Solitary by Necessity

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By definition writing fiction must be a solitary affair. When it comes to non-fiction, collaboration between writers is possible, often highly desirable. In this case two heads are better than one when it comes to the necessary amount of research required; whereas the very idea of attempting to co-write a work of fiction with another writer leaves much to be desired. It only ever works in the arenas of film and television where a team of script writers brainstorm and throw ideas for specific situations into the mix.

Why could it never work with writing fictional books? Could it simply be down to a clash of personalities? I don’t think so; I believe it goes much deeper than that. Any writer of fiction worth their salt will tell you that coming up with that fresh storyline is akin to bringing a new-born into the world. It first appears as a vague notion in your mind which slowly develops as time goes by. As you begin writing, it gradually advances from the embryo stage. Like any prospective parent you jealously guard and nurture it as it grows. So the very idea of sharing that idea with another writer, expecting them to feel that same way about it, let alone using your ‘voice’ because you are the originator, simply does not compute. The idea is yours and yours alone. Therefore you must always be the one to see it through to completion.

As far as books go there is only one area in fiction writing where any form of collaboration appears to work successfully, and that is in the field of short story anthologies. But even then each tale is written by a solitary writer, so it’s still not true collaboration.

Having said all this, I do know of one recent example where two fiction writers worked on one project together. Whether or not their brave, some might say foolish, decision to collaborate will be justified is now down to the reading public’s acceptance of the book in question. After all, as writers we are all aware of just how fickle, nay contrary, the reading public can be at times.

The Pitfalls of Writing Today

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One current ugly stumbling block for all writers these days to be ignored at all costs is the average inbred moron seated at his computer who deludes himself into believing that what he says on a public book based forum actually matters. Alway providing of course that you were dum enough to allow his or her rant to appear as a comment on your blog in the first place!

These kinds of people set themselves up as self-styled critics, typically wittering on endlessly about subjects such as non-American spelling and grammar in books written by anyone living beyond the borders of the US for instance, thereby clearly demonstrating their ignorance of the English language to the world at large. The aforementioned description while general, nevertheless fits the individuals currently responsible for the majority of one and two star reviews for any book you care to name on Amazon, to the detriment of the genuine reviewer. Not one of them has ever written a book in their entire lives, let alone had one published, and yet they feel it is their bounden duty to harshly criticise, especially when it comes to newbies, no matter whether or not they are self-publishers or mainstream. There are also a few unscrupulous individuals who see absolutely nothing wrong in adding a link to their review of your book advertising their own efforts – report them!!!

Like most writers these days, I simply fail to understand why Amazon seemingly encourages and condones what amounts to nothing more than often vicious attacks. As a writer, for the sake of your sanity take my advice and never read the reviews. Above all refrain from entering the forums, no matter how indignant you may feel.

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Unlike them, as a successful writer I see far more pressing issues in a lot of today’s eBook offerings, the main one often being the new writer’s poor choice of genre. A lot simply jump on the bandwagon hoping to cash in on what is portrayed as popular by various publisher’s advertising campaigns, such as the current trend in nauseating vampire and zombie based stories and what can only be described as badly written pornography – (Fifty Shades of Grey springs to mind). While it is true to say that these genres appeal to a mainly young sector of society, those who write more thought provoking novels are left by the wayside, struggling to survive. Still others become convinced about writing for niche markets, which in effect means the product of their efforts will barely sell in the dozens rather than the thousands.

Face it people, the only book that will sell in its thousands is the one whose subject matter initially provokes curiosity in the mind of the often fickle potential reader. A growing number of writers cling desperately to the belief that by writing in a largely unpopular genre, the product of their toil will be noticed. How many times recently have I seen writers desperate to sell their wares, spend money time and effort to change a cover for instance and to produce actual paperback copies, which they then hawk around the many small time book fairs, largely at their own expense? In the end none of the aforesaid will make a damned bit of difference if your favourite genre is currently out of fashion. To my mind this kind of thinking is nothing more than an example of self induced vanity press. In other words spending money you can ill afford.

Just remember this – if you have to shell out good money to get your manuscript edited by a so-called professional, you have to recover that cost as well as the cost of the cover and printing before you are in profit – something which a lot of modern day writers choose to ignore at their peril.

Next comes the biggest stumbling block for a lot of writers – editing and proof reading. Many pay someone to edit for them. But, using the ‘look inside’ feature available on Amazon, it would appear that many mainstream editors let alone self-published writers simply fail to use a Spell checker, common to all writing software packages. The same goes for the humble Grammar checker – patently ignored by the majority. How many even use the Look up or Synonym features, accessed simply by right clicking over a word? Not many obviously.

We now arrive at colloquial language and writing in the first person. Many fall into the trap of using colloquial language when two characters are conversing within the context of a story – bad idea! The other big no-no is to write in the first person. It is not easy to do. The use of first person is chock full of pitfalls for the unsuspecting. Avoid using it if you can. Loathsome as it may be, even third person is preferable.

Finally remember this simple fact, the product of all your hard work is just one among millions currently available. If its content doesn’t stand out, it is destined to sit in the literary equivalent of the doldrums for ever more. No amount of cover changes, giveaways and signed copies in an internet contest will increase its chances of becoming a best seller!!!

The Mechanics of Writing

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I wrote the first part of this post back in 2011. It is as relevant now as it was back then… It highlights the mistakes we are all guilty of. No matter what form your writing may take, there are a few givens which always apply.

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  1. Overly long sentences are to be avoided at all costs – GUILTY!
  2. Too much or too little punctuation, combined with unnecessary use is also to be avoided – GUILTY!
  3. Too much descriptive narrative is not desirable – GUILTY!
  4. Too little, or too much conversation between characters either annoys the reader, or bores them to death – GUILTY!
  5. Don’t be afraid to make your characters three dimensional – VERY GUILTY!
  6. Avoid overly long paragraphs – GUILTY!
  7. Determine what is the appropriate length for each chapter – not sure, then ask your colleagues for their advice. Better still take a look at some of the books in your personal library.
  8. Don’t be afraid to change a word when the offending word has another form far more suitable – GUILTY!
  9. Be highly critical of your own work, why, because your readers surely will be, that’s why – GUILTY!

Back then I was totally guilty of all of the above.

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As I now sit reading through yesterdays contribution to my latest sci-fi manuscript I find myself scratching my head as to why I wrote each sentence in the way I did. At the time when that sentence first leapt from my mind onto this computer screen it made complete sense. But does it now – no, not really.

Don’t think that spending hours each day working your way through several chapters at a time will solve the problem either – it won’t. You need to take bite sized chunks and rewrite them. To do this you must be fresh and wide awake. These days after editing the previous day’s effort, I deliberately restrict my daily input to between two hundred to two hundred and fifty well chosen words. While working this way means that the novel will take longer than normal, take it from me when I say the end result will be worth it.

Stop for a cup of tea, coffee or even something stronger. If the weather is fine, get outside for a break away from those pesky words sitting there in front of you for an hour or so, they’ll still be there when you get back.

Above all, don’t treat your writing efforts as a chore. Relax; enjoy watching that story or article slowly unfold in front of you.

When your work is fired back to you from fellow writers whose opinion you value as trusted unbiased beta readers, don’t take umbrage at their suggestions. Take what they say on the chin, learn from them – I did.

Since 2011 I’ve come a long way in the writing game. I’ve learned a hell of a lot. With each successive novel, I can honestly say I have improved immeasurably.

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