I shall start this post with a quote attributed to that most literary of bears, Winnie the Pooh.
“The beginning is a very good place to start.”
I cannot agree more.
Knowing where the beginning is, is not always as clear cut as many may think.
You see, your story, any story, must start somewhere, but that start is often not at the beginning.
Take yourself. Take a tale you told about yourself the last day you did something… silly/forgetful/made a mistake… whatever it may be.
Now, consider how you began to tell your tale the first time you related it.
I bet it was not at the beginning, at least not the real, the true beginning of the string of events which led you to such an occurrence.
First, you would, by our very nature of communicating, have plugged it with a strong opening statement, or a soft lead-in, dependant on whom you were telling the tale, be it your Boss, you Mother, BFF or Lover.
You may have said something along the line of…
“You know, Sally and I often go to the bar on Staithes Avenue? Well, we went this lunchtime and, you’ll never guess what happened….”
“I’ve driven down that road for the over ten years and I have never before…”
MAYBE it was, “Oh, my goodness, you just have to listen to this…”
None of those are really the beginning of anything but are leads to an section which is part way through your story, one which, during its telling, you will flit back and forth in time, building your tale of joy or woe into as a believable an anecdote as you can manage/feel right in doing, according to the circumstance.
Therefore, the same story told in the office to your boss will differ slightly to the version you tell your colleagues, or your family, once you are in the comfort of your own home.
It will definitely not be as richly dressed as your recount of the occasion in the bar later that evening, or as detailed with the emotions you felt during its unfolding when you share it with your lover while lying in bed.
The same is true of our fictional novels and stories; because the way we perceive them as we write is only a version of the whole. What we feel today will alter by tomorrow. By the time we re-write ‘that’ section of the first chapter, our entire viewpoint has altered.
Therefore, what we once perceived as the beginning was, in fact, only a starting point for us to begin writing. The true beginning is still to reveal itself to us.
The matter is, we should never believe our own opinion during one sitting, but allow ourselves the opportunity to alter and change the picture we carry within our mind. Each time we reconsider our work we must see it in differing light, simply because we are not writing to entertain ourselves, but others.
Consequently, by revisiting our works and by teaching ourselves not to become immovably fixated on any factor of it, such as the juncture where we originally started to tell our tale, we can then see our story from the viewpoint of others, those who will read our story.
Once again, Winnie the Pooh says it well…
“When you are a Bear of Very Little brain, and you Think Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”
We want other people looking at our work, it is, after all, the whole point of writing; yet we want them to understand, to feel and to ‘live’ our story, empathise with our characters and lose themselves from the real world into our fantastical fictional world, we want and need them to believe.
To do so, we must see our books through their eyes, not our own. If that means starting the story from another place, be it a location, another moment in time, a different character’s perspective, then we must change the start of our story to this new beginning.
It may still not be the real beginning, you may alter it again before publication, write a prologue, an introduction, a prequel, or another book which leads on, even in an abstract fashion, to this one.
The point is, there is no true ‘right’ place to start your story, even the true beginning of your own life was far, far before any human existed, so where would you begin to start that story?
Now, while I much admire the genius of Winnie the Pooh and agree, “the beginning is a very good place to start,” I often wonder where the start actually is.
Looking for more literary insights, articles and short stories? Then look no further. The Electric Press magazine is available to read right HERE, for free.
How often do you struggle for something to ‘write about’? or face the so-called writer’s block because you cannot find a topic for your next piece?
I know many writers frequently struggle with finding subject matter. It is something I hear often via author groups and writing associations.
I am a prolific writer, yet have never suffered from either of the above.
Most often, I can be found tapping away on my keyboard as I continue my ‘works in progress’.
I usually have a few of these on the go at once; non-fiction, a novel, some short stories, a compilation, it is pretty much par for the course.
I have files called ‘stuff & stories to read’; ‘story Ideas & notes’; ‘more writing notes’; ‘other stuff’, and so forth. Each file has sub-files, documents, snipped pages, images, sticky notes and a plethora of summaries, transcripts, annotations, memoranda, footnotes and odd bits I am unsure what to call.
The overriding connection is, they are all my Aide-mémoires to moments.
Some of these notes were transferred from my notebooks. I tend to carry at least one notebook with me at any time, generally, a small flip-type book. If I am leaving the house for any length of time. On long journeys and holidays, I take several, so I always have one to hand.
The jottings in these books can be about a place, a view, something said to me, part of an overheard conversation, or an observation. I even have notes about signposts I find amusing or incoherent.
Other items have been stored from browsing the net, finding ‘stuff’ while researching something entirely different. Some are from messages, spam, sales emails and so forth.
Occasionally reading another’s story sets my mind racing along parallel paths, so I need to scribble down my thoughts of the moment. The result of the stories which develop from these are a far cry to the original stimulus, but sometimes one needs the initial jolt to send the imaginings down a certain pathway.
These files also include part stories of various lengths. They are from a single sentence or paragraph through to several thousands of words… unfinished works if you wish.
Some are my deletions and edits of other work. The bits I cut out. The parts which did not make the final manuscript or published book. Waste not, want not. They can all be used again in one form or another.
But, the point of this post, each and every one of the notes in those files have come from a ‘moment’, a single moment I have experienced during my life.
After all, life is simply a matter of moments, one after another, after another, like the single frames of a cinematic film they whirr past us in a seemingly continues unbroken stream.
I believe great writing is having the ability to capture any one, or more, of those given moments and revealing its secrets, sharing them with all who will read your words.
Even the longest of novels is created by producing a string of ‘scenes’. Each scene depicting a moment.
Personally, I have a fondness for creating shorter stories, anywhere from about 250 words to, say, twenty or thirty thousand. My favourite though is around 2,500 to 6,000.
This proposes the challenge of making a captivating tale, one with a ‘proper’ beginning, middle and end, with so few words.
I feel the main test of writing such a short story is to examine the writer’s skill, in not only having a complete story but one which burns its presence, its being, into the mind of those reading it. A great story should ask questions, probe the beliefs, principles and convictions of the reader.
Which leads me back to the start of this post where I asked,
“How often do you struggle for something to ‘write about’? or face the so-called writer’s block because you cannot settle on a topic for your next story?”
My belief is you may be overthinking the issue.
Do not try and think of an entire story, of a whole scenario, before you put pen to paper. Just take one moment, one seemingly insignificant moment of your life and write about that.
Think about today. What has happened to you, with you, so far today?
It does not have to be anything exciting.
Not all stories need to have a romantic outcome or bloodshed, murder and mayhem splattered across their pages. The characters do not have to be heroes or superhuman, to have suffered or survived.
Ordinary people, people like you and I have stories to tell too. Try telling one or two of those. Stories and tales regular, normal people can relate to and understand.
What did you think of the moment you awoke today… write about that?
Expand on that.
Why were you thinking it, what does it relate to, who was involved, what will be the outcome, can you change it? Do you want to change it? Can you stop it changing? and so forth.
Become your character. Believe you are they. Wholly, totally convince your muse you are.
Open your heart, let your soul pour forth. Be honest with yourself. Don’t force it.
Your story will come and it just may be the best thing you have ever written.
Grab the moment, grab the moment of the muse.
I’ll leave you with an instant.
A while ago, I read a social status in which a young lady was distressed regarding her writing.
It seems her family, particularly her father, not taking her wish to write seriously, held little interest in what she was writing about, suggesting it would be better if she wrote about him.
Of course, this is not what this young lady wanted to write about. She did not want to write about her father. She wanted to write about something she knew, something she understood.
But everything she had written so far was slighted by her own father. Not very supportive, encouraging or helpful.
This made it extremely problematic for her to choose a topic or subject which would not amplify the situation further.
I shall not repeat the derogatory remarks made or the well-meaning, but pathetic and ultimately unhelpful, words of comfort offered on social. But all the responses took this young ladies post on its surface merits.
The deeper conflict was her relationship with her family, particularly her father and the anxiety it created within her.
This stress was heightened by her desire to write something meaningful while not adding to the household turmoil. Yes, she could have written in secret, but it was obvious she wanted, even desperately needed the encouragement and backing of her family.
All this young girl was looking for was some reassurance. She needed positive reinforcement from her family.
I suggested she write exactly what she posted about. The conflict with her father, why she wished to write and why she wanted to write the things she did. How hurtful her fathers’ remarks were and how the lack of support was so dispiriting.
I proposed she then gave her family the manuscript to read and await a response.
She now has a new laptop her father bought for her writing and a small desk in the corner of the room where she can work uninterrupted.
This is a true story.
As I said above, my advice is;
Open your heart, let your soul pour forth. Be honest with yourself. Don’t force it.
Your story will come and it just may be the best thing you have ever written.
Grab the moment, grab the moment of the muse.
If you want to see my books, find out what I am working on or contact me, then visit my website, HERE
It is a while since I have written a post focusing on the process of creative writing.
The reason being, I have said much about other ‘stuff’ associated with authoring and publishing. Stuff I felt important enough to warrant writing about.
However, doing so led me away from the core value of this blog, which is to give, in my usual rambling and rather haphazard way, tips, advice and suggestions on improving one’s writing skills and understanding of authorship.
Those of you who follow me will know I do not write in a scholarly constructive fashion, because I do not consider myself a teacher or an authority of literary genius.
I prefer to allow indefinite abstract descriptions to suggest and evoke one’s own perceptions and introspection to convey the messages in each of these Ramblings.
In my heart of hearts, I believe the soul of the writer, the artist that lays within, is the greatest asset of all. No one can learn to write unwillingly; the writer must have love and passion above teaching and education.
A writer must want to write, above all else.
So, with those matters cleared away, I guess it is time to reveal what this article is about.
As a mass noun, the definition of this word, according to the Oxford English dictionary is, ‘The action of making a mental connection’.
Regarding fiction writing, I would take this two steps further and say it is, ‘The action of making a mental, sensory and emotional connection within one’s imagination’.
However, to create such a powerful, multi-sensory consanguinity within a reader’s mind, requires the writer’s understanding and needs them to be adept at wordsmithing.
To me, the word ‘wordsmith’ is a wondrous, self-describing noun.
Imagine standing before a blazing forge, gauntlet covered hands, leather apron, large metal tongs holding a glowing red-hot bar of iron. The other hand wielding a heavy hammer.
Smell the fire, the heat, hearing the Smithy as he pounds the almost molten metal into the shape of his choosing. Not an easy task, one which takes many re-heatings and coolings of the metal. One which takes countless strikes with the hammer against the solid block of the anvil before anything recognisable is formed from the raw metal.
This is what I envisage when thinking of the word ‘wordsmith’.
My ‘association’ is with the hours of sweat and toil it takes to form a loose jumble of letters and scattered words into a coherent and meaningful sentence. To mould and form each word so it fits seamlessly with the next, so they all flow in a smooth, well-paced fashion to complete the paragraph.
The result of a Blacksmiths work is more than just flattened and twisted metal, it is a product purposely shaped into a functional object, decorated to enhance its appearance, creating an article of both beauty and reason.
Such should be our undertaking as writers. Our words should not only serve the functionality of revelation but create a pathway of beauty and intrigue for our readers to follow. Our tales should hold within their very form the pure essence of captivation, of fantastical fiction.
To do this we must weave that very essence, the distillate tincture of association within our words.
“That’s fine for you to say,” I hear you mutter.“But how do we do that?”
My answer is to consider the word this post is about, consider ‘association’. The association of words.
Now, many of you will be thinking ‘thesaurus’ because that is what a thesaurus is all about, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no.
You see, when I talk of word association I am not merely speaking of functional words you may find within dictionaries and thesaurus. Neither am I considering which words may be grammatically correct. I am talking about creativity, of creative writing. Of breaking the rules when it lends to better or even great storytelling.
Those among you who write poetry may, or at least should, have a greater understanding of the flexibility of words, how they can be moulded to convey more than their basic meanings. Particularly when two or more are used in conjunction, oblique, ambiguous or both.
Wordsmithing in fiction writing utilises what is learnt through the poetic principle, includes and encompasses it within the whole wordsmithing process.
As a way of explanation, I’ll take an excerpt from one of my short stories, ‘The Bridge‘, taken from volume three of my short stories collection, ‘Tales of Crime & Violence’.
Out of context, I think this is a rather unremarkable excerpt. Even so, once studied while holding the concept of association in mind, its secrets are revealed.
The Humber Bridge is monumental. It is suspended by a mass of giant pythons, twisted metal cables one hundred feet above the sludge brown of the river. From tower to tower it is one mile and the road continues to reach out from there, grabbing the riverbanks with blackened tarmac and concrete fingers.
Yet, for all the earth destroying steel and concrete construction, the bridge has an illusion of beauty that is enhanced by nature itself. Somehow the two blend, even complement each other, an amalgamation of converse contraries.
Firstly, the suggested size of the bridge is stated, in an emotional way, by using the word monumental.
It is then revealed to the reader this is a suspension bridge.
Using the term ‘mass of giant pythons’ is suggestive of and leads into the next sentence ‘twisted metal cables…’
Here are the first wordsmithing associations.
Most people know what a suspension bridge looks like. The story could be told by simply stating this bridge is a vast suspension bridge.
The following words about metal cables could have been just that ‘metal cables’. But the addition of ‘twisted’ is used specifically because of its association with the commonly held image of snakes.
We have now created an image in the reader’s mind of ‘giant twisted pythons holding up a bridge’. Which is a far better read than say, “a large bridge held up by steel suspension cables”.
To continue, the height of the roadway on the bridge is given, one hundred feet, so is the fact the bridge is above a river.
So, once more, the story could read “… a large bridge held up by steel suspension cables one hundred feet above a river…’ Which factually would be correct, although it does not make a very captivating or entertaining read.
Moving on, the incorporation of the words ‘sludge brown’ is purposeful. Not only to transfer the perceived visual perception of a dark river but to almost subliminally link back to the snake imagery by suggesting colour association while taking into consideration most people visualise a river as ‘winding’ or ‘twisting’. Another correlation.
While this imagery of bridges and pythons is building in the forefront of the reader’s comprehension, there is also the fact the author is creating an atmosphere of dark foreboding; or at least the idea of something ominous germinating.
Sludge brown, twisting, python, mass, all have links with the nefarious.
The next ‘s sentences structure reinforces this unease.
The factual description of the bridge is given, but this is enhanced by a form of predicate which strengthens the sinister. “… the road continues to reach out from there, grabbing the riverbanks with blackened tarmac and concrete fingers.”
Reaching out, grabbing, blackened, fingers; all strong adjectives which focus on creating a sensory awareness of the underlying drama.
While a person may not be fully aware why, or what effect these words are having as they read, you can bet your bottom dollar their subconscious will. Personal and social belief, acquired by myth, legend and the silver screens of Hollywood has conditioned us to be susceptible to even the slightest of suggestive input.
It is also a long-proven fact when one reads, they absorb far more, far quicker than by any other method of communication.
The above example is a rather direct and implicit one. But there are stronger yet more oblique instances.
Like these, from my poem ‘Doorway’
This side or that.
In or out.
With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.
Life or death.
Simple. A wooden frame. Harsh nails, forged from iron, blood and sweat in the furnace of forgotten hopes. Spikes driven deep, driven through, splintering the flesh of being, binding into cold stone of indifference. Hanging forever, bearing the pain for an eternity.
But not so simple. A sign, a warning, a barrier. Invisible in its presence of possibilities lost, scorned, unfound, unbelieved. Open but empty, a nothingness that stops you dead in your tracks.
This side or that.
In or out.
With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.
Life or death.
Lost or gained or never had. Can you lose what was not? Can dreams die or do they fade away; decompose as out our living bodies rot with age upon our bones.
What is there, beyond the gaping opening of the way?
Future, or past repeated. Mirrored fears steeped in time, awaiting our return from where we have never been. A destination desired by myth, by greed of those who will not step this way, cowering in the shadows of mediocrity, of sallow existence, of being too far from any door to be truly known, except by repeated words, all meanings lost in the whisper of time, misinterpretations and vague comprehension.
What ifs lay as a carpet of likelihoods, a vastness of possibilities, probabilities, stretching away to the rims of risk and horizons of chance; choices to be made, taken, grasped or passed up.
Prospects scorned or lies waiting to trip the unwary traveller, to crush your skull, your hopes, your faiths until they crumble into a dust of inferiority until your knees bleed on the cold stone floor of humbleness and subservience.
Know your place.
With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck. Fertilised or barren.
Life or death.
How long the openness. How soon the slam of too late shall shut out the light from the other side, of this side or that, or the other, and so vice-versa. Versa-vice.
Sounds vanished, diminished. New hope runs down our legs, incontinent imaginings puddling beneath our feet, wasted.
There is no return. Time flows by, constant. There is only now, just then, what was. Already you are too late, it has gone. Stealing away those possibility’s which once were yours and now belong to another. Maybe not yet born. A foetus of stardust, a twinkle of forlorn wishes.
Maybe they will be the ones who shall hesitate at the gates of option and chance. Maybe they will settle for comfort and the familiar and choose not to stumble blindly into the realm of the unknown?
Or maybe they shall pass this way, step through the door and into the future of destiny without looking backwards?
This side or that.
In or out.
With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.
Life or death.
Without getting too bogged down in technicalities, (not my thing), I will just highlight a few instances from the above, and then leave you to read and re-read the above poem and find the associated words which link together to create the stories own vibrancy.
First, ‘cowering in the shadows of mediocrity’.
One may expect to read ‘Cowering in the shadows,’ I am far from the first to write those words in that order. But then consider the use of ‘mediocrity’, it is not generally expected in this framework.
What are the shadows in your story associated with? Think of an indirect but implicit word and use that or another to suggest the ‘feeling’ you wish to create. Pair words which are oblique or ambiguous to create new meaning, to create the atmosphere you intend.
Forget about those ‘rules’. Ignore the grammar check in word or Grammarly or whatever. There is no substitution for the mind.
Secondly, take ‘your knees bleed on the cold stone floor of humbleness and subservience’.
This conveys a strong message from the initial simplicity of what may be expected until the string ‘humbleness and subservience’ appear in conjunction with the rest of the sentence. Those reading are expecting something far simpler, say ‘the castle, or maybe ‘the house’. But inserting ‘humbleness and subservience’, leads the mind to immediately think of servants kneeling on the cold stone floor.
Linked with the previous segment of the paragraph that mentions prospect, lies and faith the ambiguity is one of suggested religion and loss of belief or at least a trial of personal conviction.
Often when using oblique association, or creating one in such a way, it strengthens the powerfulness of the imagery formed.
If this includes creating your own metaphors or making new words do so. Shakespeare did not suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by only using the accepted words of his time.
Using this ‘sideways’ form of association, not only in poetic context but in storytelling, can produce a weighty and influential transcript that will hook the reader both openly and subliminally.
Good storytelling is not just about style and content; it is not all about narration, it is not simply getting all your words in order, it is all of this melded cohesively and working in harmony throughout the entire structure of your manuscript.
It is about modelling the words you use, moulding and melding them to conceive something new, something uniquely yours, it is about practised and proficient wordsmithing.
When editing, read, re-write and work each individual sentence. Hone it, sharpen it, until it has its own perfect edge and then move onto the next.
Never skip a word, examine each one; examine its place in the sentence and change it, one word by one word, sentence by sentence, polishing and shaping and forming each little detail until every sentence is a magical story in itself.
Do the same time again and again, until every detail shines clearly.
Only then will your tale truly deserve to be called your ‘finished’ work.
Anything less is less.
The first excerpt in this post was taken from ‘Tales of Crime & Violence, a three-book collection.
This is a question I asked myself while pottering about in the garden.
It may seem like a simple question, one which has a very simple answer; the likes and the things we do listed, almost ‘bullet-pointed’ as a reply.
That’s fine, for most people.
But I am an author, a writer. To me, even those simple answers have hidden depths, more meaning and a thousand stories each to be told.
Here is where my writer’s mind went after I asked myself that question…
I know what I do, but I wondered if that was ‘just me’?
You see, I love travelling. I love to explore other countries, sampling their food, their culture, being amazed at wonderful vistas, cascading waterfalls, crazy cities, wild traffic and such.
I also like to travel around Britain, the place I live. So far, my favourite areas are the Highlands & Western Isles of Scotland.
The Llyn peninsular in Wales gets better and better the further west you travel. The very best being Aberdaron and Bardsey Island.
I reside in Yorkshire, the county known as ‘Gods Country’ for its stunning landscapes.
I originate from the south and was lucky enough to have lived in Kent, called the ‘Garden of England’, which kind of speaks for itself.
All in all, I love nature; landscapes, coastal areas, animals, plants, and grand views. I like red wine, cold beer, fine whiskey, food and some good company.
To my mind this is what home is all about, making a comfortable place with hints, reminders and touches of all the things you love. Pictures and photographs of loved ones, trinkets and ‘tat’ from all those places you have visited; be it a foreign country or the local park, it’s those little inconsequential, yet sentimental items, like a shell collected from a beach, a pebble from a mountain path or a serviette from ‘that’ café.
In a way that is what our homes are for, storing and sharing all those little things which bring back the memories from a life well lived.
We can also make our homes reflect the things which make us… us. Especially, at least for me, in the garden, the garden in which I was pottering when I first asked myself the question I am writing about now.
In this instance, I have ninety per cent completed a project I started about three weeks ago.
In one corner of my garden was a derelict, rotted and neglected raised ‘deck’. I built the deck about ten years or so ago from reclaimed scaffolders boards and, I must admit, was proud of the outcome.
The said deck, (holding tables, chairs, potted plants and lighting), hosted many ‘al fresco’ lunches and dinners, served as a ‘buffet’ table during garden parties and barbecues it even became an improvised office for my writing on the days the sun shone and the rains held off.
But, as many structures constantly exposed to all weathers, it slowly degenerated, until it was little more than a rickety load of planks balancing precariously on a few rotten cross-members.
After laying unused and unloved for so long I decided to rip it up, replacing it with raised-bed vegetable plots and a small seating area.
Partly this decision was to do with the ‘stuff’ I wrote about earlier, the travelling to places, the sampling of food and wine and such like.
You will see in the following photographs I have placed my potted vines along the wall. These have never produced any edible grapes or enough to make even a single glass of wine, not here in England, not with our weather. But they do grow some large and tender leaves which are perfect for making dolmades, one of those foods I first ‘found’ on my travels many years ago.
I have made one deep growing bed and two shallow beds. The idea is to grow ‘root’ vegetables, such as carrots, parsnip, onion and sweeds in the deep one, leaving the shallow beds for the vegetables that grow ‘upwards’; beans, peas, sprouts, lettuce and so forth… once the soil has been delivered, which is about all I need now to complete my task, hence it is only ninety per cent complete.
I already have an area for soft fruits and yesterday harvested a bumper crop of particularly sweet and sticky Gooseberries, the ‘Brambles’ (Blackberries) are beginning to set fruits and so still have many flowers.
This then, is my answer to my own question, “what do writers do when they are not writing?”
For me it is often gardening, but not simply for gardening’s sake.
Its for relaxation, creativity, frugality, satisfaction and for good food, healthy unadulterated food which I and or my wife will turn into some amazing dishes or preserves; some that will bring memories of a time, a trip or a place, flooding back, or maybe excite us, as we look forward to the next travel experience we have planned.
These are the sort of things I do when not sitting alone, isolated, eyes glued to the screen and scribbling away like a manic… I’ll let you finish that line!
However, I am curious to know what you do when you are not writing, please, let me know so I can be sure it is not ‘Just me’.
Keep Happy, Paul.
Don’t forget to visit my website,http://bit.ly/paulswebsitewhere you can find my latest books, including my Electric Eclectic Novelettes.
Once we have learnt about something, once we consider we understand it, think we have mastered it, we like to run with it, to keep it.
We are often loath to stop, to give it up… to alter anything.
Many of us are resistant to change, of losing the little comfort zone we made for ourselves. One can liken such to the reluctance of a child giving up a blanket, or a soother.
If we do make the move, we find it easier to be weaned, to slightly adjust, little by little, so we don’t notice the change, or at least that is how we convince ourselves.
The problem is, by the time our situation has evolved in a way which assuages our reluctance, we find we are far behind the madding crowd, so far behind we have little chance of catching up.
In these days of high tech communications and internet connectivity, it is now more obvious than ever before.
Only the fearful and desperate cling to what once was,.
Only the backward and slow reminisce and wish for those ‘good old days‘ when a Facebook post actually reached ALL your ‘friends’ and not just the 3 to 10% they do with today’s algorithms.
The same is true of your book promotions. This is why your sales do not exceed the minimal expectations you tell yourself are reasonable goals, let alone your wishes and dreams to become a consistent bestselling author.
To give away a book for free is an archaic, outdated and outmoded marketing model. One which no longer holds any credence, but one which so many still cling to with dying hope, like a gambler sliding deeper into depressive debt.
Paying another organisation to give your books away is a sign of utter desperation. A despondent cry for help, for someone, anyone to read your story.
In reality, it is authorship suicide; one you may never recover from financially and one which could leave your reputation in raggedy tatters, before you even start.
Book launches and parties no longer pull the crowds. They are a nice way to spend a few extra hours chatting with those you regularly talk to every day; to hear them say nice things about you, your book and “what a marvellous cover” you have.
But such events no longer attract readers. They have been overdone and done over, like an ancient, wrinkled whore, they no longer hold any attraction whatsoever.
Thunderclaps, Headtalkers, Daycause are little more than a (mostly) unseen flash-in-the-pan. A quick blast of tweets and public post which disappear down the scrolling stream faster than Usain Bolt running a hundred meters.
Authors, you NEED to find new ways to promote your works, ways which offer longevity rather than the promise of making a ‘quick buck’ or selling a few more copies of your latest tome overnight… for one night only.
You need to find a simple, ongoing promotional aid which is always working for you, even when you’re not working.
A low-cost way that won’t break the bank, or better still, a way which will pay you a return, a royalty, on your promotional material.
Now wouldn’t that be wonderful…
If only such a thing existed…
Well, such a thing does exist, but only for those who are prepared to move forward, to see the changing lights (mostly red ones) as social media platforms are brought to task and the hyper highway of freedom and unlimited possibility become more crowded, slower and, well… limited.
Even more so now Google plus is/has shut its doors. MeWe and Pluspora just don’t have the numbers or, as yet, the financial backing to grow fast enough or fight hard enough to take on the big boys… at least for now.
A small, but growing group of indie authors, are moving forward into the new dawn of altered perception, of interweb reconstruction and publishing future.
It is a group which, (at present), still has its doors open to welcome a few more indie authors inside. Authors with great tales to share, who are well crafted in penning a wonderful story. Authors who are serious about writing, about selling their books, about being authors.
So, what is this group and who are these indie authors?
Simple, we are Electric Eclectic. The book brand which is sweeping the internet.
While this post focuses on writing blogs, website content, social media and emails rather than stories and books, much of the following could be adapted by authors and publishers of books.
As independent authors, our ability to write such is of paramount importance to our promotional and marketing strategy. Yet the way you write could be alienating those who are not quite as apt as you or me at reading.
A couple of years ago, I had a wonderful comment from a person who suffered from dyslexia about a post.
Although his comments were primarily about the content and not the presentation of the post, he mentioned he found my post far easier to read than many, if not most.
Curiosity got the better of me.
Why I wondered, could he read and understand my posts, when he struggled to read so many others?
Over the next few days, he and I conversed, by email, about his reading on a personal level and Dyslexia in general.
Before I carry on and explain the outcome of our conversations, I think as writers we should all know and understand what dyslexia and some of the most common reading difficulties are. So, I am including the following few paragraphs & bullet points, (which I cribbed from the internet), for clarity.
A formal definition of dyslexia used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states, “It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. “
Unsurprisingly, the International Dyslexia Association defines it in simple terms. “Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.”
In contrast, Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder, meaning that it relates specifically to how the brain processes the visual information it receives. It is not a language-based disorder and phonics-based instruction will not help someone with Irlen Syndrome improve in the same way it will help someone with dyslexia improve their reading skills.
At its core, Irlen Syndrome is a light sensitivity, where individuals are sensitive to a specific wavelength of light and this sensitivity is what causes the physical and visual symptoms that people with Irlen Syndrome experience. People with Irlen Syndrome have difficulty reading not because their brains have difficulty connecting the letters they see with the sounds those letters make, but because they see distortions on the printed page, or because the white background or glare hurts their eyes, gives them a headache, or makes them fall asleep when trying to read.
Unlike dyslexia, difficulties experienced because of Irlen Syndrome can reach well beyond just reading. People with Irlen Syndrome have difficulty processing all visual information, not just words on a printed page, so they often have trouble with depth perception, driving, sports performance, and other areas not generally connected with dyslexia.
Alexia is a form of dyslexia, but dyslexia is developmental, meaning that it does not happen from an occurrence such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Alexia is an acquired reading disability because of an acquired event such as a stroke. It is most common for alexia to be accompanied by expressive aphasia (the ability to speak in sentences), and agraphia (the ability to write).
All alexia is not the same, however. You may have difficulty with the following:
Recognizing words ● Difficulty identifying and reading synonyms ● Difficulty with reading despite your ability to sound out pronunciation of words.
Although you can read words, it is too difficult to read for very long ● Blind spots blocking the end of a line or a long word ● Focusing on the left side of the paragraph or page ● Double vision when trying to read ● Reading some words but not others. Of course, this makes reading impossible.
A stroke survivor with alexia that can read larger words, but cannot read tiny words such as “it,” “to,” “and,” etc. ● Any combination of some of these traits.
My conversations with, (I shall call him ‘Jay’ during this post), led me to take a close look at how I was presenting my blogs, what made them so different and, could I improve them further?
It turns out the style I chose… I was going to say developed, but that sounds arrogant. So, the style I was using at the time was to write in small(ish) chunks, using relatively short sentences and paragraphs, as I have so far in this post.
Unlike the following.
This differed to most blogs and posts on the interweb which were, (and still are), long blocks of continuous sentences and sub-sentences, forming large paragraphs with very little line spacing or breaks. This may be a ‘style’ welcomed by universities and those writing technical/medical/professional and some literary journals. I have seen many papers which follow this style. I have even read a few and I must agree it makes for extremely uncomfortable reading. To read such a document, one must concentrate fully and focus on each word of each line. Whenever the eye moves from its forced liner motion, even for a moment, is when the reader finds some difficulty in returning to the exact location they were at previously, often meaning one must, annoyingly, re-read sections already read. Like you have possibly just done when reading with this last long drivelling, over-worded paragraph I have written in just such a manner to illustrate my point that it makes for uncomfortable reading, even for those of us blessed with good eyesight and adequate skill. A point which I hope I have now made adequately clear with this paragraph which is representative of many blogs.
Writing in this form creates such a large block of words it becomes challenging to separate them into clear concise ‘bite-sized‘ and manageable ‘lots’ of information.
This is one of the areas of written presentation which was highlighted to me by Jay.
I already used a style of writing which broke long paragraphs into much smaller ones, whenever practicable, but I was not aware of the impact doing so made on the reader. From then on, I broke paragraphs down even further than I did ‘pre-‘Jay’
I was also made aware of unnecessarily long sentences, sentences with too many superfluous words.
This simply meant cutting out all those unnecessary words to make sentences read far more precisely and clearly.
Eliminating irrelevant words.
You see, this is not fictional or creative literature as when writing a novel, or even a short story. This is describing and sharing thoughts, ideas, information and data. Another skill set entirely.
Authors often discover this when having to write a precise about their latest book, like the back-cover blurb, an agent’s query letter, a synopsis or copy text for a promotional activity.
We all know, or at least should, that mixing sentence lengths makes for a better reading experience. But so does spacing and breaking them up as I have done in most of this post.
Please do not get me wrong.
I am not solely writing or directing my words specifically to those with reading difficulties, but I am looking to be as inclusive as possible and not simply because I am attempting to be politically, or socially correct.
I do it because I want as many people as possible to read my words. That is why I write.
Looking at how one presents their posts on the screen does not take much effort. Neither does adjusting one’s style to make it clearer and easier to read… for everybody, including you and me.
To finish, look at this Git-Hub virtual reality page. It shows how we can best comprehend the way those suffering from dyslexia and associated reading difficulties may see the written word.
My lesson, following those conversations with ‘Jay’, is,
“We can all learn from others, even those we may have previously considered had nothing to give us. After all, I never thought a dyslexic could teach an established author how to write clearer, even better.
How wrong I was.”
Thank you for reading another of my Ramblings. Please subscribe to this blog if you will.
I am open to all comments and try to reply to them all personally.
Like many writers, I have a store of part written works. Literary orphans, many of whom deserve better parenting than I have given.
Some, are first drafts of short stories, ones which need attention before I could possibly allow others to set eyes upon them.
Some, are beginnings of new books and novels. Many are several chapters – or more – in length. A few far longer, yet abandoned and gathering dust in the archives of‘I’ll take another look at it, soon, one day, when I have time, sometime.‘
Some, are mere scribblings, outlines of thought, rough drafts of similar concept, or of unjointed notes, sort-of-bullet-points, fleeting notions.
Occasionally, I have pulled the odd page from the depths of neglect. In a few instances, I have reworked such a piece, even developed it into a viable story.
But those times are seldom.
Generally, when I unearth an old unfinished, partly written, abandoned tale, I quickly scan it, faintly recall its birth and return it, with a promise of coming back and spending some time with it ‘when I can give it the attention it deserves.’
Which is probably, almost certainly, a long way off from this current day, like… never.
We make the excuse of having more pressing and urgent tasks as current commitments. We enjoy the conception of creation, of having new babies in the making and we look forward to the birth of our next.
That is if they reach as far as the publicatory birth. If our current focus is not waylaid or distracted by another fancy, another attractive proposition of literary lust which causes us to forsake the unborn penned pages, formed only weeks ago, during our crazed desire to conceive another narrative fable.
We, as writers, are not good role models for caring and nurturing our creativities.
This is, as you can tell, one of the ‘things‘ which I have been silently musing over during the past however-long it has been.
I wanted to understand why I could not simply open a file, drag out the unborn foetus of past indulgence and continue writing where I had left off. Even a re-read and re-write, rather like a genetic splicing of characteristics, to take each past, abandoned child of mine, from infantile scrawling to full-blown manuscripted beauty and let them loose in the world.
So, I tasked myself to do precisely that. To wrench open the doorway of dusty archives and let the light flood in.
I was astounded by the mass of unloved writings huddled in the dank corners of my RAM. However, I was determined to make amends for the neglect suffered by these poor, unassuming, word documents. After all, they never asked to be created.
One by one I read the works.
By the time I reached mid-way point of the fifth part-work, I had my answer.
It is all to do with mood, muse and moment. At least it is for me.
Allow me to explain…
As I said earlier, literary lust and crazed desire set us on a special relationship in the attempt to conceive a beautiful outcome, a desired work of the bestselling nature.
While our mindset is concentrated, focused on a single relationship we flourish, some of us are capable of holding two, maybe three such affairs on a steady and productive track.
But each and all of these are balancing on a knife-edge of frustration, distraction and boredom. Unable to help ourselves, our minds are constantly on the look-out for other attractive propositions and exciting ventures.
Therefore, once our muse is diverted, the love for what is under our fingers wanes. Rarely is it lost, just lessened. It diminishes, at least for the present.
Then, one day we find these lost loves or that which we once begat from such a relationship; they reach out, arms feebly grabbing for our attention.
But are we ready to take them to our bosom once more?
Most time, the shame is, we are not. We are not ready or willing. So, we slam the door in their faces, committing them to the darkness of closed files one again.
Why are we so cruel in our neglect?
The answer I have found is that mindset I mentioned earlier. To pick-up and move forward from our past indulgences, we must rekindle the fondness we felt before, relight the old flame of particular creation.
Without us being ‘in the zone’ with regards to each individual story, we shall never see them grow into the works they surely deserve to be.
Maybe, to assuage your guilt, the shame and self-reproach I have now raised in your heart and mind, because of your own wicked neglect over your part works, maybe you should unlock the archive doors and take some time with your unborn literary children.
Bring them out of the shadows, let them dance in the sunlight of new development and re-writing nirvana. You never know what wonderful orphans you may have forgotten.
If you are looking for somewhere to home your orphans, then Electric Eclectic could be exactly the place you need?
Show your love; release your orphaned, lonely, short story(s) as an Electric Eclectic book(s) and let them help you gain readership and royalties.
This year I have only two stories destined for anthologies. One is for a summer anthology, due out soon, another a children’s book scheduled for Christmas.
This is the lowest number of stories I have given for inclusion into collective tomes for several years.
I know some writers stay away from this form of publication. There are many reasons.
Some do not write short fiction, others focus on just one genre, some believe these books a waste of effort, while others only give licence if the book is a charitable or fundraising edition.
I appreciate everyone’s point of view on this matter.
To give a story away, even secured by a simple first serial rights licence, is a big thing. To take time out to write a specific tale for one is a commitment. Then, there is the fact of finding the extra time to write in the first instance.
If someone does not wish to commit to an anthology, so be it.
I, however, am a sucker for these books.
Partly, it is because I am a prolific writer of short stories and flash fiction. I always have some unpublished works on hand which need a good home. Another reason is, I enjoy writing from simple, given prompts. I belong to some writer’s groups, such as ‘500 – Iron writer’s spin-off‘ who regularly exercise their quills by doing just so.
I find scribbling a short tale a fantastic writing exercise, as I do with poetry and blog writing, even this post you are reading now is teaching me something about my trade as a wordsmith.
It is called, gaining experience.
I believe we can and should always strive to become better writers and, like modern athletes and sportsmen, we should ‘cross-train’. That may mean writing poetry and short stories, trying our hand with a genre we have never approached before, writing non-fiction too. Whatever it takes, we should often step outside of our comfort zone, we should do it to improve ourselves.
For me, committing to someone as a guest blogger, or agreeing to contribute a piece to an anthology, encompasses that training; it allows me to be creative, to try something ‘new to me’, or come at a subject from an alternative perspective. It also allows me to get my work in front of readers who may not have found me otherwise.
It is not something I do for a direct reward. I have, where there have been shared royalties, had my allocation directed to charity.
These books are to show what an alliance of indie authors, living in various countries around the world, can achieve when working in unison.
The Awethors collective produced not one, but Four great works, proving such co-operative action can be repeated and maintained.
These anthologies also bring the contributing authors closer together, it strengthens the collective and in some cases, creates new, long-lasting, genuine friendships.
If you have never contributed to an anthology before, I ask you to consider doing so. I am certain you will know at least one other writer who has a link with at least one. Do it for yourself, for a literary exercise, for learning, for betterment, but most of all do it for fun.
To finish, I quite fancy contributing to a Sci-Fi collection, (I don’t write Sci-Fi), or something from a female perspective perhaps?
Any offers, contact me.
Thank you once again for reading my Ramblings, Paul.
Looking for something different, a gift with thought? A treat for yourself?
In February, I released ‘Life in the War Zone’ a collection of stories, based on true accounts, of what life is like living between warring factions in an area of conflict.
Life in the War Zone takes a serious, no holds barred look at the devastation and trauma of life in the battlefields of the Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Israel, Palestine, Libya, Lebanon and El Salvador.
Also during February, I published a ‘Coffee Table’ book called ICONIC, or to give it its full title, Iconic – Legends of music immortalised in art.
Iconic is an 8 x 8 inch, hardcover, perfect bound, glossy, book, containing a number of my own artworks, portraits of some of the most well-loved musical talent ever known, such as David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Elvisand many more.
March saw the publication of The Pussers Cook Book.
This became an instant hit and an Amazon bestseller. It is still, as I write this over a month after the books launch, at number three in its Amazon category.
The Pussers Cook Book details twenty-two of the best loved dishes, served on Royal Naval ships circa 1960’s to 1980’s. Along with the recipes, there are plenty of jokes and tall stories, some legendary myths are also dispelled!
You do not have to be a sailor to enjoy the Pussers Cook Book. It makes the perfect gift for a freind or loved one.
You will see by this, why my time this year has been at a premium.
Now, I have touched on art, as in the title of this post, by mentioning my tribute to the great musicians in the book, ICONIC. Which clearly shows the link between writing, books and art.
As do all those millions of books with illustrations, photographs, pictures and images inside. Let alone the amazing and wonderful artistry shown by many book cover designers.
In that respect, books and art are almost inseparable, and never exclusive.
But there is more…
Art has always been a ‘go to‘ place for me, when I need to rest my mind from concentrating on writing. Whilst my form of art, digital painting, is still a creative discipline, it is creative in a totally differing way to the mindful concentration needed for writing.
In that respect, I find creating digital art relaxing, even ‘freeing up‘ the subconscious mind to continue its own creative endeavours, whilst I take my consciousness on a holiday of colour and form.
The problem arises, much as it does when writing, or I should say, when one has finished writing and has published their book.
Who will see it, who will read it, who will buy it?
It is all well and dandy to have a book, three books, ten? Sitting on the shelves getting dusty and covered in cobwebs. What we want, what we need is someone (Many someones) to come along and actually read our words.
The same is true of art. What is the point of creating wonderful, thought provoking, stimulating images if they are simply going to be stored as a digital code on a memory stick. If they are never going to be made onto a canvass, or a poster, or even printed onto a tee-shirt or coffee mug?
Both of those scenarios are, in my humble opinion, a total waste of time, effort and creative energy.
So…what to do about it all?
Firstly, I have made a Facebook page to help direct people to my works.
The main site is my artwork website, where you can browse through a selection of works albums and find links to the other places my work is available. https://goo.gl/pyPI7i
That is why I am talking about art on a writing blog.
Thanks for reading this…if you have read this far!
I will be back to posting my normal Ramblings from now on.
Because I have worked hard, very hard in making the book a reality.
The uninitiated may feel that is a glib remark, but it is not if you consider….
I first had to come up with the idea, a notion of a story and ensure it had a start point, a good tale to tell and was one which draws to a satisfactory conclusion.
That is, it has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Then try it now, in the next few seconds. Say these words aloud….ready….go…”My story begins when……”
Well, come on. You said it was easy, so what’s keeping you?……
OK. Times up.
Let’s move on.
I shall say ‘we writers’ from now on, have an outline of a story in our head. We know where we want it to start. We may even have a few words which may become the opening lines when we start writing.
Each writer has their own way of plotting and constructing a novel. So, for generalist purpose I am adopting the supposition this is a writer who plots onto a storyline…to a degree.
For the next few days, we shall be breaking down the sequence of the story in our mind, transcribing it onto a plot graph, a timeline of planned stages. This is something we shall change numerous times over the next few days. We shall have the characters, particularly the protagonist, face challenges they must overcome. We will build his/her character as realistically and as humanly flawed as suits the plot and will have our readers empathise, at some stage, with the antagonist. Possibly disbelieving in the actions of the hero….who may yet actually be the real baddy!
This is the type of conflict associated with plotting the story. Already at this stage, the story wants to take charge of the author, as later, during the writing of the first draft, so shall the characters. They WILL take on a life of their own. They WILL wake the writer in the early hours of the morning, banging on the door of new concept.
The same characters WILL, on another night, keep the writer awake until the sun rises just so they can move forward, continue their journey within the unfolding pages of new manuscript.
Most authors become almost, if not entirely obsessed with writing the tale. Some seem, even become unsociable, withdrawn. Because the story must be told, it must be typewritten onto paper or into computer memory. If the writer stops or is distracted for too long, the thread begins to fade, the momentum halted, the spirit lost. The new lives, those characters created start to wither, even die.
Writers are, in the worlds they create, Gods among characters, guides of destiny and givers of fulfilment, destroyers of life, of societies, of cities and planets. The author is omnipotent.
It is a role, a responsibility we take seriously. It is a heavy burden we bear.
Come the end of the first draft and an entire year’s supply of coffee beans. I/we, the authors, sit back in our chairs and breathe a sigh of relief.
It is a short respite.
Soon our noses are back at the grindstone. We now need to read, edit and re-write the entire work. A first draft, no matter how carefully crafted, is just that. A first draft.
Now we really start work. No longer are we flying in full creativity mode, now we are in a roll-your-sleeves-up and get stuck in approach to the task.
Generally, this stage takes twice as long as the first. Deleting words, sentences and replacing them… or not. Moving paragraphs or rephrasing entire sections of the manuscript. Rearranging the position and order of entire chapters, even deleting them…or writing new ones. There is no limit to the fettling undertaken at this stage.
Once we are (reasonably) happy with draft number six/seven/ eleven? We congratulate ourselves and add a tot or two of whisky into the large mug of rich black coffee, our drug of choice.
Happily, we tell our copy editor we are ready for them to scan our documents. Oh, she says. (Not a sexist remark, simply the fact I have found most of the best editors are women), you need a line editor before you run it past me!
So, weeks later, with some alterations to plot and structure, you eventually pass the manuscript over to your copy editor….. and wait… and wait, which is a good thing. Annoying, frustrating, but good.
You see your editor should be busy… if she is not it could indicate no one wants her services?
The second reason you should be happy to wait is, you want a thoroughly good job done, don’t you? Therefore proper, good, concise editing with a comprehensive feedback means taking all the time required to do the job right. Right?
Everything is not lost during this time, because you have to have a cover. If you have not yet made any advance towards having one designed, now is a great opportunity, it will take your mind off waiting for your editor.
Unless you are a graphic designer or illustrator I would leave the cover to an expert. Even if you are an artist I would, at the very least, consult with one. You see a book cover is NOT what most people (readers/ writers/authors) think it is.
Comes the day when your book cover, both paperback and Kindle versions are ready. You are excited because your manuscript has just arrived back from your editor… the pages listed with notes, amendments and suggestions.
Now, instead of moving forward, instead of getting a step closer to publication you must revisit your story. Once more you sit and work through the entire manuscript, making alterations, altering tense, reading those suggestions and editorial input regarding clarity, flow and all that other stuff.
Three days, (or week/months?) later, in a foul mood and with a raging headache you stab the send button returning, the now amended manuscript, to your editor.
This is when you wonder where the last year of your life has gone. This is when you look out of the window and wonder why it is snowing… in June… only June has long passed. You missed it.
You were living in your own Neverland, guiding your characters away from disaster and death. Now, all of a sudden life seems so much more…. empty.
The story is with your editor. The cover made. Time seems to hang about endlessly, waiting…tick-tock, tick-tock.
After a day or two of doing virtually nothing, it all gets too much. You plan a launch date, but not too soon. Then you organise a thunderclap, a blogging chain, advertising, a cover reveal and whatever blows your frock up.
Hey, guess what, your manuscript is back, this time there are only a few notes, easy stuff to sort out. So, you do. It only takes the best part of a day, or week, or month, this time.
Now you can busy yourself again. This time you need to format your manuscript into book form. One for each type of book, i.e. paperback and eBook, but also for the platforms you may be using, Createspace, Lulu, Smashwords and so forth. Of course, you can have a professional do this, or you can seek the help of a fellow author… all work well if organised properly.
The next stage is proofreading. Each format needs to be proofread. You can do the first run yourself, pick up on any errors made during formatting, check the margins, headers, page numbering, kerning, font, point size and such. But, I bet you will miss a shed load. So, have other eyes, preferably an experienced proof-reader, one with a good track record, even someone recommended.
Now you press the send on your keypad again and hey-ho the formatted manuscript(s) is/are off to your proof-reader, who will pick up on any punctuation, capitalisation, space and… other issues you WILL have missed.
ONLY after you have fixed all those errors will your story, which up to now has just been a manuscript with a working title, become a book.
Upload to print…. congratulations. It has taken you around eighteen months to two years of blood, sweat, tears and toil. Of mood swings and social deprivation, headaches, doubts, pain, fear and uncertainty to turn your dream into your baby.