pause for a moment and ask yourself this simple question, “could I have written it any better?” If you are honest, chances are the answer will be no.

Further to that point, in a recent post on Facebook put out by the BBC about J.K Rowling sharing some of the rejection letters she received over the years with would-be writers, certain sarcastic armchair critics jealous of her success, immediately went on the attack by amongst other things, claiming she can’t write. Nothing surprising there. Most social networking sites and fora automatically attract highly opinionated hate filled individuals.

Not prepared to simply let them get away with it, I posted the following comment – “I see a hell of a lot of envy by people who should know better going on here.

It’s interesting that after I’d posted my comment the criticism slowed to a trickle, particularly when other people agreed with me. One of them went as far as saying to one of the critics, “tell you what, why don’t you give me the name of a book you’ve written?” Not unsurprisingly they received no reply.

While Joanne will never know how we rallied to her defense unless one of you tells her, it’s nice to be able to silence a handful of the highly vocal idiots out there from time to time, don’t you think.

Score one for all writers…


No More MS Office!


Ever since I started writing seriously back in 1995, I’ve spent a lot of money buying the newest edition of Microsoft Office. Earlier this year I bought myself the latest version of MS Office. Big mistake! After spending around £70 it downloaded with relative ease. The trouble was that when it came to livening it up, Microsoft had linked the whole process to their website, requiring me to open a specific Microsoft account for the purpose. Even after I’d fully complied, the damned thing still refused to register and start. As far as I was concerned that was the last straw! I finally decided enough is enough and removed all traces of all versions of MS Office from my laptop. Goodbye MS Word, been nice knowing you – not.

If asked, my fellow writer and WordPress blogger Michael Jecks will always wax lyrical about a purpose built writing platform called Scrivener. So I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy. To start with it has been created specifically with the writer in mind. Secondly, at below half the price of MS Office you are not buying what amounts to nothing more than a business orientated software package full of stuff you the writer doesn’t need. Thirdly, unlike Office you only need to buy and registered it once. From then on it looks after itself by updating from time to time just like my other favourite writing tool Calibre.

I spent most of wednesday afternoon and thursday morning carefully going through the integral tutorial and handbook to familiarize myself with Scrivener. Why has it taken me so long to finally buy a purpose built writing tool? Not sure exactly. I do know I made a rod for my back by continually putting up with the woeful inadequacies of Word for two decades.

So, if all you writers out there who are unhappy with MS Office want a reasonably priced system that really works, why not try Scrivener for yourselves, click Here for a 30 day free trial. At long last I have a tool at my disposal specifically created with the writer in mind, thanks to Michael Jecks.

PS – Since Scrivener, I’ve moved on to a far simpler system – LibreOffice Writer. Who the hell needs over complicated writing platforms?


There Is Far Too Much Emphasis Placed On Planning


I know I’ve spoken about planning in the past. But like a lot of seriously overused writing crutches, it bears talking about yet again.

So many new and not so new writers insist on planning every single detail in their current work in progress almost to the point of being totally paranoid about it. It’s as if they need an Idiot’s How To Guide to be able to write. It has to be said that following this inflexible method leaves nothing to be desired. Neither does it make you think before you write. Nor does it allow you to make use of your imagination, not to mention being adventurous and therefore spontaneous. Give me research and spontaneity over planning any day.

It’s fine if you are just another hack with no imagination whatsover, ghost writing for a living. But I ask you, where’s the fun in that? Where is the creativity? Where is that spontaneity I spoke of? Where is the unique thinking?

As far as planning goes, all you really need is the beginnings of an idea. From that comes the who, why, what, where and when.

Do what I do. Sit and think about it long and hard while doing something else entirely. This blog post is a classic example. I was thinking it through while writing a bit more of the first chapter of The Guardian earlier today. But before you planners out there who by now are bristling with indignation say anything, remember that there is a fundamental difference between what you do and thinking about what to say.

Once you have a vague notion, make a few notes about where the story will take place, how many characters, their names etc. There is no need to go into great detail. From my point of view, as far as planning is concerned, that’s it! There is no need to continue. Instead, start writing.

If you want to use a specific location, research everything you can find out about it before you begin to write. The same goes for the nationalities of your characters. Each nation, even ancient ones, has its own peculiarities which inevitably become typical character traits. Remember, research, don’t plan!

Take my tip. Forget about planning out everything. If you plan then you already know where and how the story will end. Inevitably you will write to that conclusion. It’s far too restrictive and therefore predictable. In fact it guarantees to kill off any ‘out of the box’ thinking which is a basic fundamental to all writing, necessary to keep your readers guessing. I far prefer to find out what happens next as it occurs in any given moment in any story I write, just like my readers will when they eventually read it for themselves.

How do I achieve this? First of all keep the number of characters to a workable minimum. Get to know them by clearly establishing who they are. How? By letting them talk to each other. Listen to them. Put yourself in their place for any given situation. Then all you have to do is ask yourself what they would do. It makes no difference whether or not they are good, bad or indifferent. Sly, honest or dishonest. Handsome or ugly. Old or young. Male or female. The point is that you as the writer must know each character inside out before you begin to engage them in anything more than conversation. Why? Because you need to know their strength’s and weaknesses before you put them into a situation that may prove detrimental to their health.

Of course if you intend killing them off at some stage of the proceedings, it doesn’t really matter. Which is a pity, as by now you have invested a lot of time, effort and thought in getting to know them. Most writers do kill off the odd character or two. That’s fine just so long as they are not the principal ones. In other words your heroes or heroines.

In my new WIP, so far I have just three characters. Like all of my recent books I prefer to listen to them before writing from the point of view of each one. One is a typical by the book ex British Army officer. The next is a no nonsense veteran bomber pilot, formerly in the Canadian Airforce. As for the third, it is The Guardian itself. The only thing I will say about the latter is that it’s been around for several millenia.

PS – I almost forgot. As of this morning – Saturday the third of January 2015, I’ve written 1,310 words (three pages) in the first chapter of The Guardian, slow by most writer’s standards. But not so, if like me, you want to produce a work of fiction that keeps the reader’s attention from page one until the end.

More later.


Progress Report 6


The story might be located here

Well, chapter one is done and dusted until I reach the end and begin the inevitable rewrite. I started writing chapter two a couple of days back. Trying to tell you the reader a story without giving too much away isn’t easy. I’m applying the ‘Red Herring’ approach a lot this time. After all, we can’t have you thinking “I’ve cracked it!” within the first few chapters now can we.

What I will say is that at the moment, the story involves Dr Gilbert Briggs and a geologist travelling back in time to several key locations, in his quest to discover if the subject of endless debate down the centuries actually existed. So what is it I hear you cry? That’s for me to know and for you through Gilbert’s eyes, to find out. As for its location, that’s if you think you might know…

One other thing I can tell you is that the story quite possibly involves ‘ancient gods’, race memory and ancient cataclysms across the world. I’ve changed the working title once more. This time just one word –  Cataclysm. For now it suites my thinking.

This time round I’m only writing a couple of hundred words each day before going back through them to ensure you don’t become convinced you know what’s going to happen next. As for character conversations, first of all I just write what I want them to say before changing the words so that even when they are having a conversation, your still left guessing. Then I stop for a few hours to think things through, usually by playing my favourite video game Mass Effect 3. Doing something completely different to take my mind of things helps enormously.

More later.

PS Even writing this post, I’ve had to rewrite it several times for the reasons stated above. Devious or what?


Progress Report 5


This might be the location. Then again it might not…

Well, I’m almost ready to begin my latest hybrid scifi/archaeological eBook. While I’ve been researching until my eyes bleed, with my brain turning to mush from all the historical and pseudo scientific information I have been digesting, not to mention reading the wild imaginings of people like Plato and others of his ilk, the hardest thing is to psych myself up to write it.

The last eBook I wrote was my scifi novella The Next Age published in October of last year. Starting a new project is not as easy as you would think, given the amount of time that has passed – almost an entire year…

As yet I have absolutely no idea how long it will be. Whether or not it winds up as a full length novel (150 – 200,000 words), or a novella (30 – 50,000 words) is entirely down to how it evolves. At the moment I am sticking with the working title History Rewritten. As I get further into it, something within the text will hopefully spark its final title.

For those of you who have been following the previous four ‘Progress’ posts, you will know that my main character will be Dr Gilbert Briggs, the new head of the fictitious UK Advanced Science Institute, which for the purposes of the story, I locate in the city of Norwich in the English county of Norfolk, barely forty miles north of where I live, here in north Suffolk.

In the short story that set me on this path, and which begins the book, Gilbert invented and built the ‘Teleportation Gate’ and the subcutaneous homing beacon. To test them out before he allowed anyone else to travel through time, he had himself sent back to 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, where his own ancestor almost succeeded in killing him.

Now all I have to do is regain my inner writing discipline. Once I get going, I’ll be fine. It’s just the act of starting that is the hard part…


For Goodness Sake – Think Before You Act!!!


I’ve said this all before on several occasions. But apparently you decided to keep on doing it anyway…

As writers, whether seasoned or a newcomer, explain to me why it is that you have totally swallowed the marketing ploy created by your publisher(s) that giving away hundreds, sometimes thousands, of copies of your books is somehow financially beneficial to you?

The only ones who benefit from your moment of completely misguided naivety, or should that be madness, is your publisher and one particularly evil, not to say tight, group of readers. I refer to those individuals who know that sooner or later you will become desperate enough (or should that be foolish enough) to decide that it is a good idea to give the product of all your hard work away for nothing! Think trolls, pedants, armchair critics and good old fashioned skinflints. Letting the first three get their hands on a free copy of your book gives them all the ammunition they need to tear apart your reputation as a writer even before you have established one! Just take a look at all of the one star reviews on sites like Amazon if you don’t believe me…

Before you join in with this idiocy, take a moment to think it through. There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving away a dozen copies of an eBook online, or a dozen signed paperback copies at a book fair, or in your local book shop just once. It makes total promotional sense. Number one, with the paperback, the cost of getting that many printed is negligable. Number two, despite what eBook publishers may say, the cost of producing an eBook is practically zero. If those who got their copy from you this way like what they read, they will soon spread the word.

The nasties usually don’t attend book fairs and bookshops…

Put your thinking caps on for a moment. If instead of being a writer you were a painter, or a sculpture, would you give your work away to get yourself noticed? No, of course you wouldn’t. So why do you think that you will become popular among readers if you give away hundreds or thousands of copies of your book(s)?

Once again I ask you to think before you act. While your eBook or paperback may be free to the readers for a promotional period between two to five days, your publisher still receives a financial reward simply by delivering the copy to the readers, while you get nothing.

Let’s face it people. You decided to get your book published. You spent many months slaving over it. In a lot of cases, you spent more money than you could afford at the time having it edited as well as getting the cover made. Giving away thousands of copies will not help you recoup your financial outlay. Only real sales do that. While you may believe that it is a good idea, take it from one who knows – it isn’t! Divide the total cost of your outlay by the retail price of the book. That will give you some idea of how many copies have to be sold before you begin to see any profit in the form of royalties.

If the loss of thousands of pounds/dollars etc in the form of royalties doesn’t bother you, I give up. You are a hopeless case. I’ve mentioned all of this in previous posts. So have many other seasoned writers. Yet, each day I come across more and more writers giving away precious copies of their book, hoping to be recognised, even though they know they are playing into the hands of the literary vultures waiting in the wings, hoping to feed on the next writer’s sheer desperation.

You know that it is totally ridiculous and yet you still do it. Why? For your own sakes, not to mention your dwindling bank accounts, cease and desist! You wrote the book. Therefore you are entitled to reap any financial reward derived by its sale.


Book Promotion On Twitter? Time To Think Again | Just Publishing

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Book Promotion On Twitter? Time To Think Again | Just Publishing.