On writing

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Why do we write? Why do we feel driven to do it? Perhaps its a state of mind. Some believe it is a calling.

One thing is certain, many like myself willingly sacrifice what most would consider a normal existence for an impoverished lifestyle of self-imposed solitude in order that the story which has consumed us for months or years in many cases, finally appears in print.

Pass any of us in the street and you would be hard pressed to pick us out of the crowd. Most of my neighbours have no clue that I’m a published author. If pressed by one of them, would I tell them? Maybe, if I thought they were genuinely interested. Most are not.

Touch wood that so far no one round here has ever asked me the inane question that writers of my acquaintance in the US have been confronted with from time to time, “Would I have read anything you’ve written?”

I wonder how many of them wished they’d answered with, “How the hell would I know, I’m not a bloody mind reader you idiot?” or a series of four letter words to that effect. Perhaps the reason I haven’t been subjected to stupidity like that is because the only thing my neighbours do know for certain about me is that I don’t suffer fools.

After twenty-one years of writing, what is patently obvious to me is that we are a breed apart from the rest…

Why Do Writers Write?

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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…

😉

Come On, Own Up, How Many?

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Here is a question for all my fellow writers, both published like myself, and those who just love to write for the sheer joy of doing so. How many hours do you spend writing each day and how many words is usually involved?

Ever since I changed the way I write from how I used to in the past, when I would spend hours to achieve a daily word count in the thousands, I now stick rigidly to a short but extremely intense daily session. I find this is the method that works best for me. If you are wondering how long, these days I limit myself to adding no more than one to two hundred words per day. In my case I start writing at five in the morning, finishing promptly at eight am. I find that to continue beyond that three hour working window of 100% concentration, means that silly errors will inevitably begin to creep in due to my state of total mental exhaustion by the end of each session.

The rest of the day is taken up with a lot of thought about where the story wants me to go next, not the other way round, while I carry on with my normal daily activities. You must remember that a story is a living thing…

Years ago when I was still in the workforce I used to spend two to three hours writing each night from Monday until Friday. Then on the weekends I would write for twelve hours on both days. On public holidays the number of hours sometimes stretched from twelve to eighteen. While to the unitiated, endlessly pouring out words might seem to be the only way to write a story, trust me when I tell you it isn’t! In fact its often the worst possible way of going about it. If you don’t believe me, just look at the hundreds of thousands of poorly written books out there by writers who convinced themselves that high daily word counts is the only way to go. A daily three hour session is by far the best way from my point of view.

I would love to hear how you go about it, but I know you lot of old. Most of you are too damned shy! Don’t just leave it up to the normal three or four regulars to comment. There is absolutely no excuse for you not joining in. You never know, you might even gain some useful ideas and tips on the subject from one another. So leave your thoughts for others to read as comments below this post.

😉

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!!!