Writing Update

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I’m just waiting for my beta-reader to finish the manuscript of The Night Bus – the collection of poems and short stories I hope to publish later this month – with my fingers crossed that any further editing will be quick and painless. But what of the book I said I was just finishing, a couple of months ago?

Ah, yes. Having had my first beta-reader go through A Good Place and my mulling over both the feedback from their Red Biro Of Doom and my own thoughts about parts of it I already felt weren’t really strong enough, I’ve decided to sit on it for a while and then go back and change a few things. Well, okay, a lot of things. A huge number of things, maybe. In the meantime, I shall concentrate again on The Assassin’s Garden which continues to make steady progress in the background, and which slowly becomes more complex month by month.

And I was struck by something I heard on an interview with Phillip Pullman on Sunday TV, after the screening of the first episode of His Dark Materials; (which was excellent, BTW) he commented that after the books he had already written and published, His Dark Materials was the book, and by inference the world, he had always wanted to create. And I feel that way about the world I’m creating in The Assassin’s Garden. It both is this world and is not this world, with elements of both the fantastic and of fantasy (disclaimer – my definitions of those may not be exactly the same as yours!). And it feels like the culmination of all the fantastical elements I’ve ever written into stories in the past.

And don’t forget if you’ve already read Making Friends With the Crocodile and not left a review on Amazon / Goodreads / Anywhere else, I would be eternally grateful if you did. It’s a really important way of reaching others who might be interested in buying the book.

Is it time to open the wine, yet?

Blogging vs Other Social Media

It’s a fight to the death!

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Well, okay, not quite that, but bear with me for a bit longer.

The other week I gave a short talk to my writing group on reasons a writer should be on social media and, more importantly, why they needed a blog. I’m not going to go into this in any detail now, but I promised I’d summarise what I said in bullet points, and then thought it might be worth putting up here to see if anyone felt like adding anything to it.

So…

Why?

  • As a writer, you need to have a social media presence to sell books, to get known. Even if you are a published author.
  • On a social media platform, you are aiming to get shares for your posts. The more shares, the more people will see them.
  • It’s all about engaging with customers, fans and critics.
  • There are a huge number of platforms, but just a few examples that I have experience of:
  • Facebook is the biggest, and the most active, with a high rate of engagement. Having an Author Page is a good way to engage through backstories, questions, surveys and daily updates (yours or your work), ‘Behind the scenes’ articles.
  • Linkedin has many users, but a low rate of engagement. A business page can be useful.
  • Twitter is short and succinct. A sort of ‘Marketing Lite’. Posts appear fleetingly and then are essentially gone, though, unless they generate lots of likes and retweets.
  • Goodreads is like ‘background’ media – people need to seek you out to find you.
  • But the number one way to be found is through blog posts.
  • Like all good social media, blogs encourage visitors to return. Unlike ordinary websites, they are updated regularly and the reader can be alerted to each new post.
  • There are many other reasons to blog, viz:
  1. Teaches you to write more professionally – you have an audience
  2. Discipline
  3. Practice
  4. Feedback from people outside your usual circle
  5. Networking with others
  6. You can upload links to other social media
  7. There is space to write more in-depth than on other social media
  8. To review work for other writers
  9. To explore ideas and get feedback on these
  • A blog is simply a website with posts being regularly replaced, although the old ones are still on the website to read.
  • There are many blogging platforms, but I use WordPress.
  • One advantage of WP is the ease by which readers can see you have a new post.
  • Whichever platform you choose, it should have clear instructions and / or tutorials to help you set up.
  • It should also allow you to block spammers, remove adverts (by upgrading), monetise your site, and change the layout. In other words, have as much control as possible over its appearance.
  • It can be really helpful if the platform provides diagnostics on data such as page views, visitors, likes, comments, and links to and from your site. This helps you plan and refine how you run it.

How?

  • Purchase your own address! It is not very expensive, but it makes your blog more personal, more professional, and the address more memorable. And the host cannot arbitrarily close it down, which might happen with a free site.
  • Start by going and looking at other blogs, to find what you like and might work for you. then use your Site Builder Tool to create your site.
  • Once you begin writing your first post make sure you are using a clear font that stands out.
  • Keep the post around 500 words, certainly under 1000. When you have a decent following, you may get away with more, but new readers will be put off by longer ones. (As a guide, this post has 945 words).
  • Add a picture or two to help it stand out and look less daunting, but not too many. And not just dozens of selfies, unless you are an established celebrity. It’s a real turn off.
  • Make the post interesting! Put some good stuff in first, to get the readers’ attention. And don’t save all the good stuff until the end, as readers might not otherwise get there.
  • Use categories and tabs on each post to help new readers find them.

Issues

  • Don’t feel under pressure to post to a fixed schedule.
  • Don’t be afraid to change the subjects you post about – it’s all under your control and there are no rules on it. Let it develop organically.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a break if you need to. It’s very easy to get into a mindset where you think you need to do all these things to a rigid schedule.
  • Don’t obsess about the number of followers you have or likes / comments you get. Chasing them is counter-productive.
  • Find some blogs YOU like, and follow them, commenting when you have something to say. That way you will begin to get visits in return and then, hopefully, follows back. It is pointless following a blog that doesn’t interest you, just hoping to get a follow back. You want followers who will be interested in what you have to offer.
  • And on that subject, if a new follower has a site that doesn’t interest you, there is no obligation for you to follow them back.
  • And don’t feel obliged to comment on / like / or even read every post on blogs you follow.
  • Do remember that copyright law applies exactly the same on the internet as it does in the real world. If you copy a photo or article from the internet without permission and post it on your blog be prepared for possible legal unpleasantness. I always use my own, just to be safe. I think it looks better, too.

Welcome to my Crisis!

I’ve been hiding from the internet.

No, I didn’t go away, unfortunately, although a holiday was what I both have been and am still craving. I made a rash promise some weeks ago to put up a Facebook Author page, to do a minor relaunch of my novel, and to serialise a bawdy Elizabethan detective story. Really, I should know myself better than that.

dawn panorama

I think it was the short story that finally broke me.

Writing, for me, is a pleasure, comparable to painting. It is all about crafting the finished product, taking my time and eventually producing the best I can. When all goes well, the process is immensely satisfying from beginning to end.

Within that process, of course, there are times of writer’s block, false starts and finishes, wrong turnings, and many other things to go wrong. And the editing can be an infuriating process. But overall, there needs to be a flow.

Making Friends with the Crocodile worked for me at the length it was (45,000 words), since I wrote it almost as a stream of consciousness as the story unfolded in my mind. It came out in a rush partly because of its importance to me, and partly because I found I could visualise the characters, the story and the setting clearly. Once I had reached the end, I knew that was the end.

Obviously, many stories take a lot more coaxing to get down on paper. I’ve struggled with ones that need to be forced, certainly in places, partly because at that point they are not ‘me’ at the heart of them; I have lost that flow. But sometimes because of the length.

One reason I stopped entering short story competitions is I write a lot of long short stories. I am perfectly aware of the dictum that whatever you write can be edited down to the required length and that, indeed, they should be edited down.

But I also strongly believe that when a story presents itself to be written, that story has an internal length that needs to be respected, even after editing. Some require a few hundred words, some a lot more. But to attempt to turn Making Friends with the Crocodile into a 120,000 word novel or a 5.000 word short story, I am sure would have meant a lesser read. It would have been padded out for the sake of it, or stripped down to bare bones that would have meant that the characters could not have been drawn as strongly as I wanted them to be, and therefore encouraged less empathy from the reader.

Where is all this leading?

I began the short story / serial. It was working quite well, and I had a good few chuckles to myself as I was writing it and then, suddenly, it was almost 10,000 words long and nowhere near finished.

Oh dear.

So I attempted to cram and trim and edit and get it down to a suitable length for serialisation, but I was not happy with the result. Oh no. And I had one of my minor panic-I-can’t-cope-stress attacks and decided the only way to deal with it was to hide.

So, I’m not going to serialise it after all. I will finish it, but the attempt to condense it into a few instalments simply wasn’t working, and what I ended up with felt completely wrong. I will return to it at some point in the future, and finish it as the novella that it clearly is.

There is another strand to all this:

I made the Facebook Author page. That was the easy bit, and I’ll show you where it is next time. And I put together the re-launch promotion piece by the simple expedient of gathering together extracts from lots of the kind reviews the book has had.

But I am in a state of recurring panic, once again, over this huge need to self-promote to sell books. Of course, we all want to, but we are forever urged to use this or that platform, accept this or that offer, etc. Now, we are told that we ‘must’ have a YouTube channel. Really? And a presence on all sorts of social media. Are we not ‘serious’ writers if we are not prepared to move heaven and earth to sell a couple of extra books? That we should ‘invest’ a hundred or five hundred dollars here and there to advertise ourselves?

I have sold a few, and what is really important to me is the tremendous feedback that I’ve had.

Blowing my own trumpet is anathema to me, as I have written in the past. I just can’t do the selling and marketing the way that seems to be presented as essential. It’s an aspect of life that I hate, and a reason I have never gone into ‘business’. Everything around the promotion and marketing just seems relentless and is something that I cannot cope with.

Fortunately, I am not interested in fame. The idea frightens me.

And I really struggle with social media. I have had two goes at being on Facebook, and cope with it at the moment by not going on it very much. I spent ages trying to see the use of Linkedin, and have solved that one by closing my account last week. I really see no use for it.

And I am not doing Twatter.

So here I am back on WordPress, which is a platform I do enjoy. I’ll dip in and out of it a bit over the next few weeks or months, I suspect, since I still feel a bit panicky, but I will be there.

Thank you for your patience!

The Liebster Award

Goodness, what’s that?

Checking my emails, I noticed that I had a new message on the comment thread of my most recent post, from Dave, the fellow who blogs at Plying Through Life

Dave comes over and leaves a comment on my posts every now and again, and in return I go and look at his regularly, because I enjoy his tales of scuba diving, travel, and life in general, told with a dry and droll humour. He is also the only person that I have come across so far who really does herd cats in the course of his work.

Anyhow. I went and took a look at his comment, and found that he had nominated me for the Leibster Award.

Goodness, what’s that? You ask.

See, I’ve got you at it, too, now.

leibster

Well, I’m going to nick Dave’s explanation, because I don’t think I can better it: ‘It’s an Internet based award, given by bloggers to other bloggers.  It’s intended both as a way to recognise the work of bloggers you enjoy, and by publicizing links to their blogs help others discover those blogs too.  The emphasis should be on newer bloggers.  The nominees are also put on the spot, as the nominator can ask them any questions they find interesting, which helps us learn a little more about the blogger and extends the sense of community. The payback for this grilling is the nominee can then nominate other blogs they think are deserving.’

Then there are the rules, or guidelines. Again, I’m going to nick the wording from Dave (really sorry, Dave!), mainly because a large chunk of it is technical detail that he has laid out clearly:

1) Thank the person in your post who nominated you for a Liebster Award and link back to them.

2) Answer the questions he/she asked you.  Or don’t, if they make you uncomfortable.  Or emulate Mark Twain: “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.”

3) Nominate other great bloggers for a Liebster Award, and notify them by leaving a comment on their blog, with a link back to your nominating post. Not sure how to put a link in a comment?  Type the HTML for links in as follows (the HTML tags will not show in the posted comment):
<a href=”insertYourURLhere”>Your Linked Text Here</a>

4) I’ve seen anything from 3 to 11 nominees recommended.

5) Some variations suggest the nominees should have less than 200 followers, as the intent is really to showcase newer blogs.  How do you know how many followers they have? The best way I’ve found is to use the Manage Followers page in the Reader.  (You are following these people you like, right?)  Then, click on the title for the blog you’re interested in (not the web address), and you’ll be taken to a reader page for that blogger with a list of their posts and how many followers they have noted at the top.

6) Give your nominees a list of questions you’d like them to answer.

7) Include the award guidelines in your post.

8) Include a copy of the award logo in your blog.

9) Recipients have the option of declining the nomination.

So, I suppose that I had better answer Dave’s questions. Here goes…

What inspires you?

I am inspired by all sorts of random things. I tend to read or see or hear something, and my thoughts fly off at an odd tangent and by the time that I’ve caught up with them they’ve begun to wander down all sorts of alleyways and dodgy looking side streets that I wouldn’t normally even dream of going down. And by then it’s too late to do anything about it, so I just have to go with the flow and I find myself writing all sorts of stories or political pieces. Of course, I suppress a lot of them before they can get out and do me any lasting damage.

What got you started blogging?

I’d been thinking about it for a while, really since I had made the decision to self-publish the novel that I‘m currently editing. I knew that I had to start the process of promoting said book, and so it began as shameless advertising and self-promotion. Naturally, I then found that there were all sorts of things that I wanted to write about and share, and so it grew from there.

Which are your 5 favourite blog posts?

Now that’s really putting me on the spot! I assume you mean ones written by other people and not ones what I writ. In which case, I’m going to cheat and just suggest that you take a look at any post by each of my nominees – they will all repay the trouble!

What’s been the most rewarding part of becoming a blogger?

That’s easy; it’s the connections that I’ve made with other bloggers. Once you begin to follow comment threads on both your own posts, and those of other bloggers, you get drawn into conversations and quickly find similar like-minded bloggers. I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that you begin to forge friendships.

Name 3 things on your bucket list

1) Publish my first book; I really will do that within the next six months!

2) Go back to India and Nepal yet again. Each time I come back from a trip there I think that the next time I get an opportunity to travel I ought to go somewhere completely new, but by the time that I do, I always have this overwhelming urge to go back.

3) Take more photographs. I love taking photographs, but never seem to have the camera with me at the right time. I know that I really need to set time aside to do this, but…hey, where did that time go?

What is a favourite quote?

I could name quite a few, but one that has been in my mind rather a lot recently has been the quote from Edith Cavell, the British army nurse who was executed by the Germans in the First World War for helping prisoners to escape:

‘I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’

I think that a lot of people would do well to muse on that.

What is a favourite book or genre?

I don’t think I could possibly answer that; I read and enjoy so many genres, and my favourite book changes frequently. At the moment, if pressed, I might answer ‘Siddhartha’, by Hermann Hesse. Or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Or ‘The Old Ways’ by Robert Macfarlane. Or…you get the idea, I’m sure.

Name one place or person you’d like to visit

Well, if I could possibly tear myself away from another visit to India or Nepal, I do rather fancy visiting Ethiopia. I’d love to see the highlands there, and the Coptic churches.

And I’m going to cheat by also suggesting a person, and I’m assuming that this is intended as one of those ‘if you could meet anyone who had ever existed’ type questions, and admit that I would love to have had the opportunity to sit down with Gandhi and talk politics, philosophy and religion.

But…even as I write that, I am reminded that no one ever learned anything by surrounding themselves with people who thought like themselves, so perhaps I should plump for a long talk with someone who had a totally different outlook on life to myself. I have had a few such interactions on blogs with other bloggers, and we have managed to keep the discussions civil, and so I think that we have all learned a little about the others’ points of view. Maybe no one was converted to anyone else’s point of view, but I like to think that at the very least we came away with a little more respect for the others.

Have I twisted around this question? Sorry…

What talent do you wish you had more of?

Lots, really. But if I’m only allowed to choose one, then I suppose it must be writing.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on a vacation?

Trekking in the Himalaya. Definitely.

And now for my nominations. So many of the blogs that I follow have been running for a long while, and have many followers. And many of the others that I would have liked to have chosen either blog only rarely (too rarely!), or have blogs that are not structured suitably for the award, specifically just blogging episodes of a longer tale. So I have tried to pick out some newer ones that I have found. With one exception.

And so, my nominees are:

The Eurphoric Single Mom who blogs on her struggles to lead a normal life as the single mother of 2 young children, one of them autistic.

A year of living kindly. At the beginning of the year, Donna embarked on a year of consciously using kindness to change the world about her.

Yesterday and tomorrow. Another blogger who writes on her struggles to live a normal life after life has administered a good kicking. I have nothing but awe and respect for these amazing people.

Bun Karudo’s Scribblings  This one is the exception. It has been running for some while, and how it has not had this award so far is completely beyond me. I just hope it’s not because he hates the idea! Bun’s blogs are a most humorous antidote to feeling down.

So, nominees, I hope that you accept the challenge, and these are the questions I’ve set for you:

1) What do you find most difficult about blogging?

2) What would you like to learn?

3) So what inspires you?

4) Have you got a philosophy of life?

5) Any big event on the horizon for you?

6) Have you a favourite place?

7) Couch potato or Olympic athlete?

8) Name 3 things on your bucket list.

9) Have you had a life changing experience?

10) Name 3 people you would like to meet.

 

Where has everyone gone?

A very short post, this week, because I would appreciate some feedback on what I have written.

Having had very little traffic to my site since putting up my last blog post, I am curious to find out why.

I don’t think that anyone could have been offended by it, but did it, perhaps, come across as being too political?

Did I test the patience of my readers by taking the subject into a second week? Perhaps most people felt that everything that needed to be said, had been said the first week.

Could it have been seen as *takes a deep breath, crosses fingers behind back* boring?

Please tell me. I won’t be offended!